VISE Summer Fellows program resumes, provides real-world lab experience to exceptional undergrads
The VISE Summer Fellows Program resumed in May, with 10 remarkable undergraduate students who spent 10 weeks on research projects in areas that included connectivity patterns in the brain, computational modeling of vagus nerve stimulation, and brain tumor segmentation using machine learning.
The 2021 Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering (VISE) Summer Fellowship Program was designed to match outstanding undergraduate students with VISE labs to provide them with hands-on experience working alongside faculty and graduate students. The program resumed after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus.
Aarushi Negi, a neuroscience major, spent the summer studying how neurostimulation can elucidate patters of directed connectivity the brain in the Brain Imaging and Electrophysiology Network (BIEN) Lab under Dario Englot, M.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery, radiology and radiological sciences.
“My summer work greatly enhanced my skills as a researcher as I collaborated on projects with my fellow lab members, reviewed literature in my field of study, and eventually submitted an abstract after completion of my data analysis,” Negi said.
In the Biomedical Modeling Laboratory (BML), Brianna Jacobson continued the work of former lab members Ma Luo and Alice Ding. Under the direction of Harvie Branscomb Professor Michael Miga, professor of biomedical engineering, she focused on computational modeling of vagus nerve stimulation.
Jacobson, a biomedical engineering major, said it was a great educational and professional experience. “While I often utilized previous knowledge of physics and coding, I had to learn a lot of new programs and skills as I went along,” she said. She credits guidance from senior lab members for her comfort level with MATLAB and COMSOL, a modeling program.
Rahul Regula also spent his summer in the BML Lab, where he was allowed to select his project. He chose to work on creating an accurate lung model that accounts for lobe-to-lobe interactions when deformation occurs. Improved lung models will help surgeons more accurately pinpoint sites of interest before surgery.
“The best part was learning from all of the graduate students in the lab and from Dr. Miga directly,” Regula said. “Dr. Miga would make time so I could better understand how to go about doing this research, and he would always make sure to teach me topics I would need to understand to properly do the work.”
Regula also appreciated being able to speak with the graduate students whenever he hit a roadblock. “The most rewarding parts of this experience was when I would be able to tackle the roadblocks, and it was satisfying to see my project move along. I will be continuing to work on this project throughout the school year, but to be able to get started in the summer and learn everything I had to know from the amazing graduate students in the lab made this experience worthwhile.”
Bohan Jiang is a computer engineering undergraduate in the Neuroimaging and Brain Dynamics (NEURDY) Lab under the direction of Catie Chang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Jiang’s project continued his previous work developing a photoplethysmography (PPG) signal correction pipeline in order to interpret waveforms with large chunks of noise.
He wanted to expand the work to process more types and formats of PPG data and handle a wider range of cases. He has plans to use some of this research in collaboration with VISE affiliates Englot and Victoria Morgan, M.D., in their data processing for fMRI.
Biomedical and computer engineering undergraduate student Madison Veliky joined the Science and Technology for Robotics in Medicine (STORM) lab to work with Keith Obstein, M.D. associate professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology, hepatolgy, and nutrition on his Magnetic Flexible Endoscope project. Studied the different FDA pathways to approval for medical devices and learned about the importance of regulatory strategies.
While COVID-19 restrictions made the summer challenging, Veliky was pleased that the STORM lab was already set up for virtual meeting with its close collaboration with its UK counterpart. Through various Zoom calls, she absorbed valuable information about research, the field, and what it takes to invent a medical device. Veliky also was able to work in the VISE space, which allowed her to get a feel for hands-on research.
“My favorite part of this summer research experience was being able to present my findings on medical device pathways and give my contribution to the team. I also enjoyed being a part of the VISE community, including the VISE summer series and Fellows Luncheon to learn about the other research projects around me,” Veliky said.
Yiqi Nick Zhao worked with Jack Noble, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, in the Biomedical Image Analysis for Image Guided Intervention (BAGL) Lab. His project continues the work another researcher where he used machine learning techniques to extend the features of a 2D image segmentation network for ultrasound image processing.
Zhao believes his time as a Summer Fellow made him a better programmer as well as a better researcher.
Computer science undergraduate student, Qibang Zhu, joined the Medical Image Computing (MedICL) Lab under the direction of Ipek Oguz, assistant professor of computer science. Zhu’s project will help Vanderbilt University Medical Center doctors with brain tumor segmentation using machine learning.
This is the first time Zhu began his own research project. He said he learned a lot.
“I experienced the whole process of a program, preprocessing data, training and improving the networks, modifying parameters to get better results,” he said. The process was turned into a paper and will be submitted later this semester.
Rebecca Pan, a biomedical engineering undergraduate student, conducted her research in the Grissom Lab with William Grissom, associate professor of biomedical engineering. She worked on magnetic particle imaging using an ultrasonic driving force.
The project is ongoing with hopes of applying for grants and publication. A patent has already been applied for. Pan plans to continue contributing to the project during the academic year.
“I have learned so much from this experience, from better understanding MATLAB and scientific modeling to simply learning more about a new imaging modality,” she said.
She said it became clear she had learned a lot over the summer, though she wasn’t always sure what she was doing during the process. The ability to pinpoint all the areas where she’s grown is extremely rewarding, Pan said.
Computer Science undergraduate Nishan Shehadeh worked under the direction of graduate student Emelina Vienneau in Brett Byram’s Biomedical Elasticity and Acoustic Measurement (BEAM) Lab. Byram is an associate professor of biomedical engineering.
Shehadeh worked on an algorithm to calculate the lag-one coherence for ultrasound data in real time. As a computer science major working in a biomedical engineering lab, he first had to learn background on ultrasound, how to handle its data, and the underlying math behind beamforming and coherence calculations. From there he was able to begin working on his coding assignments.
“It was extremely rewarding to see my method output the coherence values correctly for the first time after spending days debugging small issues and to have a working live demo at the end of the project,” he said.
Vienneau can particularly benefit because of her work on transcranial ultrasound, as his method was designed to help identify an ideal acoustic window during transcranial ultrasound. This will hopefully improve her data collection and benefit many aspects of her research.
Jiachen Xu, worked in tHe biomedical data Representation and Learning (HRLB) lab this summer with Yuankai Huo, assistant professor in computer science. His project consisted of using deep learning methods to accurately diagnose biopsy of eosinophilic esophagitis patients.
Overall, his results were promising, and he plans to continue the project during fall semester.
“I think this whole experience of starting from almost scratch and finally reaching a solid conclusion is very rewarding,” Zu said.
The research fellowship provides students with 10 weeks of compensation. The program concluded with an in-person VISE seminar during which the students gave five minutes talks about their work and results.