Author Archives: Raj Borra

Final Thoughts

The last eight weeks here at Duke have been incredibly rewarding, and I’m shocked that the summer gone by so quickly. I’m grateful for a lot of the things I learned about research this summer, as I had no idea what I was in for when I first entered lab mid-June. Even now, at the end of the program, I still don’t know exactly what I want to do in the future career-wise, but I’m fine with that because I know that my experiences from lab this summer and my future experiences will guide me in the right direction.

One of the biggest things I learned this summer was how biomedical engineering research was conducted and how the things I learned in classes could be applied in a lab setting. I value a lot more some of the classes I have taken and now even look forward to the ones in the future, as I know that the material can go hand-in-hand with what I do in the lab. Overall, I’m very interested in seeing how this experience will change the way I learn more about science.

It has been an amazing 8 weeks here. I was able to experience research in my field for the first time, and I finally have a better idea about what research entails. I definitely would like to thank Dr. G, Jason, and Trinity College for making this all possible. I’m excited to see everyone’s posters tomorrow!

Faculty Seminars

I really enjoyed listening to the different faculty members that came in to speak to us this summer. Not only was it interesting to hear about the research that they all have done / currently do, but it was cool to see how each of them got into science and the many pathways they’ve taken to get to where they are today.

As a biomedical engineer, I personally found Dr. Charlie Gersbach’s talk to be very interesting. I’ve always had a narrow mind about what biomedical engineering really meant, but I realized throughout the talk that genome editing through the usage of CRISPR and other technologies could also fit the term “engineering”, just maybe not in the way we are really accustomed to. In fact, it also makes me appreciate the fact that Duke’s Biomedical Engineering Department does range from research fields such as genetic engineering to brain machine interface development, as it accurately represents and showcases the many applications of the major. Gersbach’s research itself is fascinating as well, as the future of the work being done in this field can have massive potential to treat genetic diseases.

I also learned a lot from Gersbach’s path to where he is now. I am still very unsure about what I want to be doing exactly in the future, but it’s nice to see that many people have the time to explore both industrial and academic fields before settling on something they enjoy doing. I’m excited to see where my experience in research early on takes me, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to listen to all these professors this summer!


The Joys of Research

It’s hard to believe that we are almost done with the program; it feels like it was just last week when I walked into lab for the first time and had no clue what was going on at all. It definitely took a lot of time for me to get adjusted and to learn all the lab techniques and background information, but as the last 6 weeks has shown me, it has definitely paid off. I feel more confident when handling the fragile electrodes we test in lab and I understand the electric equipment a lot better than before (even though I still have a long way to go before mastering these techniques).

Research itself has proven to be interesting. I still have yet to compile all the data that needs to be used in my project, but I have prepared MATLAB files to complete the data analysis as soon as the data is obtained. This is mostly because I have spent a lot of time in lab working on the methods part of the experiment, as I have been comparing the reliability of a new impedance measurement system to an older but working one. This comparison is a crucial step in the project, as it ensures that the data I collect is valid in the first place. Thus, as I have been preparing to answer my question about impedance measurements over time in these electrodes, I have also explored in great detail how these data acquisition systems really work, at the cost of time spent on the question at hand. I don’t mind too much though, as the experience of researching and mastering the software on my own and sharing my results with the rest of the lab has really made me enjoy spending time in lab every day (and that’s what matters the most, right?)

These next two weeks will definitely be busier than the previous ones, but I am excited to see all the posters and all the hard work my BSURF colleagues have put into them and their projects!

Yay for BMIs!

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to the work that each of my BSURF mentors were doing. It was fascinating getting to learn more about everyone’s research, and I am so impressed by the complexity of some of these projects and by their potential implications! Personally as an engineer, I found the project done by Ricardo to be very interesting, as I immediately saw how work done in different labs can have overlaps or similarities in topics.

As many of us have already described, Ricardo’s project involves working with the data produced from brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) that record neural firing rates. He is trying to better understand the relationship between actions themselves and the neural firing rate, or finding a lag time and seeing how it differs between unimanual and bimanual actions or data sets. The result of this project can tell us a lot about improvements that need to be made before a brain-machine interface can work almost instantaneously.

His project also made me think about my own research in a different way as well.  I had never really considered the lag-time of recording data from the electrodes designed in our lab, but I realize that it could be a potential factor or result of the electrode not being fully compatible with the brain itself.

Once again, thank you all for your chalk talks last week, as I really learned a lot more about different aspects of biology and I look forward to seeing more at the poster session at the end of the program!

Electronics Everywhere…

There is no typical day in lab for me just yet. The only thing that remains constant is that I’m in lab from about 10 am to 4:45 pm, with a lunch break sometime in between. Besides that, I could be doing a variety of tasks, depending on what needs to be done at the moment for the lab.

