Ghana Trip to Study Tuberculosis: Day Three

by Danielle Tsougarakis, Bioengineering ’20; Jason Grosz, Bioengineering ’19; Ethan Zhao, Bioengineering ’19; and Kate Panzer, Bioengineering ’18

Ghana 3.1
Danielle Tsougarakis (left) and Kathleen Givan (right) on a paddleboat along Lake Bosomtwe.

David Issadore, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania teaches an engineering course ENGR566 – Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics. As part of this course, he and Miriam Wattenberger from CBE, have taken nine Penn students, most of them majoring in Bioengineering, to Kumasi, Ghana, to study the diagnosis of pediatric tuberculosis. While in Ghana, these students are blogging daily on their experiences.

This morning, we headed to Lake Bosomtwe, which is in the Kumasi metropolitan area. The setting was surreal, with an expansive lake surrounded by rich vegetation and puffy white clouds. Lake Bosomtwe is the only natural lake in Ghana, formed by a collision with a meteor millions of years ago. However, the local story behind the lake’s origin involves a hunter who seeks to shoot an antelope. The first day, he goes into the forest and successfully shoots an antelope, but the animal runs away. The next day, the hunter once again goes into the forest and successfully shoots the antelope, but the same escape occurs. Finally, on the third day, the hunter decides to follow the antelope after it has been shot. The hunter ends up at a small pond and sees the antelope enter the water and disappear. The hunter determines that the antelope is a ghost and decides to name the pond “Antelope god,” or Bosomtwe in Twi, one of the languages of Ghana. Bosom translates to “god,” and twe means “antelope.”

Ghana 3.2
Students enjoying jollof rice and fufu by Lake Bosomtwe.

Now there are 22 communities surrounding the perimeter. We found out it would take eight hours to walk around the entire lake – a trek no one wanted to attempt. However, we did get to wade into the warm water and explore further with the paddleboats. At first glance, the water appeared polluted with scattered plastic bottles. Upon further examination, we realized these were actually makeshift flotation devices for fish traps. We later saw a group of young boys wading through the water catching fish with their hands. Overall, there weren’t a lot of other people there, and we were the main tourist group.

After dinner, we converted our dollars to Ghanian cedis by a currency exchanger named Aness. Aness was a Muslim born in Kumasi with heritage in Niger, and we had an extensive discussion about the various aspects of his identity, including his identifications with Kumasi, Ghana, and Islam.   First, even though his parents came from Niger, he identified more strongly with Kumasi and Ghana since he was born here, saying, “You must be proud of where you are born because it’s the only thing you have.” He was extremely proud of the fact that Kumasi was the cultural center of Ghana. He seemed to have very strong stereotypes against people from Accra, claiming that the businessmen were dishonest and cared only about making money, not the way it was made. He also explained to us the use of various regional dialects across Ghana.  In Kumasi, the primary language of communication is Twi.

Ghana 3.3
Students playing card games and board games by the scenic Lake Bosomtwe.

Ghana Trip to Study Tuberculosis: Day Two

by Kaila Helm, Biological Basis of Behavior ’20; Kathleen Givan, Bioengineering and Political Science ’20; Kathryn Cocherl, Bioengineering ’20; Hope McMahon, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering ’18; and Dave Pontoriero, Biotechnology MS ’18

Ghana 2.1
Grilled beef kebabs at a street side market, on the way from Accra to Kumasi.

David Issadore, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania teaches an engineering course ENGR566 – Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics. As part of this course, he and Miriam Wattenberger from CBE, have taken nine Penn students, most of them majoring in Bioengineering, to Kumasi, Ghana, to study the diagnosis of pediatric tuberculosis. While in Ghana, these students are blogging daily on their experiences.

Our day started early: at 6 A.M. We were startled to see an aerobic fitness class outside our hotel room door. Participants were sweating and dancing with smiling faces to high-energy rhythmic music — a definite contrast to the decidedly low-energy sleeping state we were hoping to enjoy further.

