Page 1

!"#$%&'())& THE PIONEER NEWSLETTER is brought to you by the students, faculty, and staff of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. The newsletter staff and its collaborators strive to bring you the latest news from all aspects of the BME community. To submit articles, opinions, ideas, or events for publication and for more information about the newsletter, please visit:

inside this

Issue 3 PRE-HEALTH COLUMN The GPA 4 AUTOMATING SEDATION Improving Intensive Care Units 6 UNDER THE KNIFE Clinical Observation and Design Experience


Under the Knife Clinical Observation and Design Experience

By Eric Huang

visit to the hospital can hold many meanings. To a BME student that meaning might constitute enrollment in the Clinical Observation and Design Experience Class (CODE) course at Grady Memorial Hospital. Taught by Dr. Jeremy Ackerman of Emory University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, CODE is a two component course where students work two 4.5 hour shifts twice a week at Grady. In the first component, clinical research, biomedical undergraduates identify and recruit patients for studies or complete surveys with patients for a...


Continued on Page 6

Students in CODE or BMED 4803 work at Grady Memorial Hospital. (Photo: Saranya Karthikeyan)

Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Davis By Steven Touchton, Jr

Neuroengineering in Industry


yan Davis is an alumnus of the Georgia Institute of Technology currently working at EnteroMedics, a neuroengineering company focused on obesity and weight loss. Davis entered the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University as a sophomore when the Coulter Department was founded. Initially drawn to the program with the intent to enroll in medical school to become a surgeon, Davis quickly became intrigued with the design and engineering aspects of the major. After Dr. Steve Potter’s class on the fundamentals of neuroscience, Davis determined that neuroengineering was...


8 ASK AN ALUM! Tips for Success 9 MASTERS VS PH.D A Look Down the Road 10 RESEARCH SERIES Part II: What Am I Getting Myself Into? 10 BME LAB CLASSES With Dr. Esfandiar Behravesh 12 GRADUATE SPOTLIGHT Chi-Chi Esimai

Ryan Davis, a Coulter Department alum, graduated in 2005. (Photo: William Sessions)

Continued on Page 7

WORDS Staff Members from the editor in chief s the midpoint of the semester approaches, we find ourselves in a semester half full. The lure of a balmy breeze lies in wait at the end of this month and soon after, the home stretch. Before the promise of spring break and summer completely enraptures the mind, take note of two midsemester, institution wide events that will highlight biomedical engineering at the undergraduate level: The InVenture Prize Finals will be occurring March 9th at 6:30 pm in the Ferst Center. This year, biomedical engineering students are participating in four out of the seven final teams. Given BME teams’ history with the InVenture Prize – with a group winning the overall competition in the inaugural year – and this year’s team lineup, the competition is a must-see. The 6th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium and Awards will be occurring April 5th in the Student Center Ballroom. With our culture emphasizing undergraduate research, biomedical engineering students always have a healthy representation at this event. As usual, for comments or suggestions feel free to contact us via or



Willa Ni

EDITOR IN CHIEF Willa Ni FACULTY SPONSOR Dr. Wendy Newstetter OFFICERS Karan Patel Debika Mitra STAFF WRITERS Alex Cooper Dhruv Vishwakarma Subhendu De Belane Gizaw Eric Huang Elise Perez Harish Srinimukesh Rachel Stewart Guergana Terzieva Steven A Touchton Jr EDITORS Gopi Patel Nida Dharani Jenna Fair Shalv Madhani Ayesha Patel Elina Sarmah

Willa Ni Editor in Chief The Pioneer

“I Just Wanted To Be Smart!”

PHOTOGRAPHERS Saranya Karthikeyan Virginia Lin William Sessions LAYOUT EDITORS Kevin Lam Sona Chandra Victoria Ibarra Kelli Koenig Candace Law Alex Lee Summer Lee Anum Syed WEBMASTERS Elysia Hwang Timothy Lin COLLABORATORS Karen Adams Paul Fincannon Sally Gerrish Jennifer Kimble Megan McDevitt Colleen Mitchell Adrianne Proeller Shannon Sullivan John Toon Abby Vogel

*Executive Officers

“That’s So BM


I knew I had gotten the right answer on a quiz before Valentine’s Day when the amino acids I had to identify spelled out “HEARTS.” -Lys-Asp-Trp-Lys Summer Lee


I got Rick Rolled… by my systems physiology slides. -Confused


Page 2

My professor sent the whole class a youtube video of an America’s Got Talent clip. -Easily Amused

Events and Deadlines Pre-Health Column INVENTURE PRIZE FINALS March 9, 2011 - 6:30pm Ferst Center Get FREE Tickets

THE ETHICS OF STEM CELL ENGINEERING BGSAC and BBUGS are partnering to host a debate on the ethics of stem cell engineering. Two speakers and one mediator will engage in a discussion on the ethical dilemmas of utilizing human engineered stem cells in the scientific and medical communities.

