Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brown's K.T. Ramesh named Johns Hopkins WSE’s Chair in Science and Engineering

Brown engineering alumnus K.T. Ramesh ScM '85 PhD '88, a professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins, has been named to the Whiting School of Engineering’s Alonzo G. Decker Jr. Chair in Science and Engineering, effective March 1. A dedication ceremony is planned for April 8.
“K.T. is a brilliant scholar who has also been an extremely effective leader in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, not only as chair but also as a driving force in the department’s growth,” said Nick Jones, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School, in announcing Ramesh’s appointment. “He has garnered international acclaim for research that spans a wide range of subject matter, including nanostructured materials, high strain rate behavior and dynamic failure of materials, the dynamics of human tissues and planetary impact problems,” Jones said. “The common thread in all of K.T.’s research is his interest in dynamic problems with applications on scales that range from asteroid hazard mitigation to understanding and mitigating traumatic brain injury and developing strong, lightweight structural materials for personnel and vehicular protection.”
Ramesh received both his master's degree and his doctorate from Brown University. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Diego, he joined the Johns Hopkins Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1988, becoming department chair in 1999. He is director of the university’s Center for Advanced Metallic and Ceramic Systems, a role he has held since founding the center in 2001.
Ramesh serves on the governing boards of the American Academy of Mechanics and the Society of Engineering Science, and has played a significant role in blue-ribbon groups suggesting research and development directions for the U.S. Army and the National Academies. In addition to more than 130 peer-reviewed technical articles, he is the author of Nanomaterials: Mechanics and Mechanisms (Springer, 2009).
The Alonzo G. Decker Jr. Chair in Science and Engineering was established by Alonzo G. Decker Jr., a university trustee for more than 30 years and national chair of the Hopkins Hundreds Campaign in the 1970s, during which time he gave generously to the university, including the establishment of this endowed professorship. As chief executive officer of Black & Decker, he helped lead the manufacturing company to international prominence, devising some of its most successful products. With his wife, Virginia, he actively supported educational institutions in Maryland.
He died in 2002, and his wife in 2008. In 2007, the Homewood campus’s lower quad was dedicated as the Alonzo G. and Virginia Decker Quadrangle in honor of their legacy.
- Courtesy of Johns Hopkins

BrainGate neural interface system reaches 1,000-day performance milestone

An investigational implanted system being developed to translate brain signals toward control of assistive devices has allowed a woman with paralysis to accurately control a computer cursor at 2.7 years after implantation, providing a key demonstration that neural activity can be read out and converted into action for an unprecedented length of time.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Demonstrating an important milestone for the longevity and utility of implanted brain-computer interfaces, a woman with tetraplegia using the investigational BrainGate* system continued to control a computer cursor accurately through neural activity alone more than 1,000 days after receiving the BrainGate implant, according to a team of physicians, scientists, and engineers developing and testing the technology at Brown University, the Providence VA Medical Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Results from five consecutive days of device use surrounding her 1,000th day in the device trial appeared online March 24 in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
“This proof of concept — that after 1,000 days a woman who has no functional use of her limbs and is unable to speak can reliably control a cursor on a computer screen using only the intended movement of her hand — is an important step for the field,” said Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a Brown engineering associate professor, VA rehabilitation researcher, visiting associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, and director of the BrainGate pilot clinical trial at MGH.
The woman, identified in the paper as S3, performed two “point-and-click” tasks each day by thinking about moving the cursor with her hand. In both tasks she averaged greater than 90 percent accuracy. Some on-screen targets were as small as the effective area of a Microsoft Word menu icon.
A brain-computer interfaceA woman with paralysis controls a computer cursor on a screen by the neural activity of intending to move it with her arm and hand. The woman, identified as S3, used the investigational BrainGate system more than 1,000 days after the device was implanted.“Our objective with the neural interface is to reach the level of performance of a person without a disability using a mouse,” said report lead author John Simeral, a VA researcher and assistant professor of engineering (research) at Brown. “These results highlight the potential for an intracortical neural interface system to provide a person that has locked-in syndrome with reliable, continuous point-and-click control of a standard computer application.”
In each of S3’s two tasks, performed in 2008, she controlled the cursor movement and click selections continuously for 10 minutes. The first task was to move the cursor to targets arranged in a circle and in the center of the screen, clicking to select each one in turn. The second required her to follow and click on a target as it sequentially popped up with varying size at random points on the screen.
From fundamental neuroscience to clinical utility
Under development since 2002, the investigational BrainGate system is a combination of hardware and software that directly senses electrical signals produced by neurons in the brain that control movement. By decoding those signals and translating them into digital instructions, the system is being evaluated for its ability to give people with paralysis control of external devices such as computers, robotic assistive devices, or wheelchairs. The BrainGate team is also engaged in research toward control of advanced prosthetic limbs and toward direct intracortical control of functional electrical stimulation devices for people with spinal cord injury, in collaboration with researchers at the Cleveland FES Center.
The system is currently in pilot clinical trials, directed by Hochberg at MGH.
BrainGate uses a tiny (4x4 mm, about the size of a baby aspirin) silicon electrode array to read neural signals directly within brain tissue. Although external sensors placed on the brain or skull surface can also read neural activity, they are believed to be far less precise. In addition, many prototype brain implants have eventually failed because of moisture or other perils of the internal environment.
“Neuroengineers have often wondered whether useful signals could be recorded from inside the brain for an extended period of time,” Hochberg said. “This is the first demonstration that this microelectrode array technology can provide useful neuroprosthetic signals allowing a person with tetraplegia to control an external device for an extended period of time.”
Moving forward
Device performance was not the same at 2.7 years as it was earlier on, Hochberg added. At 33 months fewer electrodes were recording useful neural signals than after only six months. But John Donoghue — VA senior research career scientist, Henry Merritt Wriston Professor of Neuroscience, director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science, and original developer of the BrainGate system — said no evidence has emerged of any fundamental incompatibility between the sensor and the brain. Instead, it appears that decreased signal quality over time can largely be attributed to engineering, mechanical or procedural issues. Since S3’s sensor was built and implanted in 2005, the sensor’s manufacturer has reported continual quality improvements. The data from this study will be used to further understand and modify the procedures or device to further increase durability.
“None of us will be fully satisfied with an intracortical recording device until it provides decades of useful signals,” Hochberg said. “Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that the progress made in neural interface systems will someday be able to provide improved communication, mobility, and independence for people with locked-in syndrome or other forms of paralysis and eventually better control over prosthetic, robotic, or functional electrical stimulation systems [stimulating electrodes that have already returned limb function to people with cervical spinal cord injury], even while engineers continue to develop ever-better implantable sensors.”
In addition to demonstrating the very encouraging longevity of the BrainGate sensor, the paper also presents an advance in how the performance of a brain-computer interface can be measured, Simeral said. “As the field continues to evolve, we’ll eventually be able to compare and contrast technologies effectively.”
As for S3, who had a brainstem stroke in the mid-1990s and is now in her late 50s, she continues to participate in trials with the BrainGate system, which continues to record useful signals, Hochberg said. However, data beyond the 1000th day in 2008 has thus far only been presented at scientific meetings, and Hochberg can only comment on data that has already completed the scientific peer review process and appeared in publication.
In addition to Simeral, Hochberg, and Donoghue, other authors are Brown computer scientist Michael Black and former Brown computer scientist Sung-Phil Kim.
About the BrainGate collaboration
This advance is the result of the ongoing collaborative BrainGate research at Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Providence VA Medical Center. The BrainGate research team is focused on developing and testing neuroscientifically inspired technologies to improve the communication, mobility, and independence of people with neurologic disorders, injury, or limb loss.
For more information, visit www.braingate2.org.
The implanted microelectrode array and associated neural recording hardware used in the BrainGate research are manufactured by BlackRock Microsystems, LLC (Salt Lake City, UT).
This research was funded in part by the Rehabilitation Research and Development Service, Department of Veterans Affairs; The National Institutes of Health (NIH), including NICHD-NCMRR, NINDS/NICHD, NIDCD/ARRA, NIBIB, NINDS-Javits; the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; MGH-Deane Institute for Integrated Research on Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke; and the Katie Samson Foundation.
The BrainGate pilot clinical trial was previously directed by Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc., Foxborough, MA (CKI). CKI ceased operations in 2009. The clinical trials of the BrainGate2 Neural Interface System are now administered by Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Mass. Donoghue is a former chief scientific officer and a former director of CKI; he held stocks and received compensation. Hochberg received research support from Massachusetts General and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospitals, which in turn received clinical trial support from Cyberkinetics. Simeral received compensation as a consultant to CKI.
* CAUTION: Investigational Device. Limited by Federal Law to Investigational Use.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dispatches From the Bat Cave - Brown is a major hub of bat research

