Episode 4 of Innovation & Impact: Exploring AI in Engineering

by Melissa Pappas

Susan Davidson, Cesar de la Fuente, Surbhi Goel and Chris Callison-Burch speak on AI in Engineering in episode 4 of the Innovation & Impact podcast.

With AI technologies finding their way into every industry, important questions must be considered by the research community: How can deep learning help identify new drugs? How can large language models disseminate information? Where and how are researchers using AI in their own work? And, how are humans anticipating and defending against potential harmful consequences of this powerful technology?

In this episode of Innovation & Impact, host Susan Davidson, Weiss Professor in Computer and Information Science (CIS), speaks with three Penn Engineering experts about leveraging AI to advance scientific discovery and methods to protect its users. Panelists include:

Chris Callison-Burch, Associate Professor in CIS, who researches the applications of large language models and AI tools in current and future real-world problems with a keen eye towards safety and ethical use of AI;  

Surbhi Goel, Magerman Term Assistant Professor in CIS, who works at the intersection of theoretical computer science and machine learning. Her focus on developing theoretical foundations for modern machine learning paradigms expands the possibilities of deep learning; and

Cesar de la Fuente, Presidential Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, Psychiatry and Microbiology with a secondary appointment in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, who leads research on technology in the medical field, using computers to find antibiotics in extinct organisms and identify pre-clinical candidates to advance drug discovery. 

Each episode of Penn Engineering’s Innovation & Impact podcast shares insight from leading experts at Penn and Penn Engineering on science, technology and medicine. 

Subscribe to the Innovation & Impact podcast on Apple MusicSpotify or your favorite listening platforms or find all the episodes on our Penn Engineering YouTube channel.

This story originally appeared in Penn Engineering Today.

Innovation and Impact: “RNA: Past, Present and Future”

by Melissa Pappas

(Left to right): Mike Mitchell, Noor Momin, and David Meaney recording the Innovation & Impact podcast.

In the most recent episode of the Penn Engineering podcast Innovation & Impact, titled “RNA: Past, Present and Future,” David F. Meaney, Senior Associate Dean of Penn Engineering and Solomon R. Pollack Professor in Bioengineering, is joined by Mike Mitchell, Associate Professor in Bioengineering, and Noor Momin, who will be joining Penn Engineering as an Assistant Professor in Bioengineering early next year, to discuss the impact that RNA has had on health care and biomedical engineering technologies.

Mitchell outlines his lab’s research that spans drug delivery, new technology in protecting RNA and its applications in treating cancer. Momin details her research, which is focused on optimizing the immune system to protect against illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. With Meaney driving the discussion around larger questions, including the possibility of a cancer vaccine, the three discuss what they are excited about now and where the field is going in the future with these emerging, targeted treatments.

Read the full story in Penn Engineering Today.

Subscribe to the Innovation & Impact podcast on Apple Music, Spotify or your favorite listening platforms or find all the episodes on the Penn Engineering YouTube channel.

The Potential Futures of Neurotech

Roy Hoshi Hamilton, MD, MS, FAAN, FANA

Brain technology offers all kinds of exciting possibilities — from treating conditions like epilepsy or depression, to simply maximizing brain health. But medical ethicists are concerned about potential dangers and privacy concerns. Roy Hamilton, Professor of Neurology in the Perelman School of Medicine,  Director of the Penn Brain Science, Translation, Innovation, and Modulation (BrainSTIM) Center, and member of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group, spoke with WHYY about how brain stimulation is being used.

Listen to “Neurotech and the Growing Battle for Our Brains

“Creativity needs to let go of control”: Penn BE Labs Featured on the Shifting Schools Podcast

Shifting Schools. Sevile Mannickarottu, @PennBELabs. Thanks to our sponsors: STEM Sports & MackinMaker.
Sevile Mannickarottu, Director of Educational Labs, Penn Bioengineering

Sevile Mannickarottu, Director of Educational Laboratories in the Department of Bioengineering (BE), was interviewed in a recent episode of Shifting Schools, a weekly podcast that hosts educators and thought-leaders in conversations about the latest trends in education and EdTech. Mannickarottu, a Penn Engineering alumnus, runs the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace, also known as the Penn BE Labs. In addition to being the primary teaching lab for Penn Bioengineering, the Penn BE Labs has grown into “the world’s only interdisciplinary Bio-MakerSpace.”