P RESENTING WITH P OWER : E FFECTIVELY AND DYNAMICALLY COMMUNICATING YOUR RESEARCH Learn how to create functional PowerPoint slides and concrete tips on how to present your research effectively and dynamically. Student Center Room 320 March 15, 2011 – 11:00am

Speakers Include Pro-hESC: James Shepherd, Founder and of Chairman of the Shepherd Center Anti-hESC: Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. IBB 1128 March 10, 2011 – 3:00pm

SUDDATH SYMPOSIUM 2011 Call for abstracts Abstract submissions are now being accepted for the 2011 Suddath Symposium Deadline: March 11, 2011

The Ribosome: Structure, Function, Evolution Discussions on the latest developments in the fields of bioengineering and bioscience. Registration is $25 for students and postdocs and $50 for faculty. April 1-2, 2011

Pre-Health Column The GPA

By Jennifer Kimble

his time of the semester, students usually want to stop by to talk about their grades. For some students, a class is proving to be extremely difficult. For other students, they have constantly struggled academically in college. Still others want to talk about dropping a class. Before we address these student scenarios, let’s do some mythbusting:


Admissions is NOT Solely Based On GPA Seriously, it is not. If it were, admission offices would email me for a list of my 4.0 students so they could send them automatic acceptance letters. Professional schools look at

STANDARD PRACTICES AND STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE IN SCIENTIFIC POSTERS Examine several research posters used in the past and comment on their design. Participants will also learn tips on how to effectively convey their research in a poster setting. Student Center Room 319 March 17, 2011 – 11:00am




Learn about research conducted by Georgia Tech undergraduates in an informal atmosphere. Student Center Ballroom and Surrounding Rooms Oral Presentations - 1:00pm Poster Sessions - 2:00pm Reception - 4:30pm Awards Ceremony - 5:15pm April 5, 2011

academic performance trends. An example of this would be a junior with a 3.2 GPA. Does she have that GPA because she started off strong her fall freshman year with a 4.0, the next semester a 3.4 and then continued in a downward trend? Let’s compare that to a 3.2 junior who had a 2.2 GPA fall freshman year, then a 2.8 spring freshman year, etc. This is an upward progression that schools like to see. Also, narrow GPA fluctuations, for example between a 3.2 and a 3.6, are no cause for concern. Overall, try to show schools a constant progress towards academic success. For BME students who operate under the assumption that, since it is a hard major, no one makes a 4.0, think again. I have worked with numerous BME students with 3.8 GPAs and higher! Remember that the average Tech GPA for medical school acceptance is a 3.6. Let’s not make excuses about your grades; let’s make positive changes about your grades!

Page 3

Aside from the GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, letters of evaluation, essays, interviews, school selection and timing of the application are also very important factors in acceptance and consideration.

Pre-Health Personal Statement Workshops

Student One: Always Successful, but Having A Rough Semester The first thing I ask myself is what is different this semester? Sometimes, it is just an unlucky combination of courses. But oftentimes, the grades of a student in this situation are an indicator of something that is occurring in the student’s life, such as roommate conflicts, new job/research project, family drama, group project dynamics or classes. Perhaps the student needs to have a conversation with their group project team to resolve conflicts. Or maybe he/she needs to talk with an academic advisor about an appropriate combination of classes for future semesters. The Counseling Center staff ( is well trained to deal with Tech students who find themselves in these kinds of situations. Academic Support Service can also help with tutoring (

Students who plan to apply to professional schools for Fall 2011 entry should begin working on their personal statements. March is Personal Statement month, and students MUST attend one of the following Workshops if they want Jennifer Kimble to critique their personal statement.

Student Two: Constantly Struggled Academically in College The transition from high school to college can be tricky. Students can go from being the “smart kid” to being on a campus filled with “smart kids.” A bad grade might decrease confidence in succeeding at Tech. Combined with other factors, nagging self doubt starts infiltrating the brain, and all too soon, disappointing final grades are posted. Thinking that the next semester will be different, the students fall into the same vicious cycle. Snap out of it! The Office of Admissions accepts students that they believe have the mental aptitude to excel here. Also, remember academic resources and your academic advisor are always here to help (Math Lab academics/undergraduate/tutors-and-labs, Tutoring - Academic Support Services). The point is, students need to do something intentional to turn around the performance. Remember, schools love underdog stories. They like seeing what I call the “Sharpie Moment” where a line drawn on the transcript divides weak grades before the line from the strong grades after the line. I have worked with many students who are now in professional school who were in that boat. For students like this, a strong MCAT performance is needed. We can discuss this, if you are in this situation.

Student Three: Wants to Drop a Class The decision to withdraw is a personal one and not something that I can absolutely advise for or against. First of all, I would recommend talking to the professor to determine the cause of the problem. I would also recommend talking to your academic advisor to get his/her take on dropping the course. Really think of the rationale as to why you want to drop the course, since you may have to discuss that in an interview. It is hard to say how med schools will view a "W" on a transcript. For some of my students, the "W" is never even noticed. For other students, a "W" is a big deal. For those students, it's typically because they: 1. Had a history of "W" on their transcript. 2. Had a "W" later in their academic history (i.e. their junior year). 3. Had a weak academic performance to begin with. 4. Couldn't give a solid answer in an interview why they made a "W" in a class. Overall, if everything is strong with the application, one "W" will not be an issue. On a weak application, the “W” might draw some concern.