The chamber in the basement of Hunter Lab is nearly pitch-black as a lab assistant lets loose a bat. The animal—Eptesicus fuscus, or the Big Brown Bat—flies in figure eights, dodging chains dangling from the ceiling. Outside the chamber, Jonathan Barchi, a neuroscience graduate student, looks at a monitor divided into four quadrants, each showing images from one of the infrared cameras inside the room where the bat is performing its rapid acrobatic flight.

Barchi is counting how many full circuits of the chamber the bat flies. "Okay, six," he calls out after the bat comes to roost on a ledge in the back. The lab assistant, who has been standing to the side observing, now scoops up the animal, brings it to the front of the chamber, and then releases it again.
Barchi wants to know whether bats can have memories of where they've been, and if so, how long they last. This particular study began several months ago, when these same bats were released daily in this chamber, or Bat Cave, as it has become known. After several weeks of this routine, Barchi gave the bats a break of more than a month, and has recently brought them back to observe how much they remembered about navigating the Bat Cave. By analyzing the images of their flight, Barchi has found that the bats not only remember their environment; they may also create and retain mental images of spaces. If this is true, bats are far more intelligent than we've suspected.
Bats have become an important study animal for biologists and engineers at Brown. Barchi, for instance, works in the lab of neuroscientist and professor of biology Jim Simmons, whose goal for the last four decades has been to understand the mind of the bat: how it thinks, how fast it works, how it makes sense of the world, and how it remembers. And Simmons is just one of several prominent bat researchers at the University, which has emerged as one of the country's major hubs of bat research. In addition to Simmons, Sharon Swartz, a biology professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Kenny Breuer '82, a professor of engineering, also work on bats, collaborating to study how their wings function and are structured. In addition, about a dozen graduate students research everything from bats' calls and brain waves to the function of the microscopic hairs on their wings.
Together, these scientists are learning a great deal about one of nature's most fascinating animals. But why do bats matter? These researchers believe that Brown's bat research could one day help change modern air transportation. It could revolutionize how we fight wars and build sonar and radar systems. It might even transform our understanding of the human brain.
From an evolutionary standpoint, bats are among natural selection's most successful animals. Twenty percent of all mammals are bats. Not only have they survived, they thrive everywhere on the planet except the north and south poles. Perhaps the greatest reason for their success is the way they fly. To watch bats do this in slow motion is to appreciate ballerinas gracefully performing turns and twists in the air. Bats can do somersaults and cartwheels. They can fly as fast as thirty miles an hour. They can perform a high-speed 180-degree turn with three flaps of their wings. A million bats can fly out of a cave at once, yet few of them will bump into one another. Because mother bats nurse their offspring until they are nearly full-size, their wings must be powerful enough to lift 25 to 50 percent of their body weight.