Students busy at work in the Penn BE Labs.

MakerSpaces–collaborative, educational work environments–have recently grown in popularity. Penn BE Labs distinguishes itself as a Bio-MakerSpace, embracing the interdisciplinary character of bioengineering by offering itself freely as a space for both academic and personal projects. It is stocked with tools ranging from 3D printers, laser cutters, and electrical equipment, including supplies to support work in molecular biology, physiology, chemistry, and microfluidics.

In the episode, hosts Tricia Friedman and Jeff Utecht talk with Mannickarottu about the organic process by which the Penn BE Labs evolved from a standard teaching space for undergraduate engineering laboratory courses into a student-driven hub of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that is open to the entire Penn community regardless of discipline or major.

A student using the BE Labs' sewing machine for a project.Mannickarottu and his team have found that “creativity needs to let go of control – that’s when fun things happen.” As the lab staff and faculty started to allow more creative freedom in the undergraduate bioengineers’ education, the requests for more supplies started pouring in and the lab’s activities and resources grew.  “Honestly, we’re driven almost entirely by student requests and student demands,” says Mannickarottu. So when a student requested a sewing machine for a project? They went out and bought one, adding to their ever-growing stockpile of tools. Over time, more and more diverse projects have emerged from the BE Labs, many of them going on to win awards and grow beyond Penn’s campus as independent startups.

In case this sounds out of reach for smaller institutions, Mannickarottu shares words of encouragement. “The biggest thing,” he says, “is to allow for creativity on the part of the students.” A lab or program can start their own MakerSpace surprisingly inexpensively and build their inventory over time. His number one recommendation for those looking to replicate the success of Penn BE Labs is to allow students freedom to innovate, and administrators will be drawn to invest in the MakerSpace to allow for even more opportunities for them to create and thrive.

BE Labs logoTo help others get started, the Penn BE Labs staff have put a wide range of resources online, including extensive video and photo archives, FAQ’s, tutorials, information about student projects and startups, and equipment inventories. A 2019 post written for the BE Blog by BE alumna Sophie Burkholder (BSE ‘20 & MSE ‘21) gives the reader tips on “how to build your own MakerSpace for under $1500.”

Though it may currently be “the world’s only interdisciplinary Bio-MakerSpace,” the greatest legacy of the Penn BE Labs would be to be known as the first of many.

Listen to “The legacy of your lab” in Shifting Schools to learn more about the Penn BE Labs and for tips on starting your own MakerSpace.

Listen: ‘Curious Minds’ on NPR’s ‘Detroit Today’

by Ebonee Johnson

Twin siblings and scholars Dani S. Bassett of Penn and Perry Zurn of American University collaborated over half a dozen years to write “Curious Minds: The Power of Connection.” (Image: Tony and Tracy Wood Photography)

Twin academics Dani S. Basset, J. Peter Skirkanich Professor and director of the Complex Systems Lab, and Perry Zurn, a professor of philosophy at American University, were recently featured as guests on NPR radio show “Detroit Today” to discuss their new book, “Curious Mind: The Power of Connection.”

In their book, Basset and Zurn draw on their previous research, as well as an expansive network of ideas from philosophy, history, education and art to explore how and why people experience curiosity, as well as the different types it can take.

Basset, who holds appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering, as well as the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Penn Arts & Science, and the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry in Penn Perelman’s School of Medicine, and Zurn spoke with “Detroit Today” producer Sam Corey about what types of things make people curious, and how to stimulate more curiosity in our everyday lives.

According to the twin experts, curiosity is not a standalone facet of one’s personality. Basset and Zurn’s work has shown that a person’s capacity for inquiry is very much tied to the overall state of their health.

“There’s a lot of scientific research focusing on intellectual humility and also openness to ideas,” says Bassett. “And there are really interesting relationships between someone’s openness to ideas, someone’s intellectual humility and their curiosity and also their wellbeing or flourishing,”

Listen to “What makes people curious and how to encourage the act” at “Detroit Today.”