March 9 - 11:00am, SSC Clary Theater March 10 - 6:00pm, SSC Clary Theater March 18 - 4:00pm SSC Presidential Suite A For more information, contact Jennifer Kimble at:

Jennifer Kimble is the Georgia Tech Pre-Health Advisor.

Automating Sedation Researchers Work to Improve Intensive Care Units

By Abby Robinson

esearchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Northeast Georgia Medical Center are one step closer to their goal of automating the management of sedation in hospital intensive care units (ICUs). They have developed control algorithms that use clinical data to accurately determine a patient's level of sedation and can notify medical staff if there is a change in the level. "ICU nurses have one of the most task-laden jobs in medicine and typically take care of multiple patients at the same time, so if we can use control system technology to automate the task of sedation, patient safety will be enhanced and drug delivery will improve in the ICU," said James Bailey, the chief medical informatics officer at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Ga. Bailey is also a certified anesthesiologist and

intensive care specialist. During a presentation at the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control, the researchers reported on their analysis of more than 15,000 clinical measurements from 366 ICU patients they classified as "agitated" or "not agitated." Agitation is a measure of the level of patient sedation. The algorithm returned the same results as the assessment by hospital staff 92 percent of the time. "Manual sedation control can be tedious, imprecise, timeconsuming and sometimes of poor quality, depending on the skills and judgment of the ICU nurse," said Wassim Haddad, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Aerospace Engineering. "Ultimately, we envision an automated system in which the ICU nurse evaluates the ICU patient, enters the patient's sedation level into a controller, which then adjusts the sedative dosing regimen to


Page 4

!"#$%#&'(%)*+,-.*(%#*/0#"-1&.*2#3-1&'*4(53#.(*/66,1-&(-,.*&(*7#,"8-&* 9#1%*:,"*0#3-1&'*61%,,'*&30-66-,.6*;-6-(6<*'#&3#"6%-=*&.3*;,'5.(##"* ,==,"(5.-(-#6<*0#.(,"6%-=*=",8"&06<*-.(#".&(-,.&'*#>=#"-#.1#6<* 1,.:#"#.1#6<*&.3*051%*0,"#?* maintain sedation at the desired level by continuously collecting and analyzing quantitative clinical data on the patient." This project is supported in part by the U.S. Army. On the battlefield, military physicians sometimes face demanding critical care situations and the use of advanced control technologies is essential for extending the capabilities of the health care system to handle large numbers of injured soldiers. Working with Haddad and Bailey on this project are Allen Tannenbaum and Behnood Gholami. Tannenbaum holds a joint appointment as the Julian Hightower Chair in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, while Gholami is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. This research builds on Haddad and Bailey's previous work automating anesthesia in hospital operating rooms. The adaptive control algorithms developed by Haddad and Bailey control the infusion of an anesthetic drug agent in order to maintain a desired constant level of depth of anesthesia during surgery in the operating room. Clinical trial results that will be published in the March issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology demonstrate excellent regulation of unconsciousness allowing for a safe and effective administration of an anesthetic agent. Critically ill patients in the ICU frequently require invasive monitoring and other support that can lead to anxiety, agitation and pain. Sedation is essential for the comfort and safety of these patients. "The challenge in developing closed-loop control systems for sedating critically ill patients is finding the appropriate performance variable or variables that measure the level of sedation of a patient, in turn allowing an automated controller to provide adequate sedation without oversedation," said Gholami. In the ICU, the researchers used information detailing each patient's facial expression, gross motor movement, response to a potentially noxious stimulus, heart rate and blood pressure stability, noncardiac sympathetic stability, and nonverbal pain scale to determine a level of sedation. The researchers classified the clinical data for each variable into

categories. For example, a patient's facial expression was categorized as "relaxed," "grimacing and moaning," or "grimacing and crying." A patient's noncardiac sympathetic stability was classified as "warm and dry skin," "flushed and sweaty," or "pale and sweaty." They also recorded each patient's score on the motor activity and assessment scale (MAAS), which is used by clinicians to evaluate level of sedation on a scale of zero to six. In the MAAS system, a score of zero represents an "unresponsive patient," three represents a "calm and cooperative patient," and six represents a "dangerously agitated patient." The MAAS score is subjective and can result in inconsistencies and variability in sedation administration. Using a Bayesian network, the researchers used the clinical data to compute the probability that a patient was agitated. Twelvethousand measurements collected from patients admitted to the ICU at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center between during a one-year period were used to train the Bayesian network and the remaining 3,000 were used to test it. In 18 percent of the test cases, the computer classified a patient as "agitated" but the MAAS score described the same patient as "not agitated." In five percent of the test cases, the computer classified a patient as "not agitated," whereas the MAAS score indicated "agitated." These probabilities signify an 18 percent falsepositive rate and a five percent false-negative rate. "This level of performance would allow a significant reduction in the workload of the intensive care unit nurse, but it would in no way replace the nurse as the ultimate judge of the adequacy of sedation," said Bailey. "However, by relieving the nurse of some of the work associated with titration of sedation, it would allow the nurse to better focus on other aspects of his or her demanding job." The researchers' next step toward closed-loop control of sedation in the ICU will be to continuously collect clinical data from ICU patients in real time. Future work will involve the development of objective techniques for assessing ICU sedation using movement, facial expression and responsiveness to stimuli. Digital imaging will be used to assess a patient's facial expression and also gross motor movement. In a study published in the June 2010 issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the researchers showed that machine learning methods could be used to assess the level of pain in patients using facial expressions. "We will explore the relationship between the data we can extract from these multiple sensors and the subjective clinical MAAS score," said Haddad. "We will then use the knowledge we have gained in developing feedback control algorithms for anesthesia dosage levels in the operating room to develop an expert system to automate drug dosage in the ICU.". This project is supported in part by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (Grant No. 08108002). The content is solely the responsibility of the principal investigator (Wassim Haddad) and does not represent the official views of the U.S. Army.

