Biomedical Engineering P'18
Current PositionMarine Science and Conservation Ph.D. Student, Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment
As a marine mammal physiologist, I get to study some of the most extreme animals and try to understand how they are adapted to function in such a challenging environment as the ocean. A skill that is key to answering many of the pressing questions in my field is the ability to understand an organism as a complex set of systems that are engineered to deal with the factors that make their lifestyle difficult.
For example, life as a mammal in the ocean requires an animal like a dolphin to divide its time between diving for food underwater and breathing air at the surface. These organisms have many physiological adaptations, including increased blood volume and more oxygen-carrying hemoglobins that make their cardiovascular systems ideally engineered to deal with this challenge.
I owe my introduction to marine science and ocean engineering at Duke largely to my participation in the History and Future of Ocean Energy Bass Connections team as an undergraduate student. Through this project I was introduced to the Duke University Marine Lab, where our group tested prototypes of an energy harvesting buoy, and to many faculty members and graduate students who bridge the fields of engineering and marine sciences and now serve as my mentors.
I learned how to engineer a system to take advantage of patterns and properties of the ocean and turn the challenges of engineering in the ocean into improvements in our device. The process of iterative design that we practiced in the development of the buoy has continued to influence my career in many ways, from designing an experimental study and dealing with uncertainty in the field to the integration of techniques from human medicine into the ways we study and understand the physiology of marine mammals.
Bass Connections was a career-changing opportunity for me as a biomedical engineering undergraduate student and showed me that two fields that I was interested in, engineering and marine science, were much more connected here at Duke than I had previously realized. I would encourage all students to get involved in a Bass Connections project during their time at Duke and use it as an opportunity to explore a topic outside of their normal field of study.