This Is What Science Looks Like At NC State: Meghan Hegarty-Craver

07.21.2014 | by Matt Shipman | Filed under Miscellaneous | Comments: No responses |

Meghan Hegarty-Craver after running the Boston Marathon. Photo courtesy of Hegarty-Craver.

Meghan Hegarty-Craver (on left) after running the Boston Marathon. Photo courtesy of Hegarty-Craver.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Meghan Hegarty-Craver, a postdoctoral researcher in NC State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The post is an entry in an ongoing series that we hope will highlight the diversity of researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The series is inspired by the This Is What A Scientist Looks Like site.

My name is Meghan Hegarty-Craver, and I am originally from the Boston area. I earned both my master’s degree and doctorate degree from UNC and NC State’s joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, where I worked in the Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines under the direction of Edward Grant. I currently work as a postdoctoral researcher in NC State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Photo courtesy of Meghan Hegarty-Craver.

Photo courtesy of Meghan Hegarty-Craver.

My research primarily focuses on incorporating wearable sensors into compression socks to monitor vascular health. For this research, we worked with the Carolon Company, which is based in Rural Hall, NC.

Compression socks are used to treat a number of vascular and lymphatic conditions. They are knitted so that more compression is applied at the ankle versus points further up the leg in order to promote blood flow back to the heart. We are interested in adding sensors to measure blood flow and swelling in order to determine how well the treatment is working. These sensors could also be used to measure the long-term health of the individual, and be incorporated with other wearable sensors such as those measuring heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, etc.

In addition to wearable sensors, my research also deals with improving the characterization of the material properties of compression fabrics, including socks, stockings, bandages, and multi-layer wraps. This is important because all of these products are used to treat similar conditions, but there is no standard way of specifying their material properties. As a result, it is difficult to determine why a certain type of product works better for an individual or for treating a particular condition. This research led to a project related to using conductive yarn sensors that are stitched into different patterns in order to measure basic properties such as temperature and pressure.

Outside of my research in wearable sensors and compression fabrics, I have also worked on projects related to wireless sensors for machine monitoring, biologically-inspired robots, and developing tools for disabled individuals. I have also assisted with and taught the Autonomous Robotics Workshop, which is part of the Engineering Summer Camp held annually at NC State.

When I do manage to get out of the lab, it is usually to run. I began running in high school, continued during undergraduate studies where I ran Division I cross country and track & field for the University of Hartford, and have kept up with it during graduate school. I ran my first marathon in 2009, and have since run eight more, including the Boston Marathon in 2010, 2011, and 2014. Interestingly enough, compression socks have really taken off in the endurance sports community over this time as a tool for both staving off fatigue and aiding in recovery. I think people get more than they bargain for during races when they ask me if the compression socks that I wear “really help.” And, after 7 years of working on that problem, I can safely say yes.


Cretaceous Cold Case #5: When Evidence Dries Up

07.15.2014 | by Tracey Peake | Filed under Miscellaneous,Science | Comments: One response |

dino-cold-case-01
This is the fifth post in a series called “Cretaceous Cold Cases” in which the science of taphonomy, or prehistoric forensics, is explained by fascinating cases from the files of Terry “Bucky” Gates, a research scientist with NC State and the
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

South Africa, 250 million years ago. The United States,145 million years ago. China, 92 million years ago. Madagascar, 66 million years ago. Spain, 1 million years ago.

These are just a few of the instances from my files where incredible graveyards of fossil animals have been discovered. So much time, so much space and so many different kinds of animals separate these deathbeds. Could they be connected? On the surface the answer seems to be no. But I have a different idea. Why? Because like any good detective, once you’ve been out in the field long enough, sometimes you just get hunches.

My name is Bucky Gates, and I’m a taphonomist.

Sometimes it feels like I am chasing a ghost. Always looking for the evidence, but coming up just short of a complete answer. These are the moments that drive me to keep working, to not give up. From the time I first cut my teeth on taphonomy at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry I have been hunting for Drought. (I capitalize “Drought” because it is the primary suspect in this cold case file.)