Breakfast was a lovely, carbohydrate-heavy smorgasbord of avocado, pancakes, and flower-shaped chicken sausages. We then boarded our bus for our trip to Kumasi. Along the way, we noticed the changing landscape as we headed out to the rural area. On the bus, Ethan played his ukulele. Due to construction, the traffic sides switch slightly at random. This could be hair-raising at times: suddenly, the bus would simply divert to the side of the road where, mere moments before, the traffic was streaming along merrily in the opposite direction.

We also stopped at a rest area, and we tried guinea fowl, goat, and banana milk. As we continued, we saw more goats and churches and fewer vendors on the side of the street. It was also interesting to see more and more mosques as we passed in to the more Muslim northern/central area. We arrived at the exceedingly spacious KNUST campus, lush and green, and also, not the bus (we were very ready to be off after four hours of driving!). We set up our rooms and prepared for the rest of the night.

The afternoon was hot and lazy, filled with unpacking and chatting about the wild experiences that we’d already had. A definitive highlight was a run that some students took on campus. The group was lucky enough to see the computer lab and a Ghanaian wedding and to meet up with some Ghanaian friends who helped with the program last year. After a shower and perhaps a quick nap for the lucky ones among us, we were ready for the next stage of the evening: the welcome party.

At the welcome party, we met the Ghanaian students who will be with us during our time here. We then watched a performance by drummers and traditional Ghanaian dancers. They pulled us in their circle and taught us some of their dance moves. We met some of the KCCR staff members who told us more about the work we will be starting this week. We ended the night in the lounge, reflecting on our day and getting to know each other better.

Ghana 2.2
Students enjoying snacks at a market on the road between Accra and Kumasi.

Ghana Trip to Study Tuberculosis: Day One

by Danielle Tsougarakis, Bioengineering ’20; Jason Grosz, Bioengineering ’19; Ethan Zhao, Bioengineering ’19; and Kate Panzer, Bioengineering ’18

Ghana 1.0

David Issadore, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania teaches an engineering course ENGR566 – Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics. As part of this course,  he and Miriam Wattenberger from CBE,
 have taken nine Penn students, most of them majoring in Bioengineering,  to Kumasi, Ghana to study the diagnosis of pediatric Tuberculosis. While in Ghana, these students will be blogging daily on their experiences.


Our trip began with a 10-hour flight, departing from JFK Airport on Thursday and arriving in Accra on Friday. Infrared cameras scanned us as we walked through customs at the Accra Airport (our guess was for fever), and we exited the airport to meet our contacts from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
Ghana 1.1
(Left to right) Dr. Wattenbarger, Jason Grosz, Ethan Zhao, Hope McMahon, Katharine Cocherl, Kaila Helm

As soon as we walked out of the airport, we were hit with our first wave of hot and humid Ghanaian air. Shortly after driving out of the hectic airport traffic, we approached a coconut stand and hydrated with freshly cut coconuts. Many of us had coconut meat for the first time, with the coconuts hacked open by machetes.  The meat had an unexpectedly sweet and gooey texture, as opposed to dry and flaky texture of coconut shavings.

Ghana 1.2
(Left to right) Kaila Helm, David Pontoriero

As we were driving around Accra, we were surprised by the abundance of street vendors selling items on the side of the road. In order to sell their goods (gum, sunglasses, peanuts, fried bread, shampoos, etc.), the vendors dodged oncoming traffic and balanced their items in baskets on their heads.

Next, we went on a bus tour of the University of Ghana, admiring the expansive campus, green lawns, and beautiful whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofing. The remainder of the day was spent swimming in the hotel pool and eating our first Ghanaian meals of rice, chicken, fish, plantains, and banku — a Ghanaian dish made of fermented corn and cassava dough cooked in hot water into a paste.