Georgia Tech researchers Wassim Haddad, Allen Tannenbaum and Behnood Gholami (l-r) have developed control algorithms to automate sedation in hospital intensive care units. (Credit: Gary Meek)

Abby Robinson is a communications officer in the GT Research News & Publications Office.

Page 5


from Page 1

number of highly variable research projects ranging from congestive heart failure to studies on drug toxicity and process improvement. From the design component standpoint, the course is in evolution; but overall, Ackerman will probably continue with the 5 project format he used in fall of 2010. Students begin the first project by looking at the environment of the emergency department, i.e. the walls, the ceiling, the doors, the fitting on the plumbing to understand how the environment actually impacts what happens in the emergency department. The projects continue onto analysis of processes, security, and eventually, students are allowed to pick an issue they are interested in working on. Brian Chiang is a 5th year undergraduate BME who not only took the class, but also has returned to TA for CODE. He describes a typical shift at Grady Memorial as consisting of data collection and process observation/improvement. It is not unusual either, on late Friday night shift, to witness trauma. Occasionally, lucky undergraduates shadow a resident and can gain insight into a particular patientâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s case. CODE is at heart a learn-by-doing course. Ackerman teaches from a design methodology called Human Centered Design. The key to the methodology is observation; at every step, the statement of the problem, angle of attack and final solution must fit with the observations and what is actually happening. In other words, the primary goal of the class is to place students in the middle of the emergency department and teach them how to identify a problem. Ackerman emphasizes that this is a skill critical to anyone wanting to pursue a biomedical engineering career. The experience at Grady will hopefully build an undergraduate's ability to really get in and observe what happens. Students achieve this by unobtrusively blending in, approaching physicians, nurses, technicians and patients and asking them what is happening, why is it happening, talking to the end users and ultimately incorporating that feedback into future design tasks. Also, the student projects have real life ramifications. A few student suggestions do pass through the filters of administration and are actually implemented at Grady. One group realized that nurses often embarked on printer hunts because it was never clear which printer their lab labels would pop out of. The naming and tagging

Page 6

of the printers, though not ground breaking, still made a big difference. For Chiang, taking this course has granted him the perspective of the surgeons, nurses, and the patients â&#x20AC;&#x201C; ultimately the end users at the hospital. Brian's senior design project is based on the observation that the low end unidirectional diagnostic light that surgeons use often obscures fine sutures by casting shadows on the stitches. His group's design of an automatically focusing multidirectional diagnostic light will hopefully improve the quality and efficiency of surgical suturing. When asked who would benefit the most from the CODE class, Ackerman responded, "The course has the most long term value for students planning to go into industry or graduate school. In the short term, it probably has the biggest impact on students who are applying to medical

school. They want a good letter of recommendation; you know if you do well in my course I'm happy to provide it." Eric Huang is an undergraduate student in the Coulter Department

(Photo: Saranya Karthikeyan)

Student suggestions have real life ramifications in the operation of the hospital. (Photo: Saranya Karthikeyan)

Alumni Spotlight

from Page 1

his passion, and industry was the best path. F o r D a v i s , c i rc u i t e le c t r on ic s , bioinstrumentation and sensor technology “just clicked,” and they have paved the way to his career today. After graduation in 2005, Davis, a lifelong resident of Atlanta, picked up his belongings and moved to Houston, Texas to work for Cyberonics. “It was a big risk,” Davis recalled, “to pack up and move out there and leave everything behind.” Working for Cyberonics, a neuromodulation company focused on a new technology called Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), Davis helped to market their newly FDA approved device. VNS uses a technology similar to pacemakers to treat epilepsy and other neurological disorders by sending an electrical signal to the left cervical vagus nerve, which increases activity in that region. “The technology and stuff was right down my ally,” he said, “I loved the company, and being there I got to use my time to learn about other opportunities.” By volunteering for several departments other than his own, Davis gleaned the experience he needed to move up the ladder within Cyberonics: first in the regulatory department, then answering phone calls dealing with questions and complaints about the device Afterwards, he moved on to actually training the surgeons on how to implant the device and being in the operating rooms “kind of being a technical resource” for them. However, Cyberonics was a large company with an established medical device, and Davis was ready to look for further growth. Around the time Davis was looking for something more, he received a call from a recruiter. “I don’t even know how [the]… recruiter got my phone number,” Davis told me, “but it ended up working out really well.” The recruiter introduced Davis to his current company, EnteroMedics, which was a novel idea to