Bats get around using a sonar system far more complex than any invented by humans. If the tiny shrieks they emit as they fly were at a frequency detectable by the human ear, they would sound like a blaring fire alarm next to your head. The shrieks echo off objects and bounce back to the bat, enabling it to detect surrounding objects as far away as sixty feet or as close as half a millimeter.
Sharon Swartz is an affable, warm, and genial woman with graying brown hair, big blue eyes, and an oval face. Her office is decorated with bats: stuffed toy bats, bat cutouts, and bat toys that dangle from wires. She says that as a child she had no interest in science, much less in bats, and went to college thinking she'd become a doctor. But the biology and anthropology classes she took while an undergrad at Oberlin changed all that. The first animals she studied were primates, and her PhD thesis at the University of Chicago focused on the design of the forelimb of such lesser apes as siamangs and other gibbons.
Swartz made the move from apes to bats in the late 1980s while she was teaching at Northwestern. She said she found flight fascinating—how it evolved, how it works, why it is such an efficient way for animals to get around. She also hit it off with the people she met in the bat world. "The community of people who study bats is wonderful," she says. "Bat researchers are passionate, dedicated folks who love their subject as well as doing science, and they are generous with time and expertise."
Kenny Breuer arrived at Brown in 1999, nine years after Swartz. He grew up in England, but moved to the United States with his family as a teenager and has lived here ever since. Bats were not his first interest either. With a PhD from MIT in aeronautics and astronautics, Breuer was an expert in fluid mechanics, a field of applied engineering and physics that studies the tricky question of how fluids move. Swartz says fluid mechanics is "for the mathematically fearless," and that quality was what prompted her to ask Breuer to meet over coffee and talk about bat research.
"I thought she was crazy," Breuer says. "I had never been interested in animal flight."
After more discussions, he began to see the bat's appeal. What if he could come up with a model to explain bat flight? He became interested in how the shape and properties of the bat's wing enable it to maneuver so deftly. How do air currents affect the bat's speed and the angle of its wings? He decided to take on the challenge of using mathematics to create a physical model of a bat's wings and then build an actual replica that mimics aspects of its complexity: a robotic bat.
Breuer's office is decorated with models of the Space Shuttle and toy airplanes. A poster of the Wright Flyer hangs on his wall. He hopes that understanding bat flight will eventually pave the way to building a new kind of flying machine, one whose wings might have at least some of the flexibility of a bat's. Over the years, Breuer and Swartz have achieved a number of significant advances in our understanding of the bat's wing. Bat wings are not like a bird's or an insect's. They are far more flexible. In fact, a bat wing has the same bone structure as a human hand. A nub halfway down the wing serves as the thumb. Four bones running the length of the wing act as the other fingers. And, just as in the human hand, there are joints throughout the wing, enabling individual bones to bend, pivot, and twist independently of one another.
A bat can fold its wing in half and can angle it to adjust for wind currents in a way not possible for a bird or an insect. The skin on the wing is highly flexible, too. It can stretch to double its length. It can billow like a sail, thus reducing the amount of work the bat needs to do when taking off or gaining altitude. Swartz describes the skin as feeling soft and "membraney." It is thin enough for light to pass through.
Some of Swartz's work has focused on the thousands of microscopic hairs that lie atop the skin on the wing. Swartz says what they do or how they work is not entirely clear, but they appear to make up an elaborate sensor network that enables the bat to feel changes in wind currents.
Swartz and Breuer study bat flight using a fifteen-foot-long rectangular wind tunnel, into which they pump air up to fifteen miles an hour. With the bat flying in place, high-speed cameras film its movements, allowing the researchers to study wing movements down to a fraction of a second. The tunnel can also be filled with nontoxic aerosol particles while the bat is suspended in flight; the wings carve out patterns in the mist, leaving a wake that digital cameras can record.
In 2007, Swartz and Breuer mapped out the first high-resolution, three-dimensional models of the bat's wake fields. They showed that on the down stroke, bats keep their wings extended and curved like a sail to harness maximum wind power. On the up stroke the bats fold their wings close to their bodies, most likely to reduce drag.
Two years ago, Joe Bahlman, a graduate student in engineering and biology who works with Breuer and Swartz, set out to construct a robotic bat wing. He first used gears and a crankshaft connected to a motor to move the wing, but found it "too limiting," he says. He searched for a "more biologically inspired model."
The new wing, completed only last December, employs three motors pulling and pushing six cables to flap an eight-inch-long plastic wing skeleton. The wing has a shoulder that can move up and down and forward and back like the wing of a real bat. Joints in the wing's bones allow it to retract and open. Its major limitation is that the wing can't change its pitch, something bats routinely accomplish. As for the skin, Bahlman modified a silicon-based organic compound that is stretchy and thin enough to approximate the skin on an actual bat wing. The contraption doesn't begin to approximate the complexity of bat flight—that's "beyond the ability of any supercomputer we have," Swartz says —but it is still a significant step forward.

