This summer I had the opportunity to spend ten weeks in Boston, MA while participating in the BIOSENSE REU program at Northeastern University. This research experience for undergraduates is funded by the National Science Foundation and is similar to many across the country. The application process is completed online and required me to submit an essay, a copy of my transcript, and several recommendation letters.
I worked with Dr. Andrew Gouldstone in his Heterogeneous Materials & Multiscale Mechanics Laboratory. My research focused on creating a physical model for imaging lung alveoli.
The lab uses Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to image the lung. OCT is as noninvasive, noncontact imaging modality. It employs infrared light to penetrate ~2mm into the sample and provides cross-sectional images. A major problem with using OCT for lung imaging is that the air inside alveoli creates an artifact that makes them appear elongated. In order to study this effect and correct for it, a bubble raft was designed. A solution was made using water, dish soap, and milk. Milk was used as a contrast agent. An air pump was used to blow air through a hypodermic needle, which was inserted under the surface of the solution. As the result, the bubbles arranged themselves in an organized structure, thus forming a raft. Figure 1 illustrates a raft that formed using bubbles approximately 500µm in diameter.
Images of the bubbles were taken using both Optical Coherence Tomography and a regular (CCD) camera and compared. However, lung alveoli are not round; they have a structure similar to foams, which is illustrated in Figure 2. In order to achieve this desired structure, the bubbles were placed on a glass slide and compressed using transparency film. Once again, the bubbles were imaged using both the OCT and a CCD camera (Figure 3). Comparing these images will give us an idea of how the OCT alters the appearance of structures similar to alveoli. As the result, methods can be developed to correct for such errors and more accurately image the lung.
The research experience has been immensely valuable: I learned how to properly conduct research, prepare a technical paper, and present my work to my peers. I am very grateful for the LTU faculty and staff who have been instrumental to my success. I plan to continue my education by earning master’s and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering.