Sergio Pequito, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, has been named a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

As the largest technical professional organization in the world, IEEE is focused on technological innovation to benefit humanity. The level of senior membership is given to those with professional maturity, who have shown achievement in their field. To be eligible, a candidate must have been in professional practice for at least 10 years, showing significant performance over at least five years. 

More information about Sergio can be found on his website: http://www.spequito.com/

Liwen Chen, a doctoral student in the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, recently won the prestigious Frank J. Padden Jr. Award from the 2019 American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. The award is given to a graduate student for “Excellence in Polymer Physics Research.”

She received this honor after presenting an oral presentation titled “Close-packed Structures of Block Copolymer Micelles Induced by the Size of Crystallites,” which explored the importance of the size of crystal domains in polymorphism of materials.

“Polymorphism is an important characteristic of crystalline materials for numerous practical applications, such as microelectronics and drugs. But control of polymorphism of materials still remains one of the most challenging problems in materials research,” said Sangwoo Lee, Chen’s thesis adviser, and assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer.

Lee said that Chen’s research and findings “will benefit the design of material processing procedures for control of crystal structures and material functions.”

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Pingkun Yan, co-director of Rensselaer’s Biomedical Imaging Center, recently received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Bench-to-Bedside award grant with his NIH collaborator Dr. Brad Wood for their research focused on improving cancer detection through ultrasound imaging.

Right now, Yan said, ultrasound imaging is the most commonly used tool for interventional procedures. It is easy to use, provides real-time pictures, and is cost-effective. It also isn’t very specific or sensitive when it comes to detecting cancer. The goal of Yan’s research, with this NIH grant, is to develop a better way to detect and view tumors during interventional procedures using a deep learning approach.

The research project is a partnership between Yan’s team, which is located within the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer, and Wood Lab at NIH. The joint team is receiving $300,000 over two years for this work. The Bench-to-Bedside Program funds research teams that are looking to develop therapeutic interventions for patients by translating basic scientific findings.

More than a dozen Rensselaer undergraduate students, from the Nuclear Engineering Program, recently received $7,000 annual scholarship awards funded by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in recognition of their educational excellence. Li (Emily) Liu, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer, said the 18 awards are part of a continuous effort by the NRC to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty development. Since 2008, she said, approximately $4 million in award funds have been given to Rensselaer students and faculty. She said that these scholarships have been instrumental in recruiting and retaining top scholars. 

The tuberculosis bacteria—Mycobacterium tuberculosis—infects more than 2 billion people each year. Some will develop full-blown tuberculosis, while others, although infected, never develop symptoms of the disease. The population is divided among people who are resistant, susceptible, and super susceptible, and no one is exactly sure why.

With a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a team including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researcher Bulent Yener will search for markers—genetic, phenotypic, and pathological—that distinguish the three groups. Yener, a professor of computer science and director of the Data Science Research Center, joins lead researchers at Tufts University, and researchers at Wake Forest University, in the five-year $3.3 million project, supported by an R01 award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH.

Yener developed “cell graphs,” a computational method that combines image processing with graph theory to reveal the function of cells in tissue based on microstructural images of the tissue. Where a pathologist looking at a tissue sample may be able to detect five to 10 patterns, the computer finds more than 100 features invisible to the human eye, allowing it to more quickly and accurately classify the function of tissue using the cell graph method.

Yener explained this method in a Communication of the Association of Computing Machinery video that can be found here.

In the tuberculosis research, the team will study Diversity Outbred mice, a population with abundant genetic diversity and variety similar to the human population, as a model for the possible outcomes of infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. After grouping results into the three categories of resistant, susceptible, and super susceptible, the team will search for markers and produce predictive models based on the markers they identify.

Preliminary research, funded with an earlier NIH R 21 grant, identified some promising markers among super-susceptible mice, including a 10-protein lung biomarker signature, and a pattern of cell granulomas with neutrophils and necrosis. They also found that weight loss is correlated with severity of the reaction.

Yener will analyze tissue images using the cell graphs technique he developed. Yener will also use the images and other data gathered from experiments to establish which features are most relevant to classification, producing signatures that he will use to build and validate predictive models.

The healthy development and looping of the heart depends on the chirality, or “handedness,” of cells, according to research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Chirality is a property of asymmetry that is identifiable when objects, like right and left hands, are mirror images of each other. Cells in the body also display chirality, but researchers are still working to figure out what role that may play in development and disease.

In embryonic development, the heart begins as a straight tube, but then it loops into an asymmetrical shape that more closely resembles an adult heart. According to research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), cell chirality is responsible for the direction that the heart loops. This breakthrough is a significant step toward understanding how cell chirality may contribute to congenital heart defects.

“If looping doesn’t go correctly, the four chambers of the heart may not be correctly separated. Then when the blood is pumping through the heart, it won’t have enough energy or be replenished properly,” said Leo Wan, professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer, who led this research.

Wan’s research team for this project included Mingfu Wu, a developmental biologist from Albany Medical College, as well as Poulomi Ray, Amanda Chin, Kathryn Worley, Jie Fan, and Gurleen Kaur from Rensselaer.

Wan and his team also studied what effect certain drugs had on the chirality of cardiac cells, and found that some did reverse cell chirality. Under these same drugs, the looping direction, cell alignment, and cell organelle positioning were reversed as well. Wan said that all the data strongly suggests cell chirality plays a role in cardiac asymmetric development.

To help determine the chirality of the cardiac cells, the researchers used a tool they recently developed that enables them to look at cells in 3D. The technique, also published recently in PNAS, places the cells on a platform between two layers of gelled protein, mimicking their natural environment.

