Category Archives: Women Engineers

Sanayei and Collaborators Receive NSF Grant for Structural Health Monitoring

Sanayei and Collaborators Receive NSF Grant for Structural Health Monitoring
Professors Masoud Sanayei and Rich Vogel, along with Professor Alva Couch in Tufts Engineering Department of Computer Science, and alumna Erin Bell, EG03 of the University of New Hampshire, received a National Science Foundation grant to develop a Fatigue Health Portal (FHP), an advanced technology for real-time fatigue life prediction of in-service bridge structures. The FHP will feature variable fatigue stress ranges, operational measured strains, unknown vehicle information, hypothesis testing for damage assessment, and use of an alert system to improve system safety. The project will leverage methodology using statistical hypothesis testing of Survival Distribution Functions at Six Flags New England. In addition, as a proof of concept, the project will leverage planned strain instrumentation of the Memorial Bridge in New Hampshire. The final product would fill an existing need to monitor and assess the conditions of aging U.S. infrastructures.

Memorial Bridge New Hampshire

Mitochondria expose tumors’ misbehavior

Mitochondria cancer researchMitochondria are able to change function and shape, according to the needs of the cell. When these mitochondrial dynamics go wrong, though, they can contribute to a number of human diseases. Early detection of these abnormalities can lead to faster diagnosis and treatment. A team of researchers, including engineers from the Tufts Department of Biomedical Engineering, has shown that these signs of mitochondrial dysfunction can be seen in living human skin by monitoring the mitochondrial metabolic coenzyme NADH. This represents a significant step from current techniques, which rely on mitochondria-specific dyes or are invasive.

With this new technique allowing for near real-time assessments of mitochondrial organization, researchers were able to differentiate healthy skin from melonoma and basal cell carcinoma.

Read the full paper in Science Translational Medicine.

Authors included Dimitra Pouli, Carlo Alonzo, Zhiyi Liu, Kyle Quinn, and Associate Professor Irene Georgakoudi from the Tufts Department of Biomedical Engineering, working alongside colleagues from the University of Malaga and the University of California, Irvine.

Souvaine elected AAAS Fellow

Professor Diane Souvaine

Diane Souvaine, professor of computer science, has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Souvaine was elected as part of the computing and communication section, and cited for her “contributions to the field of computational geometry and for exemplary service on behalf of the computing community, including serving on the National Science Board.”

Read more about Souvaine and her election as an AAAS Fellow.

Tissue healing after a heart attack

Tufts University engineers have developed new, non-destructive techniques to evaluate tissue healing following a heart attack. These techniques, described in a paper recently published in Nature Scientific Reports, could be used to evaluate current treatments for aiding cardiac repair and to provide a basis for evaluating heart disease progression.

Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these cases, 525,000 are a first heart attack.* After a heart attack, or myocardial infarction, the body quickly attempts to replace damaged cardiac tissue with new collagen scaffolding to provide support to withstand the forces associated with a normal heartbeat. The body can sometimes overbuild this scaffolding, or extracellular matrix (ECM), or expand the remodeled ECM into heart tissue not initially adversely affected by the heart attack. The altered heart tissue resulting from ECM remodeling is often responsible for functional deterioration, leading to heart failure.

Though scientists have studied some elements of how remodeled tissue structure affects function following heart attack, little is understood about the relationship between ECM composition of the scar tissue and its mechanical properties in the earliest stages of remodeling. By using a process called decellularization—the removal of cells from the heart tissue structure—and pairing this with 3D multi-photon microscopy, the tissue’s mechanical properties and structure remains intact and can be studied. As a result, the Tufts biomedical engineering team has uniquely identified structure-function relationships specific to the myocardial ECM. Specifically they have found that the ECM that is newly remodeled/deposited, following infarction, is weaker than healthy tissues, most likely due to alterations in the chemical connections within and between fibers called“crosslinks.” This weaker ECM may be contributing to the expanding scar by adversely signaling cells in the remodeling tissue to continue to make more ECM.

The team of Tufts researchers included Kyle Quinn, Kelly Sullivan, Zhiyi Liu, Zachary Ballard, Christos Siokatas, Associate Professor Irene Georgakoudi, and Associate Professor Lauren Black.

Read the full paper in Nature Scientific Reports.

* Source: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2014/12/18/CIR.0000000000000152

Tufts attends Grace Hopper Celebration

The 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration kicks off in Houston. Photo courtesy of Sara Amr Amin.

The 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration kicks off in Houston. Photo courtesy of Sara Amr Amin.

In late October, a group of Tufts students and faculty attended the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) in Houston, Texas. GHC is the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing, where women technologists and leaders in computing convene to highlight the contributions of women to computing. Named in honor of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, GHC is co-presented by the Anita Borg Institute and the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).

This year, Tufts attendees included 16 undergraduates, two graduate students, and one faculty member. Students were able to make connections across the industry, from engineers at Otto, Uber’s self-driving semi-truck company, to Google X project leads, computer science Ph.D. students, and recruiters hiring for open positions.

“Most valuable was meeting people on specific teams at companies I’m interested in, because that’s how I want to think about potential,” says Alice Lee, a senior who’s interested in programming languages and embedded systems. “I was inspired by the women who are actively breaking glass ceilings and ready to talk about just how they did it.”

