Last month, the second annual Women in Data Science (WiDS) @ Penn Conference virtually gathered nearly 500 registrants to participate in a week’s worth of academic and industry talks, live speaker Q&A sessions, and networking opportunities.
Following welcoming remarks from Erika James, Dean of the Wharton School, and Vijay Kumar, Nemirovsky Family Dean of Penn Engineering, the conference began with a keynote address from President of Microsoft US and Wharton alumna Kate Johnson.
Conference sessions continued throughout the week, featuring panels of academic data scientists from around Penn and beyond, industry leaders from IKEA Digital, Facebook and Poshmark, and lightning talks from students speakers who presented their data science research.
All of the conference’s sessions are now available on YouTube and the 2021 WiDS Conference Recap, including a talk titled “How Humans Build Models for the World” by Danielle Bassett, J. Peter Skirkanich Professor in Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering.
The inaugural Joseph Bordogna Forum took place on Wednesday, February 24 and featured a talk from John Brooks Slaughter, Deans’ Professor of Education and Engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and Rossier School of Education, entitled a “Call to Action for Racial Justice and Equity in Engineering.”
Dr. Slaughter was joined by panelists Jennifer R. Lukes, Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, Oladayo Adewole, an alumnus in Robotics who recently defended his doctoral dissertation in Bioengineering, and CJ Taylor, Raymond S. Markowitz President’s Distinguished Professor in Computer and Information Science and Associate Dean, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, who moderated the talk.
Dr. Slaughter talked about how microaggressions can often be a barrier to student success and emphasized on the importance of mentorship for underrepresented minorities: “If faculty members seek to improve the retention of underrepresented minorities, often times more has to be done than introducing science and math principles early on in their education, but instead, the unique backgrounds of these students must be understood.”
We hope you will join us for the 2021 Grace Hopper Distinguished Lecture by Dr. Jennifer Lewis, presented by the Department of Bioengineering. For event links, email email@example.com.
Date: Thursday, March 25, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EDT
Speaker: Jennifer A. Lewis, Sc.D.
Wyss Professor for Biologically Inspired Engineering
The Wyss Institue
Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Title: “Biomanufacturing Vascularized Organoids and Functional Human Tissue”
Following the lecture, join us for a panel discussion “Horizon 2030: Engineering Life & Life in (Bio)Engineering” featuring Dr. Lewis and Penn faculty and moderated by Bioengineering students. Further details here.
Recent protocols in developmental biology are unlocking the potential for stem cells to undergo differentiation and self-assembly to form “mini-organs”, known as organoids. To bridge the gap from organoid building blocks (OBBs) to therapeutic functional tissues, integrative approaches that combine bottom-up organoid assembly with top-down bioprinting are needed. While it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how either organoids or bioprinting alone would fully replicate the complex multiscale features required for organ-specific function – their combination may provide an enabling foundation for de novo tissue manufacturing. My talk will begin by describing our recent efforts to generate organoids in vitro with perfusable microvascular networks that support their viability and maturation. Next, I will describe the generation of 3D vascularized organ-specific tissues by assembling OBBs into a living matrix that supports the embedded printing of macro-vessels by a process known as sacrificial writing in functional tissue (SWIFT). Though broadly applicable, I will highlight our recent work on kidney, cerebral, and cardiac tissue engineering.
Dr. Lewis Bio:
Jennifer A. Lewis is the Jianming Yu Professor of Arts and Sciences, the Wyss Professor for Biologically Inspired Engineering in the Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. Her research focuses on 3D printing of functional, structural, and biological materials that emulate natural systems. Prior to joining Harvard, Lewis was a faculty member in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she served as the Director of the Materials Research Laboratory. Currently, she directs the Harvard Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) and serves the NSF Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee.