Ghana 1.3
(Left to right) Kathleen Givan, Danielle Tsougarakis

Broad Street Run Is a Day Out for BE Students

Four students from the Bioengineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania participated in this year’s Blue Cross Broad Street Run, which was held on Sunday, May 7, in Philadelphia.

broad street run
(left to right) Melissa Schweizer, Mike Patterson, Kyle O’Neil, Margaret Schroeder

The four students (right) ran the annual event, which begins at Broad Street and W. Fisher Avenue, in the Logan section of North Philadelphia and runs almost the entire length of Broad to the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. Broad Street is one of Philadelphia’s main thoroughfares and runs 11 miles along the city’s north-south axis. This year was the 38th year that the Broad Street Run has taken place.

“The Broad Street Run is one of the greatest Philadelphia running traditions,” department chair David Meaney, PhD, said, “and it is remarkable that our students would take time from their finals for an ‘easy’ ten-mile run — remarkable but not surprising.”

Design Project Offers Help for Parkinson’s Patients

ShuffleAssist demonstrated by a student

With increasing age in the population, Parkinson’s disease has become increasingly common. One of the most frustrating effects of the disease is freezing of gait (FOG), in which a patient will suddenly stop while walking and find it difficult to begin again. Falls are a common consequence.

Despite intensive research, FOG is poorly understood. However, studies have shown that certain external stimuli, including metronomes and devices that provide visual cues, can be helpful. With this knowledge, a team of bioengineering students set to tackle this issue with their senior design project.

The team whose members were Priyanka Ghosh, Fiona La, Laurel Leavitt, and Lia Lombardi — came up with ShuffleAssist, a wearable device that uses force sensors and an internal measurement unit to detect FOG and automatically provide a cue for the patient. The patient can choose a metronome beat or visual laser cue that can be provided either as determined by the device or continually, for patients who so choose.

ShuffleAssist tested well among normal subjects, detecting FOG correctly 98% of the time within approximate one second. In addition, the students were able to create their prototype for a cost of $107 per unit, compared to similarly intended products already on the market costing more than twice that much.

The next step for the team is to test the device in actual patients with Parkinson’s. The students have left the device with a faculty member in the Perelman School of Medicine who treats patients with motor disorders. This faculty member will offer the device to patients for testing.

See below for a video demonstration of ShuffleAssist.

Konrad Kording: A Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Coming to Penn BE

konrad kording
Konrad Kording, PhD

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania is proud to announce that Konrad Kording, PhD, currently professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, physiology, and applied mathematics at Northwestern University, will join the BE faculty in the fall.

Dr. Kording, a neuroscientist with advanced degrees in experimental physics and computational neuroscience, is a native of Germany. After earning his PhD in 2001 at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he held fellowships at University College, London, and MIT before arriving at Northwestern in 2006.

Kording’s groundbreaking interdisciplinary research uses data science to understand brain function, improve personalized medicine, collaborate with clinicians to diagnose diseases based on mobile phone data, and even understand the careers of professors.  Across many areas of biomedical research, his group analyzes large datasets to test new models and thus get closer to an understanding of complex problems in bioengineering, neuroscience, and beyond.

Dr. Kording’s appointment will be shared between the BE Department and the Department of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine.

Network Visualization Program Unites Artists and Scientists

Rebecca Kellner

In high school, Rebecca Kellner (right) always had a dual love of art and science. When she entered the University of Pennsylvania as a freshman, she thought that her interest in art would always be separate from her pursuit of science. “I’ve always loved art and science and I wondered how I would integrate my passions into one area of study,” Rebecca says. “Then I heard about the Network Visualization Program run by Dr. Danielle Bassett . In this program, the intersection of art and science is celebrated, and this intersection is a place where I feel right at home.”

The Penn Network Visualization Program, begun in 2014, had long been a dream of Dr. Bassett. She wanted a forum where young artists and research scientists could interact with each other. “Science and art are often perceived to be at odds with each other, two fundamentally different ways of understanding the world. As a scientist, I’ve learned that the visual impact of the information I present is crucially important. Networks are visually intuitive,” says Bassett, “and represent an opportunity to foster a common language between scientists and artists.”