Wan said the implication of this most recent finding is that researchers may now be able to uncover if other chemicals or diseases affect cell chirality, contributing to defects. They also may be able to determine what substances pregnant women should avoid to ensure healthy heart formation.

“We know that oral vitamin supplements help fetal brain development,” Wan said. “There’s a chance that something can be added to help the heart maintain normal development as well.”

The National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, March of Dimes, National Science Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts provided financial support for these research projects.

Catalin Picu, associate head of undergraduate studies for the department of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest in Romania. Picu is also a member of Rensselaer’s Center for Modeling, Simulation, and Imaging in Medicine. His research is focused on the mechanics of solids, micro and nano-mechanics of crystalline defects, and atomistic simulations. Picu earned his doctorate from Dartmouth College and his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest.

Sometimes, life come full circle. As a high school student at Schalmont High School in Rotterdam, New York, Rachel Stagnitti looked forward to the days when the RPI Engineering Ambassadors would visit. Today, Stagnitti is a senior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and now she is one of the ambassadors making those visits to local schools. You can hear Stagnitti talk about her experience here.

RPI Engineering Ambassadors is an educational outreach program aimed at inspiring middle and high school students to get excited about careers in engineering. Rensselaer engineering students develop and deliver presentations in area schools, and on campus, that highlight the role engineering plays in solving the world’s greatest challenges.

In celebration of National Engineers Week, she shared how her multiple experiences with this program have helped her in her journey to becoming an engineer.

“These kids would come in, and they’d only be two or three years older than me. They would stand in front of a group, and they were just so confident, and it seemed like they knew so much,” Stagnitti said. “I’d sit there in the classroom and say, ‘Wow, I want to be like them someday.’”

Stagnitti was already interested in pursuing an education and career in engineering when the Rensselaer students visited her class at Schalmont. But the Ambassadors amplified her ambition.

“You can talk about an education in engineering or an education at RPI, but unless you see people actually doing it, people actually going through it, it’s not that concrete,” Stagnitti said. “It kind of gave me more of an insight to what it would really be like and something I could maybe participate in while I was there.”

Stagnitti enrolled at Rensselaer, and soon found herself standing in front of a group of high school students.

“One of my favorite things about it is seeing the transformation,” Stagnitti said. “You get kids who really don’t think they’re interested in jet engines, or they’re not interested in wind energy, and they sit through your presentation and they do their hands-on application at the end, and you can see their faces light up.”

The program has taught Stagnitti important presentation and communication skills that she will carry with her after graduation. It has also allowed her to pay forward the instruction she received. In doing so, she has sparked curiosity in students across the region.

A few months ago, Stagnitti was even able to welcome students and teachers from Schalmont to the Rensselaer campus and encourage students like her younger self to follow a similar path.

“It’s personal; it’s close to home for me, it’s something that I can directly impact my community with,” Stagnitti said. “I would hope that I was able to impart on them the same thing that the Engineering Ambassadors were able to impart on me four years ago—that I’ve been able to show them that engineering is something that everybody can do if you put your mind to it. It’s something that’s attainable and it’s everywhere around us, and that just being able to think critically and think about the things that are going on is really important in our world.”

An innovative interactive medical simulation toolkit (iMSTK), created by a team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Kitware Inc., and University of Central Arkansas, makes it possible for surgeons, interventional endoscopists, and other clinicians to virtually hone their skills, plan new procedures, and develop novel medical devices and platforms. The potential life-saving benefits of this additional training are significant and have newly become easier to realize.

The iMSTK, which includes training scenarios such as creating an emergency airway, removing gastrointestinal tumors using an advanced endoscopy procedure, and others, is now available to the public at no cost.

“At the core we believe that we have a new technology which needs to be out there,” said Suvranu De, director of the Rensselaer Center for Modeling, Simulation, and Imaging in Medicine, who led the Rensselaer team.

De and his team worked with Kitware, a company focused on providing open source software, to get the iMSTK out to the public. The toolkit, De said, is essentially a framework that can be used to create highly realistic medical simulation environments that are interactive. While the use of this software toolkit, to develop real-time applications, will still require computer expertise, the iMSTK significantly decreases the amount of time needed to get it up and running.

This groundbreaking development was made possible, De said, by millions of dollars in support from the National Institutes of Health over more than a decade and a half. He said that seeing the iMSTK from conception to product is a story of success, and academic-industry partnership, within a larger effort toward improving patient safety.

“We were one of the original grantees of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. That was more than 15 years ago and they were one of the first agencies to strongly support our work,” De said. “They look at this as a full translation, something that they invested money in that is going back to the public through a company.”

Rensselaer

The National Science Foundation has awarded Kristen Mills, assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer, a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award grant for her research on cancer cell growth. According to the award description, “The scientific impact of this work will be significant, as it will significantly contribute to the fundamental understanding of tumor growth and development—key questions that must be answered to allow future developments in cancer treatment.”

As the award description explains, when cells grow and divide, they push against a matrix surrounding them, creating a compressive force because of that constraint. Right now it is not known how that compression affects future cell division and growth, but diseases like cancer often grow in matrices that are stiffer than heathy ones. Mills’ research aims to understand how cells decide how much constraint-induced compression is healthy and how tumor cells act differently.

In addition to supporting Mills’ research, this award will also help fund educational and outreach activities aimed at engaging high school and college-level students in understanding the importance of biomechanics.

This prestigious award from the National Science Foundation is given to early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”