Lewis has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Faculty Fellow Award, the American Chemical Society Langmuir Lecture Award, the Materials Research Society Medal Award, the American Ceramic Society Sosman and Roy Lecture Awards, and the Lush Science Prize. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her research has enjoyed broad coverage in the popular media. To date, she has co-founded two companies, Voxel8 Inc. and Electroninks, that are commercializing technology from her lab.
Information on the GraceHopper Lecture: In support of its educational mission of promoting the role of all engineers in society, the School of Engineering and Applied Science presents the GraceHopper Lecture Series. This series is intended to serve the dual purpose of recognizing successful women in engineering and of inspiring students to achieve at the highest level.
Rear Admiral GraceHopper was a mathematician, computer scientist, systems designer and the inventor of the compiler. Her outstanding contributions to computer science benefited academia, industry and the military. In 1928 she graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in mathematics and physics and joined the Vassar faculty. While an instructor, she continued her studies in mathematics at Yale University where she earned an M.A. in 1930 and a Ph.D. in 1934. GraceHopper is known worldwide for her work with the first large-scale digital computer, the Navy’s Mark I. In 1949 she joined Philadelphia’s Eckert-Mauchly, founded by the builders of ENIAC, which was building UNIVAC I. Her work on compilers and on making machines understand ordinary language instructions lead ultimately to the development of the business language, COBOL. GraceHopper served on the faculty of the Moore School for 15 years, and in 1974 received an honorary degree from the University. In support of the accomplishments of women in engineering, each department within the School invites a prominent speaker for a one or two-day visit that incorporates a public lecture, various mini-talks and opportunities to interact with undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.
Danielle Bassett, J. Peter Skirkanich Professor in the departments of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering, investigates how the shape of networks impact the phenomena that arises from them. Much of that research is focused on networks of neurons, and how the different ways they are wired together in different people can influence their mental traits, such as memory or executive function.
Bassett is also interested in networks of people, however, as the shapes of those networks can have a major impact on a society’s traits. Last year, she and her colleagues published a study that investigated the network of citations neuroscience researchers produced in the course of their work, demonstrating a systemic gender bias that left women underrepresented in the literature.
When a group of researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi published a paper in Nature Communications last fall suggesting that young women scientists should seek out men as mentors, the backlash was swift and vociferous. Countless scientists, many of them women, registered their indignation on Twitter—some even penning open letters and their ownpreprints in response. The original paper had found that female junior scientists who authored papers with male senior scientists saw their papers cited at higher rates. But a number of critics contested the assertion that this result established a link between male mentors and career performance. Scientists routinely coauthor articles with people who are not their mentors, they argued, and citation rates are just one metric of achievement. In response to these criticisms, the authors eventually retracted their paper. (They declined to comment to WIRED.)
But the paper had already stirred up a broader discussion about gender and mentorship in academia. For Danielle Bassett, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, the methodological concerns that prompted the paper’s retraction were far from its worst sin. She herself has researched citation practices and found that, in neuroscience, papers with male senior authors are cited at a disproportionately high rate—primarily because other male scientists preferentially cite them. To suggest that young women should therefore try to author papers with men is, she believes, a grave error. “That was a problem in assigning blame,” she says. “The onus is on us to create a scientific culture that lets students choose a mentor that’s right for them.”
Christian Figueroa-Espada, a Penn Bioengineering Ph.D. student and National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellow, was selected as a Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) Scholar from a highly-competitive pool of 85,000 applicants for their 2020-2021 program. One of only 5,100 awardees, Figueroa-Espada’s scholarship comes from the Toyota Motor North America Program. As an HSF Scholar, he has access to a full range of Scholar Support Services, such as career coaching, internship, and full-time employment opportunities, mentoring, leadership development, and wellness resources, including tools for self-advocacy, well-being, and knowledge building.
“Chris has really hit the ground running on his Ph.D. studies at Penn Bioengineering, developing a new bone marrow-targeted nanoparticle platform to disrupt the spread of multiple myeloma throughout the body,” says Mitchell. “I’m very hopeful that this prestigious fellowship from HSF will permit him to make important contributions to nanomedicine and cancer research.”