Register for a book signing event for “Curious Minds: The Power of Connection,” on Friday, December 9th at the Penn Bookstore.

This story originally appeared in Penn Engineering Today.

Toothbrushing Microbots on Walter Isaacson’s ‘Trailblazers’ Podcast

by

An infographic explains the magnetic and catalytic properties of the iron oxide nanoparticles and their assembly into bristle and floss-like forms. (Image: Melissa Pappas/Penn Engineering)

Penn Dental Medicine’s Michel Koo, Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD), was among a panel of researchers, engineers, and business founders invited to be part of a recent Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson Podcast titled “Dentistry: An Oral History of Disruption.”

Koo shared findings from one of his recent studies conducted in collaboration with Penn Engineering, which showed that a shapeshifting robotic microswarm can brush and floss teeth.

“Routine oral care is cumbersome and can pose challenges for many people, especially those who have a hard time cleaning their teeth” says Koo. “You have to brush your teeth, then floss your teeth, then rinse your mouth; it’s a manual, multistep process. The big innovation here is that the robotics system can do all three in a single, hands-free, automated way.”

The building blocks of these microrobots are iron oxide nanoparticles that have both catalytic and magnetic activity. Using a magnetic field, researchers could direct their motion and configuration to form either bristlelike structures that sweep away dental plaque from the broad surfaces of teeth, or elongated strings that can slip between teeth like a length of floss.

“Nanoparticles can be shaped and controlled with magnetic fields in surprising ways,” says Edward Steager, a senior research investigator at Penn Engineering and co-corresponding author. “We form bristles that can extend, sweep, and even transfer back and forth across a space, much like flossing. The way it works is similar to how a robotic arm might reach out and clean a surface. The system can be programmed to do the nanoparticle assembly and motion control automatically.”

Listen to “Dentistry: An Oral History of Disruption” to learn more about Toothbrushing Microbots.

This story originally appeared in Penn Engineering Today.

Listen: Danielle Bassett Uses Network Science to Find Links in Human Curiosity

Danielle Bassett, Ph.D.

Danielle Bassett, J. Peter Skirkanich Professor of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering, is a curious scientist.

Featured on a recent episode of “Choosing to be Curious” on WERA 96.7 Radio Arlington, Bassett discussed her work in studying curiosity and the potential neural mechanisms behind it. In her work, Bassett strives to re-conceptualize curiosity itself, defining it as not just seeking new bits information, but striving to understand the path through which those bits are connected.

Bassett is a pioneering researcher in the field of network science and how its tools can be applied to understand the brain. Now, Bassett and her research team are using the tools of network science and complex systems theory to uncover what common styles of curiosity people share and how individual styles differ. In addition, the team is exploring if there are canonical types of curiosity among humans or if each person’s curiosity architecture is unique.

This isn’t the first time Bassett has combined the tools of disparate fields to pursue her research. For as long as she can remember, Bassett has been insatiably curious and, while she was homeschooled as a child, she often wandered from one subject to the next and let her own interest guide her path. For Bassett, studying curiosity with the tools of physical, biology, and engineering is a natural step in her research journey.

In her interview with host Lynn Borton, Bassett says:

“What took me to curiosity is the observation that there’s a problem in defining the ways in which we search for knowledge. And that perhaps the understanding of curiosity could be benefitted by a scientific and mathematical approach. And that maybe the tools and conceptions that we have in mathematics and physics and other areas of science are useful for understanding curiosity. Which most people would consider to be more in the world of the humanities than the sciences….“Part of what I’m hoping to do is to illustrate that there are connections between disciplines that seem completely separate. Sometimes some of the best ideas in science are inspired not by a scientific result but by something else.”

To hear more about Bassett’s research on curiosity, listen to the full episode of Choosing to Be Curious.

Originally posted on the Penn Engineering blog.

You Do Belong in Science-stravaganza!

