Clare Boothe Luce Fellows Two Years Later
Two years after receiving prestigious fellowships designed to support women scientists, three Pratt graduate students are well into their research with such diverse projects as brain-computer interfaces, nanoparticle exposures and a new method for breast cancer screening.
In 2006, Katie Hedlund, Christine Robichaud and Christina Shafer were named Clare Boothe Luce Fellows. The fellowship program is the largest such private program for women studying science, mathematics or engineering. More than 1,500 women scientists have received support since the program began in 1989.
The award’s namesake was a playwright, journalist, U.S. ambassador to Italy and the first woman elected to Congress from Connecticut. Luce, who died in 1987, was also the wife of Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc.
Hedlund, a native of Columbus, Ohio, completed her undergraduate studies at Pratt in electrical engineering, and is now in her second year of graduate work. Her research focuses on strategies for communication directly with the brain. Specifically, she is measuring the electrical signals generated by the brain when humans are faced with a specific letter of the alphabet.
“One area where this research could ultimately have an impact is helping people who cannot communicate but whose brain is still functional,” she explained. “It would be great to help these people communicate with friends and family. We’re using EEG (electroencephalography) technology to pinpoint the specific signals that correlate with each letter of the alphabet.”
Hedlund, whose is mentored by Leslie Collins, professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the rapid advances in computing power over the past ten years are making research projects like this possible.
Robichaud, a Texas native, is working to better understand potential environmental and human exposure to nanoparticles involved in alternative energy applications. She received her undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from Texas A&M University, and after completing a master’s degree in environmental analysis and decision making at Rice University, she came to Pratt continue her doctoral studies with Mark Wiesner, professor of civil engineering.
“I’m working on risk assessments of nanoparticles utilized in alternative energy applications, such as photovoltaic or fuel cells,” Robichaud. “First, we are trying to figure out exactly what is out there and in what quantities. Then we plan to develop a model to determine the effects of possible exposures.”
Shafer, who also did her undergraduate work at Texas A&M, is working on the development of what she refers to as being similar to a “poor man’s” computed tomography (CT). She is in her second year working in the laboratory of Joseph Lo, who is on the faculty of in biomedical engineering and radiology.
She said that the technology, known as digital breast tomosynthesis, may end up replacing mammography as a tool for detecting breast cancer.
“Traditional CTs make 360-degree scans, while in tomosynthesis, we’re only making a 50-degree arc,” Shafer explained. “While the images are not as comprehensive as a CT, they are quick and easy to conduct to obtain 3D images, and can be effective as an initial screening tool.”