“This fellowship, along with my NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, GEM Fellowship, and William Fontaine Fellowship through the University of Pennsylvania, make my research on nanoparticle-based RNA therapeutics for the reprogramming of the tumor microenvironment to treat malignancies and overcome drug resistance possible,” says Figueroa-Espada. “While my professional goal is to stay in academia and lead a research lab, my personal goal is to become whom I needed: a role model within the Latino STEM community, hoping to address many of the difficulties that impede Latino students’ success in higher education, and thanks to Toyota Motor/HSF, NSF, and GEM, I am one step closer to meeting these goals.”
Data show that healthcare disparities plague the Black community in America, making it harder to receive adequate treatment and care. But rather than just accepting the status quo, Ruby Washington, senior in the Department of Bioengineering, is dedicated to leveraging her interest in biomedicine to change outcomes and systems.
“I feel that I have a duty to help my community and make the healthcare system better for people who look like me,” she says.
That’s a challenge well suited to a woman who is both fascinated by the intersection of materials science and biology and dedicated to representing and leading a community of Black engineers.
A recent piece in the Daily Pennsylvanian highlights Penn Bioengineering’s new Applicant-Support Program. Introduced for the Fall 2020 admissions cycle, this new program supports the department’s mission of increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion by pairing Ph.D. applicants to current doctoral students who will serve as a mentors to help navigate the process, give feedback on application materials, and provide other support to prospective students.
As Jason Andrechak, President of Penn’s Graduate Association of Association of Bioengineers (GABE) chapter, explains in the DP’s profile: “A lot of what a successful application looks like at this level is just knowing what a successful application looks like.” This and other new policies and programs implemented by GABE and Yale Cohen, Professor of Otorhinolaryngology, Neuroscience and Bioengineering and BE’s current Graduate Group Chair, seek to support applications from “underserved or underrepresented communities.”
One of the ongoing issues in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) fields is a lack of diversity among students and faculty. Bioengineering stands out among other engineering fields because it enjoys terrific gender diversity. For example, about half of Penn Bioengineers are women, a feature of our class that goes back decades.
However, diversity extends well beyond gender. For example, the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) has been working to increase diversity, including among students with disabilities. A consortium of people and groups providing mentors for science students, the MRMN recently highlighted the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Entry Point! program, which focuses on helping students with physical disabilities. Mentoring, it turns out is a big part of helping these students succeed.
Another recent development that should help to increase diversity in the field is the awarding of a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Engineering to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the College of Menominee Nation (CMN), a native American college in Wisconsin, to collaborate in engineering research and education. The new grant builds on a program begun in 2010 between the colleges to build labs and facilitate the transfer of pre-engineering students from CMN to UWM.
Brain Science Developments
Speaking of education, three recent news stories discuss how we might be able to expedite the learning process, increase intelligence, and reward ourselves when we create art. In one of the stories, a company called Kernel is investing $100 million in research at the University of Southern California to determine whether using brain implants, which have been helpful in some patients with epilepsy, can be used to increase or recover memory. If successful, this may bridge one critical treatment gap in neurology. About one out of every three people with epilepsy don’t respond to drug treatment.
In the second story, scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas were awarded a $5.8 million contract from DARPA to investigate the role of vagus nerve stimulation in accelerated learning of foreign languages. Stimulating the peripheral nervous system to activate and train areas of the brain is one more example that our nervous system is connected in ways that we do not yet understand completely. The Department of Defense hopes to use the technology to more quickly train intelligence operatives and code breakers.
Finally, in a third story involving the brain, a professor at Drexel University used functional near-infrared spectroscopy to determine which parts of the brain were activated while participants were making art. Dr. Girija Kaimal’s team found that creative endeavors activate the brain’s rewards pathway, as well as elevating the participants’ self-opinion. So making art always made people feel good about themselves; now we know more of the reasons why.