In this six-week summer program, young artists spend time with scientists at Penn who are performing cutting-edge research in network science as applied to social systems, human biology, and physical materials, with the underlying goal of advancing bioengineering. Faculty from the Warren Center for Network and Data Science who have volunteered their time and creativity to the project include Eleni Katifori, Erol Akcay, and Randy Kamien of the School of Arts and Sciences; Robert Ghrist and Victor Preciado of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon of the Annenberg School of Communications; and Francis Diebold of the Wharton School of Business. During the course of the internship, the artists produce works of art interpreting and capturing the intricacies of these networks in novel ways. Artistic supervision and project advice are provided by local artists affiliated with the program. The goal of the internship is to provide scientists with new conceptualizations of their research and to provide the intern with new knowledge in scientific art applications.

Rebecca was thrilled when she was accepted into the program. During her internship she worked with a variety of scientists. Her final artwork focused on the research of Dr. Ann Hermundstad (Janelia), the postdoctoral researcher in the Physics of Living Matter Group, University of Pennsylvania Department of Physics and Astronomy. Dr. Hermundstad’s research focuses on what and how the brain sees. Fascinated by these networks, Rebecca created a painting and a laser-etched acrylic book.

Nicholas Hanchak

The program also invites six high school students who have exhibited creativity and academic achievement. Nicholas Hanchak (right) from Westtown School participated during the summer of 2016. “I love art, science and baseball and I am thinking about architecture as a possible career,” Nicholas says. “The Penn program challenged me to find new ways to combine these interests.” For his final project, Nicholas created a Plinko Game Board showing the difference between the networks in a healthy brain and in a brain damaged by stroke.

“Artists and scientists are kindred spirits because they both are interested in observing what is in front of them,” says Dr. Bassett. “The Network Visualization program offers an opportunity for scientists and artists to inform each other in very tangible ways.”

The program runs every other summer. During the fall, several of the artists’ pieces are showcased in Philadelphia-area middle and high schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas. These efforts are enabled by ongoing collaborations with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and Penn’s Center for Curiosity, and they are partially funded by the National Science Foundation. Bassett hopes this outreach effort will encourage children to explore intersections between the arts and sciences, while instilling a growing appreciation of their networked world.

A Career of Accomplishments: Daniel Bogen

Daniel K. Bogen,, MD, PhD
Department chair David Meaney toasts Daniel Bogen

Daniel K. Bogen, MD, PhD, a professor in Penn’s Department of Bioengineering, is retiring. A Harvard alumnus (AB, 1972;  PhD, 1977; MD, 1979). Dr. Bogen was the the first MD/PhD hired by the department in its history.  Starting at Penn in 1982, Dr. Bogen spent his entire career on the faculty.

Early in his career, Dr. Bogen focused on cardiac tissue mechanics and understanding the functional changes that occur to heart tissue after ischemic insult.  These publications were among the first to use finite element techniques to address the critical problem of how heart wall contraction changes after injury.  Some of these papers are continually cited even today. Motivated to work on practical and applied clinical bioengineering-based problems, Dr. Bogen transformed his research to build items that patients would use.  Rather than a timescale from discovery to application that can last decades for most academic researchers, Dr. Bogen’s new direction allowed him to put items in the hands of patients within months.  In addition, Dr. Bogen’s led the PENNToys program, a nationally known program designing toys for children with disabilities.

The passion for impact also extended into the classroom. Reimagining the laboratory education in bioengineering, he used NSF-sponsored funding to create a discovery-based educational experience for undergraduates. This laboratory educational experience became an international model program, copied by many highly ranked bioengineering/biomedical engineering programs. This educational program was the cornerstone of the proposal funded by the Whitaker Foundation, leading to the construction of Skirkanich Hall, the current home of the Department of Bioengineering, in 2006. As a testament to his gifts as an education, Dr. Bogen’s teaching excellence was rewarded in 2005 with the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award, which is the highest university teaching award bestowed by Penn.

Dr. Bogen will remain active in his retirement, and always enjoys hearing from alumni and students. Feel free to send him a congratulatory note —