In a laboratory dedicated to lung disease, Katie Accomando, an undergraduate student, is the expert operator of a complex piece of equipment designed to help measure the volume of the air in a mouse's lungs. The device, a plethysmograph, measures tidal volume — the volume of air inhaled and exhaled at each breath taken by the mouse.
She's assisting Jason Bates, research professor of medicine and molecular physiology and biophysics, who researches lung function and the quantitative evaluation of lung mechanics.
The plethysmograph in question was a joint creation by Bates and biomedical engineer John Thompson-Figueroa, begun nearly 10 years ago. Bates was in need of an engineer to operate the prototype they had created. Enter Accomando, then a sophomore mechanical engineering major who wanted experience in a bio-engineering lab.
"There are certain things done in the lab that only someone with Katie's background can do," Bates explains. "This UVAP system was a classic example. It was built originally by a trained biomedical engineer, designed by me, and it takes an engineer to run it. So she's fit in very well."
Though Accomando admits the work has been challenging, she has no regrets showing up in Bates' doorway over a year ago. She credits her engineering coursework for giving her the perseverance she needs when something goes wrong in the lab and she has to troubleshoot a problem with the plethysmograph, for example.
On the other hand, the lab work has provided her with the hands-on opportunity to put equations and theories to work, a crucial step for any engineer, she says. "I've learned just about as much working in the lab," she says, "as I have in my classes."