Tufts team wins international computational biology competition

A team of Tufts computer scientists and mathematicians won top prize in the Disease Module Identification DREAM Challenge, which is an “open community effort to: (1) Systematically assess module identification methods on a panel of state-of-the-art genomic networks, and (2) discover novel network modules/pathways underlying complex diseases.” The competition is driven by the interconnected nature of multiple genes interacting within molecular pathways to drive physiological and disease processes.

Out of 42 teams from across the globe, Team Tusk won first place with its response, “A Double Spectral Approach to DREAM 11 Subchallenge.” Team members included, from the Department of Computer Science, Professor Lenore Cowen, Professor Donna Slonim, Assistant Professor Ben Hescott, and master’s student Jake Crawford; and, from the Department of Mathematics, Assistant Professor Xiaozhe Hu and Ph.D. student Joanne Lin.

Rising costs for infections linked to bacteria in water supply

articleBacteriaWaterSupply2016A team led by Tufts researchers has found that healthcare costs are rising for infections linked to bacteria in water supply systems. The costs may now exceed $2 billion for 80,000 cases per year, and antibiotic resistance may be contributing to the trend.

“Premise plumbing pathogens can be found in drinking water, showers, hot tubs, medical instruments, kitchens, swimming pools—almost any premise where people use public water. The observed upward trend in associated infections is likely to continue, and aging water distribution systems might soon be an additional reservoir of costly multidrug resistance,” says lead author Elena Naumova.

The Tufts team included Naumova, professor at the Friedman School and Director of the Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Disease at Tufts University, and Jeffrey Griffiths, professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Both Naumova and Griffiths have a secondary appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

CEE postdoctoral fellow Alexander Liss was also an author on the paper, alongside Irmgard Behlau, research assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine, and Jyotsna Jagai of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Read the press release and the full paper in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

Summer scholar profile: Grace Aro

Each year, the Summer Scholars Program awards funding to a select group of rising juniors and seniors from across Tufts academic disciplines, to carry out ten-week independent research projects. This summer, we profiled three engineering students as they worked on their projects.

Grace Aro working in the lab at SciTech. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Grace Aro working in the lab at SciTech. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Name: Grace Aro
Hometown: Denver, CO
Major: Chemical engineering, E18
Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Ayse Asatekin

Project: There are “a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water,” says Aro, “and that’s a big issue.” Her project investigates an interesting potential solution: a co-polymer membrane that could filter organic materials out of surface water, while resisting getting clogged. The membranes that she made and tested in the lab are zwitterionic, meaning that they were created with zwitterions — ions that have positive charges on one end and negative on the other.  So far, Aro’s research suggests that the zwitterionic membranes seem to have equal the filtering capabilities of commercially-sold membranes, while clogging less. She’s also experimenting with whether the membranes can remove lead from a solution.

Read more: Filtering cleaner drinking water, and Water purification at the molecular level

New technique for generating human neural stem cells

Neuromuscular tissue engineering: hiNSCs (red) grown in co-culture with skeletal muscle (green), with cell nuclei visualized by blue DAPI staining. Credit: Dana M. Cairns, Tufts University.

Neuromuscular tissue engineering: hiNSCs (red) grown in co-culture with skeletal muscle (green), with cell nuclei visualized by blue DAPI staining. Credit: Dana M. Cairns, Tufts University.

A new technique, discovered by Tufts researchers, generates rapidly-differentiating human neural stem cells for use in a variety of tissue engineering applications. The researchers are not the first to generate these stem cells, but their process appears to be simpler, faster, and more reliable than existing protocols. They converted human fibroblasts and adipose-derived stem cells into stable, human induced neural stem cell (hiNSC) lines that acquire the features of active neurons within as few as four days, compared to the typical four weeks.

The work could pave the way for experiments that engineer other innervated tissues, such as the skin and cornea, and for the development of human brain models with diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Dana Cairns, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, was first author on the paper published in Stem Cell Reports. Paper authors also include corresponding author Professor David Kaplan; Karolina Chwalek, former postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering; Rosalyn Abbott, postdoctoral scholar in biomedical engineering; and Professor Stephen Moss, Yvonne Moore, and Matthew Kelley from the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

Read the full paper in Stem Cell Reports.

Summer scholar profile: Anu Gamage

Each year, the Summer Scholars Program awards funding to a select group of rising juniors and seniors from across Tufts academic disciplines, to carry out ten-week independent research projects. This summer, we profiled three engineering students as they worked on their projects.

Anu Gamage performs research on her inverted pendulum.

Anu Gamage performs research on her inverted pendulum.

Name: Anu Gamage
Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Major: Electrical engineering, E18
Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Usman Khan

Project: An inverted pendulum is exactly what it sounds like: a pendulum stood on its head, with its center of mass above its pivot. It requires a constant application of force to keep it balanced. The human body is an inverted pendulum, Gamage points out, with our muscles constricting to act against gravity and keep us upright. There are inverted pendulums in robotics and in aeronautics. They’re monitored by internal sensors that track the pendulum’s position and apply the proper amount of force to maintain its vertical position. Those internal sensors, however, are potentially vulnerable to software bugs or cyberattacks. Gamage seeks to create an external camera system that would capture a running visual feed of the pendulum’s motion, process those images, and use that data to balance it. “It would be robust against attacks or malfunctions,” says Gamage.

Read more: Defying gravity with an inverted pendulum, and Anu’s blogs for Tufts Admissions