The research by Swartz and Breuer is supported mostly by the National Science Foundation, but the U.S. Air Force is also a funder. The air force hopes to create a new generation of flying machines that can maneuver their way through terrain as easily as bats can. A bat-sized drone with a camera attached could fly reconnaissance and search-and-rescue missions in forests, mines, and crumbled buildings. (This would obviously have non-military applications as well.) Imagine a drone that could navigate its way through the caves in mountainous Pakistan and Afghanistan, hunting down enemy combatants.
Neuroscientist Jim Simmons looks very much as you'd expect an academic to look: scraggly white beard; glasses with thin, round titanium frames; and unkempt hair that can sometimes stick out in all directions. He talks in rapid-fire bursts, shooting out big ideas here and there and expecting you to be able to follow. His office is littered with boxes, folders, and mechanical equipment.
Simmons got into bats while he was in graduate school at Princeton in the 1960s. At the time, he was working in a lab studying the hearing of lizards, frogs, and fish. When the researcher running the bat lab left, Simmons thought, "What the heck? Great, I'll just take this over." He began by studying bat hearing, which at the time was a neglected area of research. His quest ever since has been to understand how bats "see" with their ears. Several types of bats have very good eyesight, but it doesn't do them much good when they're flying at night. Instead, they rely on their ears to pick up the echoes of their cries bouncing off the objects around them, a technique known as echolocation. Based on how long it takes for the echo to come back and which ear it strikes first, bats get an amazingly accurate sense of their environment.
According to Simmons, bats use echolocation to generate a three-dimensional map of their surroundings. The auditory inputs trigger a visual model allowing the bats to, in effect, see with their brains. Simmons hopes one day to know exactly what the world looks like to a bat—how it thinks through the images its mind generates—but first he must understand how its amazingly complex sonar system works.
In the late 1980s, Simmons performed a series of experiments on bats to gauge how the animals sort through the echoes bombarding them after they emit a call. After constructing a Y-shaped platform about six feet long, he set up audio gear at either end of the letter's top branches and placed a bat at the base of the platform. The devices received the bats' cries, produced the echoes, and then returned them to the bats. With a mealworm reward, the bat was trained to move toward the echo.
Echoes bombarded the bat from both branches of the Y, but the sounds from one were emitted a tiny fraction later than the other. The researchers wanted to see if the bat would head in one direction, and then change course when the second echo reached it from the other branch. If the bat didn't change course, it would mean the delay between the two echoes was too short for the bat to distinguish between them and so was hearing them as a single echo.
Simmons discovered that bats could distinguish between the two echoes when they were emitted as few as ten nanoseconds apart. This contradicted all the existing research. For a bat to be able to pick up a ten-nanosecond delay, its brain cells would have to process information at a faster rate than their brains were known to be capable of. Simmons's findings were considered impossible by his peers and so had to be the result of error and incorrect study design.
"They all thought we were crazy," he says.
Just a few years ago, though, Simmons's lab began taking a closer look at the cells that control hearing in a bat's brain. Through careful microscopic examination, Simmons and assistant research professor of neuroscience Seth Horowitz '93 ScM, '97 PhD detected traces of a protein called connexin 36 in the connections between these brain cells. In mammals, connexin 36 indicates that the brain cells communicate via electric charges. But bats weren't thought to have electrical synapses between neurons; the bridge, it was believed, was chemical.
Because electrical wiring in the brain works much faster than chemical connections, Horowitz's work may explain Simmons's finding from a decade earlier. More research needs to be done, but it's entirely possible that Simmons is on his way to being vindicated.
In recent years, brain researchers have been focusing more and more on the electrical synapses in human brains. The majority of our brain connections are chemical, but in regions that need to perform such quick tasks as controlling reflexes, electrical synapses are also present. Simmons hypothesizes that these electrical synapses may be far more common in the human brain than we have so far realized. It is possible that a still-undetected substratum of nerve connections in our brains is performing tasks in a way we have not yet detected, and it may be operating at speeds much faster than we've estimated. So far, this is merely conjecture, but Simmons's hunches have a way of turning out to be right. We may be more like bats than we've ever imagined.
"I would have thought that I would have gotten sick of bats long ago," says Swartz. "But I find that the longer I study bats, the more questions I have."
- By Lawrence Goodman/Brown Alumni Magazine