I believe that Drought is the mastermind behind a huge number of fossil deposits around the world, but the problem lies in the fact that Drought – by itself – does not necessarily kill anything. Drought is the puppeteer behind the scenes, enabling killers such as disease, hangriness (aggression brought on by hunger), dehydration, habitat loss, and other minor minions to do its dirty work.

Defining Drought is simple: a reduction in precipitation over an area during a certain period of time. However, connecting Drought to fossil boneyards is much like trying to identify a modern-day serial killer; you never know this nemesis is in your midst until it is too late.

If you have read my previous cases you know it is very hard to determine if Drought had a hand in the formation of a fossil site. Al Capone was brought down by tax evasion. Unfortunately, such an elegant charge cannot be leveraged against Drought. The problem is that the evidence used to support a drought-induced fossil site can also be left by other culprits. Take for instance a gathering of many different kinds of victims in one bonebed.  A flood can also gather different dinosaurs together, as could something like a poisoned watering hole.

Drought can also trap populations, which is not a common occurrence in the fossil record. In one spectacular case a population of ancient boomerang-headed amphibians called Diplocaulus (totally awesome, Google it!) was killed and buried in a very small area. Like other amphibians these animals are extremely reliant upon water, and it seems entirely possible that a prolonged dry spell caused the pond or lake where this population lived to dry up, concentrating the entire group into the center of the last remaining sludgy, unbreathable muck before baking them in the cruel sun. What’s left for paleontologists is a unique opportunity to study the life history of a 250 million year old population.

To be fair, Drought has actually helped our understanding of the life that inhabited the Earth millions of years ago. As easily observable in Africa today, once water becomes scarce in an ecosystem, organisms from all across the landscape come together in an effort to stay near water supplies. This gathering means that animals that normally live in environments unlikely to be fossilized now have a chance to be discovered by paleontologists.

Increased numbers of animals also increases the chances of discovery. If the bones of many victims are eroding from the hillside we are a lot more likely to find the site than another locality that contains only one individual.

Drought is a global phenomenon that toys with the most primal instinct of all life on Earth – the need for water. Its reign extends back to the beginning of rain, and it has caused the death of countless numbers of humans, animals and plants.

But – and here’s the “cup half-full moment” –  it has also provided an important way to attract animals from all across an ecosystem to one place, kill them and bury them for posterity. Without Drought’s influence I cannot even imagine how hollow our knowledge of life’s evolution would be.

We paleo-detectives are, therefore, left with the complicated task of compiling as much evidence as possible, presenting it to the jury, and hoping that the same lines we drew to target Drought will also lead other researchers to the same conclusion.


This Is What Science Looks Like At NC State: Nadia Singh

07.10.2014 | by Matt Shipman | Filed under Miscellaneous | Comments: No responses |

Photo courtesy of Nadia Singh.

Photo courtesy of Nadia Singh.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Nadia Singh, an assistant professor of biological sciences at NC State. The post is an entry in an ongoing series that we hope will highlight the diversity of researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The series is inspired by the This Is What A Scientist Looks Like site.

My name is Nadia Singh and I am an evolutionary biologist. Evolution is a powerful force, and in my lab we spend our days trying to understand the major drivers of evolutionary change. We are primarily interested in understanding how DNA changes over evolutionary time.

It is well known that many processes – including mutation, recombination, natural selection and random genetic drift – play significant roles in the generation and maintenance of genetic variation within and between species. A major goal of my work is to determine the individual and joint contributions of each of these forces to genome evolution. We leverage a variety of approaches in our research including genetics, genomics, bioinformatics and computational biology. We use the fruit fly Drosophila as our primary model system, but have recently expanded our research to include mice in our research as well. These systems are exceptionally well understood genetic and genomic model systems, which makes them very powerful for our research.