Currently employed at EnteroMedics, Davis manages the field clinical engineering team. (Photo: William Sessions)

Davis at the time. With approximately twenty employees, the company was “more on the front end of a device.” Davis was brought on to help with a big clinical trial that would help get the new device through FDA approval. EnteroMedics’ new V-Block Therapy applies a “very high power electrical algorithm [to the vagus nerve] that blocks the nerve activity.” Currently, the device has not yet been FDA approved, but Davis and EnteroMedics are working on approval both here in the United States as well as overseas in Europe and Australia. “It’s been a wild ride,” Davis says, smiling, with the “ups and downs, the highs and lows that come with getting pumped up and anticipating these great big milestones as a company.”

Looking back at his time at Georgia Tech, Davis gives some advice to current students: “Get your foot in the door in the industry any way you can.” He recalls thinking “I’ll sweep the floors if that’s the only opening they have.” Starting off, it wasn’t the exact job he wanted within the company; however, through volunteering and keeping a good attitude, Davis now manages the field clinical engineering team for EnteroMedics. “You learn so much here [at Georgia Tech],” Davis explains, “but when you get out there you learn there’s so much you don’t know. It’s smart to be humble […] and just take every experience you can to learn new stuff.” Steven Touchton, Jr. is an undergraduate student in the Coulter Department.

2010-2011 Excellence Awards FACULTY, STAFF, AND STUDENTS: E-mail your nominations for OUTSTANDING SENIOR, RESEARCH, AND ACADEMIC AWARDS to by Friday March 4th! Page 7

Ask an Alum! Tips for Success

"How did you achieve your current employment/choice of study? Compare your current situation to what you had planned or envisioned upon graduation." achieved my current employment and choice of study in public health based off of my desire to be involved in patient care. Taking courses, such as CODE and global health, also provided me with a deeper glimpse into the diversity within the public health field. Initially, I planned to go into research and design upon graduation. I wanted to have an impact on patient care from a technical perspective. My desire to impact has not changed. However, I now want to be involved more with the patients themselves.


y current situation is, overall, happening according to plan, although with some pleasant surprises. While challenging, the GT BME degree gave me the intellectual confidence to branch out and try new things. After graduation, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, Africa to work on the HIV pandemic. Looking back to the great people and mentors I met through the BME experience as a part of undergraduate research, PBL, curriculum, clubs, etc, I often realize that the perspectives I gained at Tech helped me in Africa and [even do so] now, in medical school. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.


Carrie Oliver HIV Counselor Emory's Department of Emergency Medicine May 2010 eing a BME/Pre-Med, my goal upon graduation was to attend medical school. Unfortunately, my application didn't meet their criteria, so my time between matriculating and graduating from Tech was spent improving on my weaker areas. This included working at positions at local hospitals and moving half way across the country to work in clinical research. The best advice I would give would be to utilize your fellow BMEs and your contacts. If you know any alumni or have classmates with internships, let them know you are looking for a position and make certain they can have quick access to your resume. The main reason I found my most important job (which helped immensely in my acceptance to medical school) was that a BME from Tech helped my boss move a file cabinet! The personal reference can be the one thing that separates you from the countless other applicants.


Norman H. Ward III Clinical Research Assistant/Entering Medical Student University of Texas Medical School at Houston May 2007 currently work in new product development at a large medical device company as a project engineer. When I started at Tech, I knew I wanted to be involved in healthcare in some capacity, and throughout my coursework in BME, I became more confident that device engineering was the place for me. To learn more about the device industry and how to become a part of it, I utilized many campus resources: professional internships, career fairs, resume screenings, lunch and learns, conversations with people in industry, and networking with alums, etc. The common theme among everyone I spoke with was the high level of impact they felt they had in patient care and improving quality of life. As someone in the industry now, I have seen firsthand the reward that comes along with producing a device that vastly improves and even saves many peoplesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; lives. Shelley Eckert Associate Project Engineer C.R. Bard Graduated May 2010

Mark Weng 3rd year medical student Emory University School of Medicine 2006 achieved my current employment by completing two months of away elective rotations at Emory during the earlier months of my senior year of medical school at Mercer. Over the remaining months of my senior year, I anxiously met one-on-one with the chair of the department, the director of the residency program, and other top faculty members. I also met with two key mentors at Georgia Tech during this time. Having realized that I was interested in imaging and that I had an undeniable desire to incorporate engineering into my ultimate career path, these meetings were to seek guidance and to learn options about my next career steps, as I did not feel like continuing on with "the herd" (i.e. my medical school classmates) directly into residency. Honestly, I envisioned myself just "becoming a doctor" upon graduation from Georgia Tech. I wasn't fully aware of the abundance of extra intellectual tools Tech supplied [that I could] apply to my career in medicine. During my senior year of medical school, I gained this knowledge and decided that I wanted to do MORE. To future graduates of Tech's BME program: seek out your mentors, and follow your heart. With hard work and determination, the possibilities are endless.