Some days, I am testing new batches of electrodes for their quality. This involves using a signal generator to run a sine wave through an electrode in saline to ensure that the electrode is both measuring signals correctly and not leaking. Other days, I am measuring the impedance values of these electrodes using two different softwares. This measurement serves as another way to check if the electrodes are good for further testing. Following this, I usually need to write a MATLAB script that extracts and compares the data using various graphs.

The majority of the time, however, I am doing further research on the methods that the lab uses in it’s experiments. If I am waiting for something to do, I read up on the various techniques that were used to measure the effectiveness of older electrodes and I try to think how to translate those methods to the newer electronics we work on. Other times I just look around the lab and see devices and hardware scattered everywhere and I try to figure how some of the stuff works by reading documentation found online.

Maybe in the coming weeks as I work towards collecting data for my project I will have a more “typical” day in lab, but I do not mind at all that heading into lab every morning is a new adventure to me!

Brain-Interfacing Electrodes

State of the art technology including electronics that can interface with the brain has been incredibly useful in both understanding how the brain works and how neural diseases develop and occur. One of the biggest challenges today is to create electrodes that can sample a part of the brain at high resolutions while not being problematic physically. The Viventi lab works on designing active, and flexible electrodes that can reliably record signals from the surface of the brain without being too invasive. Much research also goes into ensuring that the electrodes last long and work well over time.

In order to determine the effectiveness of each channel on an electrode, the impedance of the channel can be measured. This value, in short, correlates with how well a signal can be recorded from the electrode in question, and can be tested easily using open source software. My research specifically will look into how impedance values change overtime using the new electrode arrays that measure μECoG signals from the surface of the brain. From this information, it will be better known how long electrodes may be implanted for before failing to work.

My project will aim to figure out the different characteristics that affect the impedance of a channel in an electrode. This information can be used to further improve the design of the active electrode to reliably record data. It is also important to be able to link this information with characterized bio-responses of the brain to implantation over-time to understand how the immune system affects the way the neural signals are recorded by the electrodes.

An Interview with Dr. Jonathan Viventi: A Brilliant Engineer

Unlike most of the PIs my fellow BSURFers have, Dr. Viventi has always been an engineer at heart. He studied Electrical Engineering as an undergraduate at Princeton, where he did activities such as robotics and worked with automated vehicles to further his interests in electronics. As soon as he graduated, Dr. Viventi worked a successful wireless start up company.

Later in his life, Dr. Viventi decided that he wanted to go to graduate school in Biomedical Engineering. He wanted to use his knowledge of electronics and engineering and apply it to the field of medicine to solve various types of medical problems. He studied BME at Penn, where he studied topics such as biology and neuroscience for the first time since high school! In 2011, he became a professor at NYU, where he first started his work in translational neuroengineering designing active electrodes that could be used to work with the brain. He figured that this type of work would help us understand more about neuroscience and could be used to treat different types of neurological diseases in the future. In January of 2015, he moved to Duke University to continue his work in the field as a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Dr. Viventi says that his favorite part about science is that he gets to tackle new and interesting problems. He likes to be able to build devices and apply his knowledge to medicine in order to find solutions that could be very beneficial to the world. He has had good experiences in teaching as well, where he has taught courses in signal processing, circuits, and intro to medical devices.

Overall, I am very inspired by Dr. Viventi’s passion for electronics and its application in the medical field. To me, being able to tackle problems in medicine using engineering methods is very exciting and is the reason I am a BME student here at Duke. I am very glad that I get to work under him this summer, and I hope to learn more about the field and research through work in his lab.

Side Note: surprisingly, Dr. Viventi hasn’t had too many issues with disasters that have happened in the laboratory (I hope I do not jinx this for him). The worst that has happened was when he was a professor at NYU, where he had to move his equipment around the different campuses located in different parts of New York City, often resulting in broken devices. This doesn’t happen at Duke, as the devices used in lab do not have to travel very far in experiments that are conducted.



Week 1: What am I doing…

I cannot escape this feeling of nervousness.

When I first found out that I would be placed in the Viventi Lab for the summer, I was both extremely excited and anxious. I had never done any type of research before, as all of my science work had been through the various classes I had taken in college and high school. I spent the beginning of summer thinking about what my work would even entail, as I had absolutely no idea how research worked, let alone biomedical engineering research.

As I walked into lab for the first time on Monday, I was surprised and amazed by everything I saw around me. It felt so surreal to see all the equipment and devices laid out on the lab tables being used in different tests. As the week went by, I tried to get accustomed to everything by trying to learn more about the various lab projects. It was helpful, of course, that everyone I met in lab has been extremely supportive and friendly towards me.

This summer, I want to be able to escape my feeling of nervousness. This first week has gone by in a blur, and I felt like I learned a LOT of new information just by being active in my lab. I feel very overwhelmed just about by everything, but I’m starting to learn that its ok to feel this way for now. I still have 7 weeks to go and I’m confident that I’ll find my place here and have lots of fun learning about biomedical engineering in a different way!