Nanomodified surfaces seal leg implants against infection

Researchers at Brown University have created nanoscale surfaces for implanted materials that mimic the contours of natural skin. The surfaces attract skin cells that, over time, are shown to build a natural seal against bacterial invasion. The group also created a molecular chain that allows an implant surface to be covered with skin cell-growing proteins, further accelerating skin growth. Results are published in theJournal of Biomedical Materials Research A.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In recent years, researchers have worked to develop more flexible, functional prosthetics for soldiers returning home from battlefields in Afghanistan or Iraq with missing arms or legs. But even new prosthetics have trouble keeping bacteria from entering the body through the space where the device has been implanted.
“You need to close (the area) where the bacteria would enter the body, and that’s where the skin is,” said Thomas Webster, associate professor of engineering and orthopaedics at Brown University.
Webster and a team of researchers at Brown may have come across the right formula to deter bacterial migrants. The group reports two ways in which it modified the surface of titanium leg implants to promote skin cell growth, thereby creating a natural skin layer and sealing the gap where the device has been implanted into the body. The researchers also created a molecular chain to sprinkle skin-growing proteins on the implant to hasten skin growth.
The findings are published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research A.
Thomas WebsterAssociate Professor of Engineering and OrthopaedicsThe researchers, including Melanie Zile, a Boston University student who worked in Webster’s lab as part of Brown’s Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards program, and Sabrina Puckett, who earned her engineering doctorate last May, created two different surfaces at the nanoscale, dimensions less than a billionth of a meter.
In the first approach, the scientists fired an electron beam of titanium coating at the abutment (the piece of the implant that is inserted into the bone), creating a landscape of 20-nanometer mounds. Those mounds imitate the contours of natural skin and trick skin cells into colonizing the surface and growing additional keratinocytes, or skin cells.
Webster knew such a surface, roughened at the nanoscale, worked for regrowing bone cells and cartilage cells, but he was unsure whether it would be successful at growing skin cells. This may be the first time that a nanosurface created this way on titanium has been shown to attract skin cells.
The second approach, called anodization, involved dipping the abutment into hydrofluoric acid and giving it a jolt of electric current. This causes the titanium atoms on the abutment’s surface to scurry about and regather as hollow, tubular structures rising perpendicularly from the abutment’s surface. As with the nanomounds, skin cells quickly colonize the nanotubular surface.
In laboratory (in vitro) tests, the researchers report nearly a doubling of skin cell density on the implant surface; within five days, the keratinocyte density reached the point at which an impermeable skin layer bridging the abutment and the body had been created.
“You definitely have a complete layer of skin,” Webster said. “There’s no more gap for the bacteria to go through.”
To further promote skin cell growth around the implant, Webster’s team looked to FGF-2, a protein secreted by the skin to help other skin cells grow. Simply slathering the abutment with the proteins doesn’t work, as FGF-2 loses its effect when absorbed by the titanium. So the researchers came up with a synthetic molecular chain to bind FGF-2 to the titanium surface, while maintaining the protein’s skin-cell growing ability. Not surprisingly, in vitro tests showed the greatest density of skin cells on abutment surfaces using the nanomodified surfaces and laced with FGF-2. Moreover, the nanomodified surfaces create more surface area for FGF-2 proteins than would be available on traditional implants.
The next step is to perform in vivo studies; if they are successful, human trials could begin, although Webster said that could be years away.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. National Science Foundation funded the research.