Page 8

Christina Lurie Research Associate - Radiology, Body MRI Emory University School of Medicine BMED - May 2005 etwork network network! A lot of informational interviews and meeting people goes a long way. Luckily, through my networking skills, I was able to get into the biotech industry and apply my BME degree towards developing manufacturing processes to make biological drugs.


Parika Petaipimo Development Engineer Biogen Idec 2004

Master’s vs Ph.D. A Look Down the Road he choice between two degrees, a Master’s or a Ph.D., ultimately leads the respective students down divergent roads. A decision between the two degree programs is influenced by factors such as time commitment and personal goals. However, when approaching these programs, "I think the ultimate thing," explains Neal Laxpat, a fourth year M.D.-Ph.D. student studying under Dr. Bob Gross at Emory University , "is to find what motivates you and then tailor your education to that purpose." According to Sally Gerrish, Director of Student, Alumni, and Industrial Relations, 30% of BME undergraduates pursue higher education at a graduate school with 14% choosing a Ph.D. degree and 16% choosing a Master’s degree. Compared to the past, students now more often matriculate into a Master’s program. As Gerrish explains, "Interesting Master’s programs are popping up all over the country that are giving students the skills they need to go into industry."


Sally Gerrish, Director of Student, Alumni, and Industrial Relations, is available in the Academic Office for consultation. (Photo: Saranya Karthikeyan)

By Eric Huang Master’s are generally two year programs that allow the student to delve a little deeper into a subject area. Such programs can be broken down into a thesis or a non-thesis program. Master’s degrees appeal to students who want specific training. When you earn a Master’s, some are called terminal Master’s because they are in fact the highest degree available in a particular field. The fields of study can range from entrepreneurial and business related practices to highly specific applications such as prosthetics and orthotics. Furthermore, Master’s are becoming the next level in a career in industry. The field is "getting to the point where sometime in your professional career, you [will] need a Master’s to advance," Gerrish comments. Unlike the Master’s, Ph.D. programs are centered upon research. To earn a Ph.D., doctorate students must propose and defend a thesis – the end goal being a novel contribution to their field of study. While it is rare for someone to pursue a Masters and then enter academia, exiting Ph.D. students are evenly divided between industry and academia. BME graduate students Ashely Allen and Laxpat spoke of their own motivations for continuing onto graduate school. Allen is a second year bioengineering Ph.D. in Dr. Bob Goldberg's Lab. Her initial goal upon entering into graduate school was to eventually continue into academia. However, Ashley notes that certain fields lend themselves more to a Master’s Degree; for instance, a Master’s is oftentimes sufficient for forwarding a chemical engineers career. However in biomedical research, the knowledge and hands-on experience required is best attained through the devoted study of a doctoral degree. To Laxpat, the joint M.D.-Ph.D. program exemplified an opportunity to practice translatable research, as well as to see the outcomes in patients, something that was primarily motivating him in his undergraduate research. To undergraduates, Neal offers his perspective on higher education. "It's very easy to get caught up in how long it's going to take and to focus on being out as your goal," remarks Neal, "but the process itself should be the goal. You're doing this higher education not to get the status at the end and the letters on your name, but to gain experience and training … [which] you can use to better advance your career. So you can do what you love." Eric Huang is an undergraduate student in the Coulter Department

!"#$%&'($)*+,+$-(&.$$ !"#$$$Universi(es At Once$


Research Series Part II: What Am I Getting Myself Into? ndergraduate research is one of the greatest opportunities a student at Georgia Tech can take advantage of. The majority of professors conduct research, and for ambitious and persevering students, openings are always available. However, what exactly does research entail? With the multitude of professors, labs and research subjects, it may be difficult for students to grasp the variety and magnitude of possible positions available in undergraduate research. There are many different kinds of labs available to students. From wet labs to computational labs, there is a possible research opportunity in almost any field. Alex Cooper, a third year biomedical engineering (BME) student in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, participates in organic chemistry research in the lab of Dr. Niren Murthy. While researching drug delivery, specifically siRNA that prevents the production of proteins and amino acids, Cooper had an opportunity to study abroad in China with Coulter Department students at Peking University. Cooper worked with mostly postdoctoral students in Murthy’s Lab. Although Cooper had no organic chemistry experience before joining the Murthy Lab, he stressed the importance of self-learning. “My professors told me to go buy the book and read some chapters,” says Cooper, “The difference between research and class is that you have to motivate yourself.” Dhruv Vishwakarma, a third year BME undergraduate, works in a computational lab under Dr. Christopher Rozell. As the only undergraduate in his lab, Vishwakarma works primarily with graduate students on learning algorithms in neurons. Vishwakarma uses MATLAB to model neural and signal processing on parallel computers. Like Cooper, Vishwakarma had to learn new material when he entered the lab. Vishwakarma emphasizes that by participating in undergraduate research, he was motivated to improve his skills in inquiry and communication, an essential part of the BME curriculum.


