I am excited to say that I have completed (a bit more than) half a summer working with Dr. Miller and her team in the BG&R lab! This summer I have dedicated my time to working as a research assistant with the Women’s Reproductive Team to analyze the mechanical properties of tissue in the women’s reproductive system.
Starting out this summer, I set out to develop my skills on applying computer science to practical scientific problems, how to do experiments, and how to work effectively on a team outside of the classroom. Beyond that, I challenged myself to further my understanding of critical thinking and problem solving in the industry, which this summer would be in academia, and my understanding of the women’s reproductive system and how the mechanical properties in our tissue contribute to our susceptibility to Pelvic Organ Prolapse. I can confidently say that through my experiences this summer I have far surpassed the goals I have set for myself in a very hands on way. When working in a research lab it is important to keep a well documented lab notebook. This allows you to keep track of the goals you accomplish throughout your time in the lab, both personal and professional, and also allows you to look back and see just how much you’ve learned throughout your time. My lab notebook has helped me stay on task, keep track of the things I’ve learned (and the things I haven’t), and build on my research on a daily basis.
In the BG&R lab, I personally am working on developing a plug-in, coded in C++, that will run in conjunction with the software we use to model tissue in silico (which means computationally) called FEBio. Our lab uses biaxial devices to test tissue within the reproductive system of mice to study the behavior and degradation of tissue under different pressures and loadings. Through experimentation, and collaboration with other PIs at different universities, we have worked to develop a constitutive model that models the material parameters of the tissue. This is developed from a strain-energy function that we manipulate to determine the stress and strain on the tissue in different configurations. The plug-in I am working to develop implements this constitutive model as a material type in FEBio. FEBio currently only supports a finite number of materials, so currently modeling tissue in the configuration we have developed takes combining many different smaller configurations with different material types which creates a very complex computational model. Once this plug-in is completed, we will be able to create our shapes in FEBio, assign the material type of our plug-in, and analyze the value of the stress on the tissue which exponentially decreases the complexity of the model. Moving forward, this plug-in could be further developed to create patient-specific models that could be used in clinical testing and analysis within hospitals and other sites in the medical field.
Along with this project, I have been learning the ins and outs of experimentation by observing and partially helping with many different types of testing, including the planar biaxial testing, the opening angle testing, and the pressure diameter tissue testing. I have also been training to handle and properly euthanize the mice we use in accordance with Tulane University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee guidelines. These skills will help me expand on my further work in the BG&R lab.
The skills I have learned during my summer have helped me develop the steady hand and temperament it takes to be successful in a research lab, and in the field of academia. One thing that takes time and patience to learn is that research is an ongoing process and you have to find success in the small things to keep yourself from going crazy. Between my academics, extracurricular activities, research, and job I have a tendency to live life in a whirlwind, and find comfort in accomplishing tasks I have before me. This summer has taught me that even if you’ve completed the things you’ve put in front of you, there is always more to learn. The intellectual autonomy provided to you during individual research is both intimidating and refreshing, and this summer has given me the opportunity to envelope myself in that idea.
Every day I spend in the lab I realize how strongly the goals of our lab align with the goal to produce driven and fearless female leaders that the Newcomb College Institute has. Women’s health, let alone the women’s reproductive system, is studied by an extraordinarily few number of people in academia. The BG&R lab has felt this in our research efforts, as the studies and data sets to be used for further research in the field are scarce. I see our lab as trailblazers in the field because we really do have to construct our own models, machines, and ideas for ways to solve the issues in front of us. Being a part of this team has helped me train in the skills to be a trailblazer in my own professional development. Going into the field of Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science as a woman is an uphill battle, and working in the BG&R lab is giving me the ammunition needed to go in unafraid of the fight, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity.