Category Archives: Women Engineers

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

Driving the Autobahn

Professor Kathleen Fisher, Remy Wang, and Diogenes Nunez worked on a Haskell program called AUTOBAHN.

Professor Kathleen Fisher, Remy Wang, and Diogenes Nunez created a Haskell program called AUTOBAHN.

A paper by doctoral student Diogenes Nunez, senior Remy Wang, and Professor and Chair Kathleen Fisher, entitled “AUTOBAHN: Using Genetic Algorithms to Infer Strictness Annotations,” will appear at the 2016 Haskell Symposium. This work, which started as a project in Associate Professor Norman Ramsey’s functional programming class, tackles the long-standing problem of how to improve the performance of Haskell programs by telling the compiler which program fragments should be evaluated eagerly. Currently, inserting the appropriate annotations is a black art, known only to expert Haskell programmers. The Autobahn tool developed by Nunez and Wang automatically suggests appropriate places to put annotations to improve a number of performance metrics.

Lantagne writes on the need for wastewater treatment innovation

With water quality in Rio de Janeiro in the news, Assistant Professor Daniele Lantagne wrote for The Conversation on the failure to adequately treat and dispose of wastewater. The conversation about Rio, Lantagne says, is often missing a key contextual detail: this is a common problem across the globe, requiring innovation and alternative approaches.

Lantagne also recently spoke to the New York Times on recent audits of UN mission sites’ sanitation practices.

Summer scholar profile: Jenny Skerker

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’ll be profiling three engineering students as they work on their projects.

skerker.JPGName: Jenny Skerker
Hometown: Lexington, MA
Major: Environmental engineering, E17
Faculty mentor: Associate Professor John Durant

Project: Over the last several years, you might have seen a Tufts RV driving around Boston. That RV, operated by Tufts CEE graduate students and equipped with fast-response air pollution monitoring equipment, was collecting data on air quality throughout the city. Skerker will bring some of that data into an analysis program called AERMOD to model air dispersal patterns from the northbound and southbound Central Artery Tunnel exits beneath downtown Boston  a particular focus that hasn’t been studied before. “My question that I’ll be trying to answer,” Skerker says, “is: where is this pollution going [when it exits the tunnel]? Does it affect neighboring communities? What’s the downwind direction?”

More information: Modeling air pollution in Boston, and Big road blues

Georgakoudi elected to senior member of SPIE

Irene Georgakoudi, associate professor of biomedical engineering, has been elected to the grade of Senior Member of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

SPIE Senior Members are members of distinction who are honored for their professional experience, their active involvement with the optics community and SPIE, and significant performance that sets them apart from their peers.

Panetta speaks on women in engineering

Karen Panetta, professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate dean of graduate education, was interviewed by CNNMoney about how female engineers can navigate the pay gap and a predominantly male culture.

Full article: Women with engineering and computer science degrees have their pick of jobs

Tufts in Talloires: An uplifting journey’s end

This summer, two students from the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program blogged their experiences from Tufts in Talloires, a six-week summer program that offers students a dynamic group of courses taught by Tufts faculty in Talloires, France. In addition to coursework, a wide variety of optional outdoor activities, weekly hikes into the Alps, field trips, and organized events offer each student the opportunity to explore the unique Haute-Savoie region of France. 

By Michelle Chan

Michelle and Hernan at the base of the mountain, ready to paraglide.

Michelle and Hernan, ready to paraglide.

From the edge of the mountain, the entirety of Lake Annecy stretched before me. I collected all the trust I had in my body for the instructor strapped behind me, to obey his shout, “Don’t sit! Run! Keep running!” So I ran right off the mountain. The ground fell away beneath my feet, or maybe my body was floating. Either one could be correct depending on the reference frame, but neither mattered because I was flying. My eyes followed the cords attached to the harness on my body, up, up, up, to see only a piece of fabric holding me afloat in a vast sky. I started screaming. There was no fear left in me, only exhilaration at life’s possibilities.

In the sky, I located Hernan, my fellow BESTie, soaring alongside me. Exactly a year ago, we were arriving at Tufts for BEST summer session, barely getting to know each other. Just like we entered college together, we supported each other throughout our fall and spring semesters. We traveled to Turkey and Germany together before arriving in France. Just last week, we went paragliding. As I flew higher, breaking into a cloud, I realized that I never would have found so much success and fulfillment without the support of BEST and my amazing community.

France has been a new experience that was made better by friends like Hernan sticking up for each other through challenges, whether or not they were unique to being in a foreign country. After Talloires, when Hernan and I return back to Tufts ground, I want to continue the practice of lifting up others in all contexts of life, even those beyond engineering. We are more than just our professions, but also bodies, minds, and souls that need acknowledgement to reach our highest capabilities.

Michelle Chan is a rising sophomore from Eugene, Oregon, majoring in computer engineering.