I got my start in science as a high school student, through an NIH Summer Apprentice Program in Biomedical Research. Through this program, I had the incredible fortune to work with Carolyn Cousin, a professor of biology at the University of the District of Columbia who is a renowned electron microscopist with a long-standing interest in schistosomiasis. Because I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, I continued to pursue research opportunities following my graduation from high school. These opportunities included a year-long stint as a technician in Robert Glazer’s breast cancer research lab at Georgetown University Medical Center, a three year undergraduate research appointment in Stephen Palumbi’s marine molecular ecology lab at Harvard University, and a year as a technician in the Program for Population Genetics at the Harvard School of Public Health. I earned my Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University under the mentorship of Dmitri Petrov in 2006, and did a postdoctoral fellowship with Andrew Clark and Chip Aquadro at Cornell University from 2006-2010. I joined the faculty at NC State in 2010.

I have been incredibly lucky over the years to have worked with and near truly remarkable people. While most of these folks have been biologists, one of those individuals is the very talented environmental chemist Matthew Polizzotto, whom I had the good fortune to meet (and marry!) when we were graduate students. We now have two young daughters, Isabella (4) and Annika (1) who love to laugh, dance, and climb anything in sight.


This Is What Science Looks Like At NC State: Xiaohui Gu

07.08.2014 | by Matt Shipman | Filed under Miscellaneous | Comments: No responses |

Photo courtesy of Helen Gu.

Photo courtesy of Helen Gu.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Xiaohui (Helen) Gu, an associate professor of computer science at NC State. The post is an entry in an ongoing series that we hope will highlight the diversity of researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The series is inspired by the This Is What A Scientist Looks Like site.

My name is Xiaohui (Helen) Gu and I am an associate professor in the computer science department at NC State University. I lead the Distributed Systems Research Group (the DANCE research lab). Distributed systems have become the fundamental computing infrastructures for many important real world systems such as computing clouds, data centers, Internet search engine, and big data processing. My research group conducts fundamental research in distributed systems with focuses on automatic management of complex distributed systems, data-intensive computing, and distributed system reliability.

I enjoy swimming, cooking, traveling, and dancing. Distributed system research resembles dancing in many ways. Both are fun but challenging; both require a lot of coordinated thinking but are also super-rewarding!


This Is What Science Looks Like At NC State: Ahmad Alsabbagh

07.01.2014 | by Matt Shipman | Filed under Miscellaneous | Comments: No responses |

Photo courtesy of Ahmad Alsabbagh (on left).

Photo courtesy of Ahmad Alsabbagh (on left).

Editor’s note: This post was written by Ahmad Alsabbagh, who recently completed his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at NC State. The post is an entry in an ongoing series that we hope will highlight the diversity of researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The series is inspired by the This Is What A Scientist Looks Like site.

My name is Ahmad Alsabbagh and I am originally from Jordan. I joined the nuclear materials group in the nuclear engineering department at NC State under the supervision of K.L. Murty in 2011, and I defended my Ph.D. dissertation in May.

Photo courtesy of Ahmad Alsabbagh.

Photo courtesy of Ahmad Alsabbagh.

The structural materials of reactors are the most important factor for sustaining the safe operation of next generation reactors, and my research focused on investigating the effects of neutron irradiation on nano and ultra-fine grained materials. This is important because this information can be used to design materials that are radiation-tolerant, especially in extreme conditions, for use in future nuclear reactors. My research clearly demonstrated the superiority of nano and ultra-fine grain sizes in tolerating neutron radiation exposure.

During my research I had the opportunity to use the PULSTAR reactor at NC State and the Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).  Conducting the post-irradiation experiments at both institutes (NC State and INL) gave me the opportunity to use cutting edge technologies in testing the influence of neutrons on the microstructural and mechanical properties of reactor structural materials.

As an extracurricular activity, I joined the international orientation team, helping in organizing orientation activities and assist new international students through their first year experience.

In addition to my research, I enjoy playing soccer, traveling, visiting new cities and spending time with my wife and my four-month-old daughter.


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