Brown Engineering Alumna Profiled in Boston Globe

Athlete finds place for her skills in engineering

There’s more to a sports field than meets the eye. Just ask Megan Buczynski, who earned first-team All-Ivy while playing field hockey at Brown University. Buczynski, a 30-year-old civil engineer, leads sports design projects at Stantec, a planning and landscape architecture company that has an office in Boston, often drawing upon her athletic background. She has designed artificial grass fields for Mount Holyoke College, as well for as for other softball, rugby, and track venues.

“Whatever your personal passions, there is a field of engineering where you can apply all of your skills,’’ she said. “When I was looking for jobs, I searched for engineering and sports, and was delighted to find athletic facilities as a special niche.’’

You’re changing natural grass to synthetic turf. What goes into it?
A lot of it is permitting, land development, and site work, figuring out drainage patterns, leveling the field, and installing the new system. The actual design can take about three months.

What are details that go into multisports fields?
Synthetic grass fields use different colors for game markings. We need to figure out the right boundaries and lines to show. Some fields share lines between sports, and we make the field more aesthetically pleasing, such as matching soccer’s 18-yard box with the 10-yard line for football.

What advice would you give to female engineers?
Women interested in engineering should not only work on their technical foundation, but also develop soft skills. Being a good written and verbal communicator is invaluable.

Can you walk into an athletic field without evaluating it?
It’s funny. Watching games on TV, I’ll sit with my husband and say, “Oh, that’s this kind of turf.’’

You just had a baby. A future engineer in the making?
Engineer or doctor. I’ll take either one.

By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / March 20, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Brown researchers honored with Seed Funds, Salomon Awards

Twelve individual faculty researchers, including the School of Engineering's Shreyas Mandre and four interdisciplinary research teams were honored with University grants. Competition for Seed Funds and Salomon Awards, administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research, allows researchers to develop promising projects for possible external funding.