By Subhendu De Undergraduate researchers are often paired with graduate students under which they conduct their work. However, Willa Ni, a third year undergraduate student, participates in independent research in the lab of Dr. Melissa Kemp. Ni works in a wet lab, where she performs live cell experiments. Her project involves simulating chronic disease in cells. Another key component of Kemp’s systems biology lab is computational modeling. In this case, data from in vivo experiments are incorporated into a mathematical model mimicking cellular functions. When Ni started out in the Kemp Lab, she needed to learn laboratory techniques that she had never encountered before. From pipetting technique to learning how to take care of cells, Ni spent a semester just learning how to do basic everyday tasks. However, her dedication paid off, as she is a current PURA recipient. Despite working in three different labs in three different areas of research, Cooper, Vishwakarma, and Ni all had common sentiments about their undergraduate research experiences. Vishwakarma exclaimed, “People go in expecting it to be like a class with the graduate student instructing them, when in reality, you have to do it yourself.” Apart from being independent, Ni believes that the mark of a good researcher is “being able to ask questions and think through what went wrong, or thinking through the logic and compiling and analyzing the results.” For undergraduates seeking to get involved in research, Cooper lauds his research experience as teaching him how to “function on an independent level.” However, he stresses that research requires genuine interest and passion in the subject matter, as it entails working above and beyond what is asked for. For those who want to get involved in research, Ni concludes, “You learn so much. Even with the obstacles along the way, you do accomplish something. You learn how to tackle and solve problems.” Subhendu De is an undergraduate in the Coulter Department..

BME Lab Classes With Dr. Esfandiar Behravesh alking through the UA Whitaker basement, hardworking students dressed in lab coats are busily designing and conducting lab experiments for required lab classes BMED 3110 and BMED 3610. The director of these labs is Dr. Esfandiar “Essy” Behravesh. In this position since the end of 2006, Behravesh was previously employed at the Johnson Space Center and Zimmer Orthobiologics. One of the largest orthopedic device makers in the country, Zimmer Orthobiologics focuses on the development of implantable medical devices and biomaterials for the orthopedic market. There, Behravesh worked to find solutions to repair and regenerate damaged orthopedic tissues. Within the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, Behravesh supervises the BMED 3110, Quantitative Engineering Physiology Laboratory I, and BMED 3610, Quantitative Engineering Physiology Laboratory II. These two hands-on labs provide active learning and reinforce basic physiology and engineering principles through lab experiments to give students more experience in the research environment. In BMED 3110, students work on the frog muscle

By Belane Gizaw


Page 10

Dr. Esfandiar Behravesh in the lab. (Photo: William Sessions)

lab, which teaches basic mechanics. In addition, the mechanical components to teach students how to use low tech materials and equipment to create high tech devices. Behravesh explains that it is common to run into a “good problem,” such as bad signals or noise. According to Behravesh, BMED 3110 is the most difficult instructional lab course, especially since the curriculum changed two years ago. It is the first research lab where a “cookbook” set of directions is not available to lead students. At the beginning, the students are given guidance, but they soon learn to understand how to proceed with the experiment by themselves with their own objective. Nonetheless, it is hard for students to adjust to this type of class setup. When asked about his favorite lab assignments, Behravesh states that the labs that make his students excited are his favorites These labs are usually the animal

experiments and the Wii Nintendo lab. The student favorites seem to be anatomy projects, especially the heart lab. Behravesh believes all students will take away skills in instrumentation, design, analysis, teamwork, planning and importance of creativity when designing. He tries to gear the labs from strictly educational to what a real research lab would be like. Students must apply their knowledge and be resourceful because they are tackling open ended problems. Students are also applying what they learned in their previous lecture classes in the labs. In his day-to-day work, Behravesh is inspired by the great students at this institute. He knows that his students will go on to accomplish great achievements, which gives him joy in helping prepare them for their journey forward. Belane Gizaw is an undergraduate student in the Coulter Department.

Recent Coulter Department Publications ANNALS OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING The Effects of Combined Cyclic Stretch and Pressure on the Aortic Valve Interstitial Cell Phenotype. Thayer P, Balachandran K, Rathan S, Yap CH, Arjunon S, Jo H, Yoganathan AP. ACTA BIOMATERIALIA PEG-based hydrogels with tunable degradation characteristics to control delivery of marrow stromal cells for tendon overuse injuries. Qiu Y, Lim JJ, Scott L Jr, Adams RC, Bui HT, Temenoff JS. Development of nano- and microscale chondroitin sulfate particles for controlled growth factor delivery. Lim JJ, Hammoudi TM, Bratt-Leal AM, Hamilton SK, Kepple KL, Bloodworth NC, McDevitt TC,Temenoff JS.

BIOCHIMICA ET BIOPHYSICA ACTA Nanoscale engineering of extracellular matrix-mimetic bioadhesive surfaces and implants for tissue Shekaran A, Garcia AJ. BIOMATERIALS The effects of combined micron-/submicron-scale surface roughness and nanoscale features on cell proliferation and differentiation. Gittens RA, McLachlan T, Olivares-Navarrete R, Cai Y, Berner S, Tannenbaum R, Schwartz Z, Sandhage KH, Boyan BD. CELL BIOCHEMISTRY AND BIOPHYSICS Fluid Dynamics of Heart Development. Santhanakrishnan A, Miller LA.

