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.
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.