Four interdisciplinary teams at Brown University have been awarded a total of $307,000 to pursue novel research projects, and a dozen faculty received individual research awards of up to $15,000.
The winning individuals and teams were recognized at a ceremony today (Monday, March 14, 2011) at the Stephen Robert Campus Center. The competitive grants come courtesy of the Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Awards and the Seed Funds administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR).
“The Seed Funds and Salomon Awards that are given each year are among the most important ways we have at Brown to let faculty start new research areas and build new research programs,” said Clyde Briant, vice president for research. “They cover all areas of research at Brown and thus affect the entire campus. Building new research programs is key to the constant revitalization of Brown’s research programs, which in turn makes us a highly attractive university for faculty and students.”
Salomon Award winnersFrom left, Shreyas Mandre, Laura Kertz, and Joo-Hyun Song were three of the 12 faculty recipients of Salomon Awards.Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown UniversityOne of the twelve Salomon Award winners was Shreyas Mandre, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering who is working on the development of a research program in thermoacoustics. Thermoacoustic devices exploit the temperature changes associated with acoustic waves to convert between mechanical and thermal energy. Due to the thermodynamically reversible nature of sound, the energy conversion is efficient. The potential for innovation is far-reaching, with applications in matters of global interest such as water desalination, waste energy harvesting, and spot cooling of electronic circuits. Mandre’s research program, predominantly for undergraduate researchers, proposes scaling down these devices to the centimeter scale and using them to develop new thermoelectric materials, which would open doors to a new field of mechanics in thermoacoustic materials.
The Seed Funds program has been run by OVPR since 2003. It is designed to help faculty compete more successfully for large-scale, interdisciplinary, multi-investigator grants. Investigators may propose projects with budgets up to $100,000. To date, about $3.5 million in Seed Funds has been given to research projects. From that investment, the researchers have obtained, on average, 10 times more funding from outside sources, according to OVPR.
The Salomon Awards were established to support excellence in scholarly work by providing funding for selected faculty research projects of exceptional merit. Recipients receive as much as $15,000. The Salomon Awards have been administered by OVPR since 2003, and a total of about $1.8 million has been awarded to 117 faculty.
This year’s Seed Fund winners will explore whether particular bacteria can produce biodiesel fuels, the impact of agriculture on air quality and global warming in New England, urban governance in India, and new treatments for sudden cardiac death.
One of this year’s Seed Fund recipients is Meredith Hastings, assistant professor of geological sciences at the Environmental Change Initiative. She is teaming with Jianwu Tang, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, to measure in real time the flow of nitrogen gases in the soil from agricultural practices in New England, in order to better understand agriculture’s effects on the region’s air quality and acid rain formation, as well as its role in producing greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide.
“This funding is allowing Jim and me to start a collaboration and get some initial data that would make it possible for us to do external fundraising,” said Hastings, who joined the Brown faculty in 2008. “It’s a jumpstart to our collaboration and a way to seek even more funding later.”
At the ceremony, three former Seed Fund winners — Katherine Smith in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Mark Johnson in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry, and Gabriel Taubin in the School of Engineering — said financial support from the University was critical to advancing their research to the point where they had enough results to seek external funding.
The 12 Salomon Award winners:
  • Laurel Bestock, assistant professor or archaeology;
  • Linford Fisher, assistant professor of history;
  • Rodrigo Fonseca, assistant professor of computer science;
  • Sherine Hamdy, assistant professor of anthropology;
  • Laura Kertz, assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences;
  • Erica Larschan, assistant professor of biology, Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry;
  • Shreyas Mandre, assistant professor of engineering;
  • Susan Moffitt, assistant professor of political science;
  • Sriniketh Nagavarapu, assistant professor of economics;
  • Marc Perlman, associate professor of music;
  • Joo-Hyun Song, assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences; and
  • Kristi Wharton, associate professor of medical science, Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry.
Additional information on the Salomon Award recipients is available atresearch.brown.edu/ovpr/awards_salomon_11.php.
The 2011 Seed Award winners:
  • The Impact of Agricultural Practices on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Air Quality: A Case Study in New England
    Principal investigators: Meredith Hastings, assistant professor of geological sciences, and Jianwu Tang, assistant scientist, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Governance and Inequality in Indian Cities
    Principal investigators: Patrick Heller, professor of sociology and international studies, and Ashutosh Varshney, professor of political science
  • Novel Micropatterned Culture Model for Developing New Therapeutic Strategies for Sudden Cardiac Death
    Principal investigators: Diane Hoffman-Kim, associate professor of medical science in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology and Biotechnology; Bum-Rak Choi, assistant professor of medicine; Gideon Koren, professor of medicine; Ulrike Mende, associate professor of medicine
  • Genetic, Biochemical, and Bioinformatic Approaches to Understanding Microbial Degradation of Plant Biomass
    Principal investigators: Jason Sello, associate professor of chemistry; Rebecca Page, assistant professor of biology, Department of Molecular Biology, cell Biology and Biochemistry; Charles Lawrence, professor of applied mathematics
Additional information on the Seed Fund recipients is available at research.brown.edu/ovpr/awards_seed_11.php.