to local clients. I was also tech support, so I would take calls at home and help people with their computer troubles. Since I set up the computer environment for them, I had it all memorized. While talking with someone on the phone, I was able to close my eyes and guide them keystroke by keystroke through the computer. I just really enjoyed it. Overall, I would chalk it up to a combination of a desire to invent things and a love for computers. When I got to Dartmouth and went to the information session at Thayer, I thought, “Wow this is for me.” I decided pretty early on that engineering was going to be a lot of fun, especially here at Dartmouth. I also studied Chinese while I was here: I went on the Beijing FSP, spent a leave term in Taiwan continuing with my language studies, and maintained a high level of involvement with the Asian studies program through my senior year. The thing that really appealed to me about engineering at Thayer was the fact that it’s problem-oriented, projectbased learning.
In what ways did your undergraduate experience at Dartmouth help shape your career? My undergraduate experience at Dartmouth helped me to structure my approach to problem solving and also helped me to learn how to apply my creative energies in a productive way that could really make a difference in the world. I saw that process go through a full cycle multiple times in my experience at Dartmouth and Thayer. I think that we successfully connect students with the world, with real-world problems, and real-world thinking. During my time as a graduate student at Harvard in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, it was apparent to me that I had learned a problem-solving methodology that gave me an advantage over my peers. The strong academic training—a combination of mathematics and engineering sciences along with the breadth of other studies I had done here—helped me to refine my ability to define a problem, develop a strategy, and execute that plan while being creative in the process. I was aware that my peers hadn’t had a comparable experience. In most cases, it was also apparent that they hadn’t had nearly as much fun learning as I did while I was at Dartmouth. 10
How did you decide to tackle the problem of Alzheimer’s and stroke? I became interested in the human brain and mind when I was still very young. Before college, I was reading books on my own about the mind and the brain, and I was fascinated. I didn’t think it was something that I’d be able to combine with my interest in technology and engineering; I saw it as a side interest. Then, through the undergraduate program at Dartmouth, I connected with an adjunct professor at Thayer named Bob Dean. Bob is an extraordinary professor, inventor, and entrepreneur. He has made a huge mark on the Upper Valley, having co-founded or founded a number of companies in the area. Early on, I had to do an independent project for my fluid mechanics class, and I decided to contact Bob at his company Synergy Innovations to ask if he had a project that I could work on for my class. He agreed, and I ended up analyzing a submerged water jet that had the potential to break up kidney stones. The project went well, and when it came time to do my capstone design project, which is comparable to the currently offered Engineering Sciences 89 and 90 courses, I again contacted Bob. This time, I was motivated to work personally with Bob, and we decided to take on a project that he had originally co-invented with a physical therapist: an exercise machine for the bed-ridden elderly. The idea is that when someone is elderly, their strength is often diminished relative to the strength needed to walk. When one is bed-ridden for a long time, due to sickness or injury, a loss of basic motor abilities can result in an inability to stand up from a low chair, such as a toilet, or to walk independently— those sorts of things. They invented a machine that would attach to the bottom of a hospital bed. While in bed, it allows patients to do leg exercises to maintain leg strength and stay mobile. For me, this was a very exciting project. Bob was opening up a world for me where I could connect technology and engineering with an ability to address very direct human need. Bob had previously applied for funding from NSF for this project and did not win the award, so I set about redesigning the device from scratch, built a prototype,and started working with some local subjects who were elderly and trying out the device. I gathered new data from the
machine and rewrote the NSF grant proposal,which we submitted together and won the award. One of the subjects to use this in-bed exercise machine, called IBEX, was a stroke patient. This was my first experience working with a stroke patient. No one in my family had had a stroke, and I had not had that personal experience before. There it was, right in front of me, a very direct connection between the brain and a physical disability that I was able to measure with technology. That was the moment when I decided I was going to find a way to connect what I was doing at the time in mechanical design and engineering with the human brain. I spent some time digging in and doing my own research on how these fields were connected and what sorts of technology were available to study the brain. Through this course, I learned about fMRI, EEG, and other technologies. I applied to graduate school to combine my interests of technology design, rehabilitation, and the brain. That’s what I went to Harvard to study. When I got to Harvard I studied under Robert Howe. His lab focused on surgical robotics. I spent a lot of my first year developing a research plan. I had extra time because I’d taken some graduate courses while I was at Thayer, during the fifth year, the B.E. year. I was able to transfer those course credits to Harvard, so I had a reduced course load. I spent my extra time developing a research plan and writing a pilot grant to the Charles A. Dana Foundation, which had a grant mechanism that combined biomedical imaging of brain function with neurological disorders. I applied for the grant and won that award, which allowed me to pay my way through graduate school. There was a transitional period between when I was just focusing on mechanical design in my first couple of years at Thayer and when I was in touch with Bob Dean looking for projects that combined technology with human need. I took a course here at Dartmouth in the education department taught by Professor Linda Mulleyon in special education. She was the one who first introduced me to the connection between engineering and technology and communication and mobility aids. For me, that was a really important bridge between my first forays into engineering design and seeking out Bob Dean, who was in the process of combining the two fields of engineering and rehabilitation technology. DARTMOUTH UNDERGRADUATE JOURNAL OF SCIENCE
The Spring 2012 edition of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science