JOURNAL OF CONTROLLED RELEASE Separable arrowhead microneedles. Chu LY, Prausnitz MR

NATURE MATERIALS Synthetic vaccines: Immunity without harm. Acharya AP, Murthy N.

NEUROIMAGE Instantaneous and causal connectivity in resting state brain networks derived from functional MRI data. Deshpande G, Santhanam P, Hu X. THE JOURNAL OF THORACIC AND CARDIOVASCULAR SURGERY Individualized computer-based surgical planning to address pulmonary arteriovenous malformations in patients with a single ventricle with an interrupted inferior vena cava and azygous continuation. de Zélicourt DA, Haggerty CM, Sundareswaran KS, Whited BS, Rossignac JR, Kanter KR,Gaynor JW, Spray TL, Altered right ventricular papillary muscle position and orientation in patients with a dilated left ventricle. Spinner EM, Sundareswaran K, Dasi LP, Thourani VH, Oshinski J, Yoganathan AP.


JOURNAL OF BIOMEDICAL NANOTECHNOLOGY Transdermal delivery enhanced by antimicrobial peptides. Kim YC, Ludovice PJ, Prausnitz MR. JOURNAL OF COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY Adaptive control model reveals systematic feedback and key molecules in metabolic pathway regulation. Quo CF, Moffitt RA, Merrill AH, Wang MD.

Page 11

Graduate Spotlight: Chi-Chi Esimai More To Grad School Than Simply Research s The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering continues to advance its own research, this community should take pause to explore the progress and people of other departments with neighboring interests. Such progress is being made right next door, metaphorically speaking, in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. As a third year Ph.D. bioengineering student working in Dr. Andres Garcia’s Cellular and Biomaterials Engineering Lab, Chimdimnma “Chi-Chi” Esimai is discovering the ways that cells interact from a unique mechanical perspective by using the spinning disk, a device created by Garcia, to analyze an experimental system of cell to cell adhesion in the body. This analysis is performed by presenting defined cell-surface protein receptors to other cells and studying their interaction. Esimai is hoping to contribute to cell to cell interaction models by quantifying the adhesion forces between cells. Such novel quantification of interactions is critical because cell to cell adhesion has thus far been studied from a biological standpoint, largely ignoring the more integral mechanical standpoint. However, groundbreaking research is not the only area in which Esimai excels. Graduating with a biomedical engineering degree from Harvard in 2008, she chose to join the Georgia Tech community “because [she] saw some of the research that some of the professors were doing, and it was really awesome. [She] came to the visiting weekend and it was great; everybody was nice and even the … IBB and the other buildings in the Biotech Quad were structured … openly and collegially. Everybody talks to everybody. You don’t see that a lot.” Upon arriving, she became involved in BBUGS, The Bioengineering and Bioscience Unified Graduate Students, a student-run forum for graduate students to meet and organize. Esimai was a member of the Research Committee her first

By Rachel Stewart


Chi-Chi Esimai, a bioengineering Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Andres Garcia’s lab. (Photo: Virginia Lin)

year, helping to raise funds to support the Technique Symposium. This Symposium hosts classes for a wide variety of academics, including people from other universities, to learn various communication, software analysis and lab techniques. In her second year, she proceeded to co-chair the Research Committee, which also handles a conversation series with clinicians on topics represented within the field of bioscience. This year, however, Esimai has relinquished the leadership roles she occupied in BBUGS in order to focus on her research. She still maintains activity in the GT Bethel Campus Fellowship and other professional development initiatives, such as the Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science (FACES) program and the Graduate Leadership Program. After graduation, she plans to go into academia or explore international science opportunities. According to Esimai, one of the most underused academic resources at Tech is the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL), which, in part,

assists graduate students with all forms of professional communication, including writing, interviewing, presenting and teaching skills. As she notes, “Talking to people about what you do is very important. That could mean the difference between getting that job or not.” Students enter graduate school with varying levels of communications skills, but CETL offers a variety of courses designed to work with graduate students to improve these skills. To the undergraduates planning on going to graduate school, Esimai has a few words of advice, “Apply for fellowships early and often, talk to your professors about your choices for graduate school – they may help connect you with their colleagues at other institutions, which instantly solidifies your professional network; I think the recommendation letters and applying for fellowships are the most important things. And just talk to grad students once you get to grad school. Don’t just join a lab, actually talk to other students. They’ll tell you what’s going on.” Rachel Stewart is an undergraduate student in the Coulter Department.

2011 ANNUAL MEETING Abstract Submission NOW OPEN! Submission Deadline - April 5, 2011

Page 12

March 2011  

A visit to the hospital can hold many T HE P IONEER N EWSLETTER is brought to you by the students, faculty, and staff of the Wallace H. Coul...

March 2011  

A visit to the hospital can hold many T HE P IONEER N EWSLETTER is brought to you by the students, faculty, and staff of the Wallace H. Coul...