IU professors begin bioengineering research



Basic scientific research gives us more knowledge about the world, but translating those results takes another step. The Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering at IU is trying to use computing to take that step as the new school year begins.

The engineering department, which had its first day of classes Monday, offers six areas of focus: bioengineering, computer engineering, cyber-physical systems, environmental engineering, molecular and nanoscale engineering and neuro-engineering.

Undergraduates will begin their specialization in a specific area in their third and fourth years. They can explore their interests by getting involved in research as well.

Of these areas, the bioengineering field will combine techniques from disciplines such as biology, physics, mathematics and computer science to understand the biological phenomena of the world but also provide solutions to issues in healthcare.

Though the department is still in its infancy, the faculty said it hopes to use specific applications of bioengineering to create proteins and their structures. They also plan to create engineering tools that modify DNA and proteins.

James Glazier, director of the Biocomplexity Institute, is one of the new professors of bioengineering. He said it’s “exciting to help build essentially what will be the bioengineering component of the new department.”

The professor said he wants to build tighter ties with IU’s medical field, an area his department has not taken advantage of as much as they could.

One way of doing this is to use molecular and cellular data of how tissues interact to ask what effect they might have on someone’s health.

Glazier said he plans to take methods that start out as research tools and use them to address human disease.

As a researcher in computational bioengineering, or mathematical and statistical approaches to biological problems, he will kick start work in tissue engineering and nanoscale devices.

The bioengineering area’s focus will also stretch to medical applications, such as using computing to identify strategies for 
treating kidney disease and andoptometry to design better treatments for diabetes, Glazier said.

Martin Swany, deputy director of the Center for Research in Extreme Scale Technologies, is the associate chair of the intelligent systems engineering.

The bioengineering focus of the ISE will cover two areas — modeling and simulation of biological phenomena and sensors that interact with tissues, enzymes and other elements, Swany said.

Swany, who specializes in computer engineering and cyber systems interface, performs research on embedded systems and networks. Embedded systems are computers specially designed to solve a few very specific problems. They’re used in cameras, traffic lights and assembly lines.

He works on using customized hardware that moves from operating systems to hardware. He said he wants to integrate elements from both computing and traditional engineering and looks to give students skills that are in high demand for employers.

Newly hired faculty include Vikram Jadhao, a materials physicist with experience in computer simulation methods; Alexander Gummenik a physicist who engineers sensors that fit fibers that can fit into cloths; and Eleftherios Garyfallidis, a software engineer in neural imaging.

Garyfallidis will be performing research on workflows of software for tools that use MRI information of the brain. These tools can reconstruct images of brain. As a noninvasive method, it will provide solutions for neurosurgeons performing operations or studying conditions like epilepsy, Glazier said.

“Pure science is wonderful, but there’s a whole process required to make it something that helps in the real world,” Glazier said.

To reach these solutions, students and faculty alike wrestle with problems of reliability, efficiency and moving from theory to practice.

The bioengineering area’s cross-disciplinary skills will drive these problems to solutions.

Geoffrey Fox, chair of intelligent systems engineering, performed research as a theoretical physicist before moving to engineering. He made a transition from thinking about intellectual play of science to answering the question of how to translate his discoveries into something that fundamentally changes society.

Much the same way Fox made this transition, the engineering coursework should provide students with hands-on experience applying solutions to practical problems, Glazier said. The core engineering methodology coursework will also focus on quality assurance, computing and statistical methods.

As the University opens the new school, the school begins to build things from the ground up. Bioengineering will do just that for science and all of human health.

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