What do jawless fish, electronic circuitry, and mathematical formulas have in common? They’re all related to biomedical engineering, and specifically, to the research of FIU professor Ranu Jung, Wallace H. Coulter Eminent Scholars Chair of Biomedical Engineering and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

What is biomedical engineering? A unique merger of biology, medicine and engineering, it’s a discipline where the results of inquiry into biological principles are engineered into solutions for issues related to healthcare and well-being, and where the development of such technology allows for more investigation. “It is not a multidisciplinary science, but a transdisciplinary one,” Jung says. “Instead of many disciplines coming together to work on a problem, biomedical engineers transcend disciplines and cross boundaries in their work.”

Her interest in the field began in high school, where she developed a love of both medicine and of engineering. When looking back at her undergraduate days, Jung highlights the value of senior design projects, student clubs, and hands-on research. An active member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Student Club, she worked in a lab where the professor was doing work related to blood pressure diagnostics, and as part of her senior project, had to work together with a team to solve instrumentation related issues.

She received a bachelor’s degree with distinction in electronics and communications engineering from theNational Institute of Technology, Warangal in India. As an undergrad, there were three women in her year, and she can only recall one technical class taught by a female professor during her entire educational experience. “There are opportunities in every challenge,” she says. “There will always be naysayers, but my advice is to do what you love.” She went on to earn a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and a Ph.D. from Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University, a leading program in the field. While at the University of Kentucky as an assistant professor, she took an active role in the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. “The strong, motivated young women aspiring to go places, their excitement for the future, was inspiring,” she says.

When asked to pick a favorite research project, she laughs and shakes her head. “I love them all,” she says. “The beauty of academia is getting to choose the projects you work on, and so they’ve all been of interest.”

Jung sees biomedical engineering as an exciting journey, or as a mystery novel she gets to solve. She once spent a month at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, working with an international team on computational neuroscience models of neural pattern generators. Later she studied the locomotion of lampreys, and after investigating the brain and spinal control processes, developed hardware that wassuccessfully integrated to the spinal cord of a lamprey. “Biomedical engineering is both computational and experimental. What does nature have? How can we investigate? You use what’s in biology and learn from living systems to then create an engineered system.”

This research has had important ramifications in the process of improving recovery after neurotrauma. While her first award from the National Institutes of Health concerned sensory motor integration in lampreys, her latest focuses on sensory motor integration in people. Last year, Jung’s team at the Adaptive Neural Systems Laboratory at FIU developed a neural-enabled prosthetic hand (NEPH) system that restored sensation to a human subject, the first of its kind to do so. The system “restores a sense of touch/grasp force and hand opening by stimulating sensory nerve fibers in the residual limb with fine wires implanted inside nerves. As muscle activity controls the motors in the prosthetic hand, sensors in the prosthetic hand provide information that commands an implanted neurostimulator to deliver stimulation pulses to the sensory nerve fibers. The elicited sensations can improve control of the prosthesis.” (FIU News)

When the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) celebrated the accomplishments of some of their “exceptional women grantees” in acknowledgement of the UnitedNations “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” on February 11, Jung was featured for her work developing technologies to repair the loss of neurological function.

Jung is also a co-PI on FIU ADVANCE, a five-year $3.2 million Institutional Transformation grant awarded in 2016 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to FIU to develop innovative organizational change strategies to produce comprehensive change within an academic institution across all STEM disciplines.

Jung felt it was an important project to undertake. “The biggest advantage to a university is not just the chance for research, but the chance to change future generations.” One of the goals of FIU ADVANCE is to attract, recruit, retain, and promote more women STEM faculty, particularly underrepresented minority women, and Jung believes representation is important. “As educators, we want to provide help and guidance to our students, and different role models bring different experiences to the table. It matters to me.”

 Article by ADVANCE News

FIU Women in Research is a regular feature of ADVANCE News that examines the impressive work female faculty members are doing at the university.