Joy Putney '16
My day starts at 8 AM, when I wake at a hostel in Auckland, New Zealand. I gather my backpack and supplies and tip-toe quietly out the door, not wanting to wake my sleeping roommates. They change from week to week, but currently there's a French art intern and a British economist sharing a living space with me. I eat breakfast with a German woman and an Argentinian man before heading to Auckland Bioengineering Institute. Meeting so many diverse people has been an absolute pleasure, and I love the place I'm living.
Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) is a short 20 minute walk from the hostel. Every weekday morning, I walk down Karangahape Road, known to the locals as K'Road. There are little restaurants, hookah bars, and boutiques along it, and it's one of the quirkiest places in Auckland. Sitting outside one store are hand-printed poetry books bound with old, recycled book covers. Another store sells clothing with crazy tie-die patterns. There's always something to see on my walk to work.
I arrive and settle in at my desk to answer emails. I don't dive into my main projects yet, because today the lab is going to the hospital to conduct an experiment. I work in the Gastrointestinal Lab, which investigates the regulation of the stomach and small intestines using experimental data and simulations in order to better understand it. In the future, this work will be used for clinical diagnosis and treatment in human cases. The lab's work is part of a broader research initiative known as the Physiome Project, which seeks to create a unified model of all major organ systems in the body for clinical use. Today, we're using a live pig to collect data on the electrical activity of the stomach and to test new technologies for capturing this data.
My two project advisors are Dr. Leo Cheng and Dr. Peng Du, both phenomenal researchers and mentors. Dr. Tim Angeli, another member of the lab, is doing the surgery on the pig along with a guest surgeon. I observe the experiment, which takes a couple of hours to complete. As they collect data, I can see the electrical activity in real time on a computer screen. It is really awesome to see the data I work with back at the lab being collected before my very eyes. For the past year at W&L, I've worked with Dr. Erickson on GI-related research, and we've used data from ABI for our studies. It's truly amazing to see where it comes from and be a part of collecting it.
We finish the experiment at the hospital and head back to our own lab, where I settle down to work on my main projects. The first is a cardiac project, which is unlike anything I've done before. ABI collected torso potential data during three different human heart surgeries, which basically shows what the electrical potential is at the skin during heartbeats. I'm taking this data and coding a way to visualize it in 3D so that researchers can see patterns on the skin surface and better understand abnormal heart activity. It involves processing large amounts of electrical data and CT scans of each individual patient's torso.
The second project relates to and builds on work I've done at W&L. As I witnessed earlier today, electrical data from the stomach and small intestine is collected using grids of electrodes applied to the organ surface. However, we don't know what the ideal distance between electrodes on these grids should be. My project involves using simulations of normal and abnormal electrical activity in the stomach to determine which electrode distances are too large for accurately capturing the spatial and temporal patterns of the activity. We're also using experimental data to confirm our simulated findings. We do this first in canine studies, but we hope to move on to humans. This research will be used in the future to help ensure that sufficiently accurate technologies are used in the diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders.
I finish work at 6 PM and head back to the hostel. There, I meet my friends and head down Ponsonby Road to Burger Fuel, which makes the most delicious burgers I've ever tasted. Back at the house, I play piano in the living room after dinner, and hang out with the amazing people I've met over the weeks. Outside, on the porch, the entire city stretches out before me. At night, the Sky Tower is illuminated in color, and the harbor glitters in the distance. The view never gets old.