Senior undergraduate, Mersina Simanski, pursues her interest in device design by applying electrical engineering skills to unmet medical needs. She is also working to highlight student talent and collaboration as a cofounder of the new EE undergrad group, Fuse.
How did you become interested in your research area?
I came to Stanford interested in neuroengineering, and learned quickly that the EE department was on the forefront of research in brain-computer interfaces and prosthetics. As an underclassman this opened up many of the resources in the EE department as well as in the medical school and BioX. I gravitated toward medical device design because there are many interesting technical challenges for electrical engineers. The products of the work consist of robust and elegant solutions to medical problems, and you're allowed the flexibility to also think about the policies, ethics, and adoption issues, that accompany those solutions.
Explain a project you're currently working on.
I am working on a team to develop a tool for noninvasive blood count. The idea is that we can measure blood count metrics, noninvasively and in realtime, by pairing a powerful optical tool with quantification software. We're in an early development stage at this point and trying out the patent process. Since starting the project in the spring, we've met with doctors at the med school, lawyers at Stanford OTL, and local entrepreneurs. I've had some fantastic teammates and mentorship -- it's really been a great experience.
I recently started working with a mechanical engineering student to develop a tool to assist interactions between Alzheimer's patients and caregivers. We believe we can use a mobile health tool to address some startling statistics about caregivers, and also better understand the progression of the disease with more quantitative data that now exists. I'm excited to see where both projects will lead.
Why did you choose Stanford EE?
What's unique and exciting about electrical engineering is the range it covers: my coursework has spanned semiconductor design and hardware programming, optical imaging techniques and novel biochips. With the same foundation in signals and circuits, my top level courses have started to come together to be really meaningful and useful. Another benefit of the technical range is that my specialty track differs greatly from my EE friends: If I have a question about communications or power conversion, I know who to ask. If I'm starting a project, I have one friend who's spent a hundred hours a quarter in an analog lab, and another with a hundred plus hours of hardware and both want to talk about the idea over coffee. The collaboration in EE is a factor I have never heard of in another field.
Then there's what's unique to Stanford EE: I'm surrounded by very admirable peers, faculty and administrators. At the heart of what I've learned is accountability. Accountability not only for the material covered in class, but for the opinions I express, for the commitments I make, for the answers I give, whether technical or conversational. It is enforced repeatedly by some of our favorite professors: "Just do what's right." "Everything must make sense." Because the things that we are doing as EEs will translate directly to real solutions. They have to work, and they also have to make sense economically, within space and time constraints.
There is a pride in being accountable, especially when most people around you know many things that you don't yet know. In EE, it's to everyone's benefit that you understand the topic (of conversation or study or research) well, so that you can all move forward together. It's a goal to live up to the standards set by working with exceptional people. I work at it every day.
What other activities are you involved with on campus?
I am currently a board member of IEEE and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), both of which offer exposure to my interest areas outside of classes. This year, I am working with Maisy Wieman and a halfdozen other undergrads to get Fuse, new EE undergrad group, off the ground. We are psyched about the upcoming year. EE undergrads are a pretty cohesive group of outstanding students who are leaders all over campus if Fuse could highlight that talent, I think my involvement would be time well spent.
What are your career plans?
As of now, the plan is to work hard and solve problems that are meaningful, and keep engaged with my interests for a long time. In other words... we'll see.