You Do Belong in Science

Sally and Kayla wrap up the You Do Belong in Science series with listener stories and lessons learned from this series. Listeners write in with stories about the importance of professors’ LGBTQ allyship and dealing with chronic illness in graduate school. Sally and Kayla reveal who does not belong in science (spoiler alert/content advisory: it’s sexual harassers). They also welcome allyship correspondent Jon Muncie to discuss actions everyone can take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace, fairly judge peers’ research, and increase representation and promote the inclusion of people from underrepresented groups in STEM. He reminds Double Shelix that we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable when it comes to discussing and addressing these important issues facing our science workplaces.

Resources
* Resources for LGBTQ+ students, staff, faculty, and allies at Berkeley, at UCSF, and at U of Pennsylvania
* Proud and Prepared: A Guide for LGBT Students Navigating Graduate Training – resource from the American Psychological Association. Preview it here
* Dr. Kate Clancy’s congressional testimony video (starts ~41:30) and transcript
* Dr. Kate Clancy’s amazing podcast, Period Podcast
* Sexual harassment videos and NYT analysis: https://nyti.ms/2Gg4NHT
* Resources for dealing with sexual harassment: rainn.org/thatsharassment

Sally and Kayla thank the Berkeley Student Tech Fund, as well as Gustavo Villarreal @wikirascals for their graphics. Get your Double Shelix and You Do Belong in Science stickers at doubleshelix.com/stickers.

Share your thoughts on this episode — or your belonging story — on voicemail 415-895-0850 or email Double Shelix doubleshelixpodcast@gmail.com. Sally and Kayla are on Twitter @doubleshelixpod and coming soon to Instagram @doubleshelixpodcast — give them a follow!

International Research: You Do Belong in Science Podcast #5

Suhair Sunoqrot

Professor Suhair Sunoqrot joins Sally and Kayla to discuss her experiences running her research lab at Al Zaytoonah University of Jordan and what she wishes international colleagues understood about the research climate in Jordan. Also on this episode, a listener is having a hard time fitting in while researching in another country, and Suhair’s experience finding belonging in research labs in the US and Europe is discussed. Suhair successfully balances her nanoparticle and drug delivery research with a heavy teaching load, and Sally and Kayla learn her secrets for making it work. Suhair is an outstanding researcher and mentor.

Resources:
Suhair on LinkedIn
* Suhair Sunoqrot Lab at Al Zaytoonah University

Thank you to the Berkeley Student Tech Fund. Thanks also to Gustavo Villarreal (@wikirascals) and Kaz Lewis (@kazlewis) for our awesome graphics and photos!

Follow Double Shelix on Twitter @doubleshelixpod

Send us your stories of (not) belonging in science! Doubleshelixpodcast@gmail.com, on doubleshelix.com, and 1-415-895-0850.

You do belong in science!!!

Pathways to Grad School: You Do Belong in Science Podcast #4

pathways to grad school

A STEM graduate degree can be a gateway to an amazing career, but many undergraduate students are unaware that these opportunities exist or how to navigate the grad school admission process. Guests Christina Fuentes and Shaheen Jeeawoody join Sally and Kayla to discuss strategies for enabling students to learn about and successfully apply to graduate school. Shaheen and Christina are both leaders in Graduate Pathways to STEM, a grad student-run organization that brings students from non-research institutions to Berkeley or Stanford for a 1-day conference to learn about the opportunities a graduate degree presents, what grad school is like, and how to navigate the admissions process. Conference attendees are paired with peer mentors and have the opportunity to interact with STEM leaders. They also discuss strategies for successful grad school applications, writing strong essays that advocate for yourself, Shaheen and Christina’s pathways to graduate school, and the value of peer mentorship: “Peer mentorship kept me in the PhD.” If you’re considering applying to graduate school, want to improve your writing, or want to understand how your community can be more welcoming to graduate students of all backgrounds, you will LOVE this episode.

Resources:
*Bay Area Graduate Pathways to STEM
*Christina Fuentes on LinkedIn
*Shaheen Jeeawoody on LinkedIn

Upcoming #YouDoBelongInScience episodes will feature your stories! Fill out this form, or leave voicemail at 415-895-0850, to share your story of (dis)belonging in STEM.

​Get your Double Shelix and You Do Belong in Science stickers (free only for a limited time!) –DoubleShelix.com/stickers. Follow Double Shelix on Twitter @doubleshelixpod