Brianna Cathey and Sofian Obaid

Brianna Cathey and Sofian Obaid

SEAS students Brianna Cathey and Sofian Obaid have achieved something rather rare for undergraduate students: they are the co-first authors of a research article published in a highly regarded, peer-reviewed research journal.

Undergraduate engineering students at most universities don’t typically participate in research, much less get published as the lead authors on a research paper. SEAS encourages its undergraduates to get involved in research with their professors, and in the case of Brianna and Sofian, their work resulted in the article “Open-Source Multiparametric Optocardiography,” which was published in Scientific Reports. The article details a 3D-printed optical mapping system they designed that gives researchers the option to customize and implement low-cost hardware to conduct studies in cardiac electrophysiology and other specialties.

Optical mapping is a powerful tool for studying cardiac arrhythmias, but the current commercial cost for a system is approximately $180,000. The 3D system that Brianna and Sofian developed will allow researchers at cardiac electrophysiology labs to 3D-print the parts for the tool, saving nearly $20,000 per system. Other benefits of using their 3D-printed parts include increased rapid prototyping and customizability of the parts to accommodate specialized optics.

“Since this optical mapping technique is the leading tool for investigating cardiac electrical activity, it’s really important that scientists have a feasible way to implement that technology to study as much as they can,” explains Brianna. “Our system lowers the cost barrier and increases the flexibility so researchers can customize it for whatever their study calls for.”

The idea for the project came, as many ideas do, out of need. Brianna and Sofian were working in Dr. Igor Efimov’s cardiac engineering lab in the Biomedical Engineering Department, and as the lab expanded and needed more experimental set-ups, its researchers decided to 3D print the setups to save on costs. “This turned into an understanding that we could 3D print almost any part that we need,” recalls Brianna.

She and Sofian applied that thinking to the optical mapping system, spending untold hours on the project. “My favorite part of this project is that I would come to our meetings with an idea, and Brianna would have another idea, and we’d build upon it,” says Sofian.

They presented their work at a couple of conferences and received such positive feedback from other researchers that they decided to try to publish it. They submitted the paper for publication last May, when Brianna was a junior and Sofian was a graduating senior.

Both recall it as a long and humbling journey, but they’re grateful for what they learned through the research and publication process and for the support of their lab mentors, Dr. Sharon George and Dr. Kedar Aras. Brianna credits Dr. Aras, her initial mentor, with teaching her by his own example of dedication to his work, and Sofian thanks Dr. George for her caring and patient approach and for introducing him to the idea that initial failure in the lab is okay and expected.

Now a graduating senior and a doctoral student, respectively, Brianna and Sofian are turning to new projects. Brianna plans to take a year out and then begin medical school the following year, and Sofian is working with his PhD advisor, Dr. Luyao Lu, in his Bio-integrated Electronics Lab.

Both Brianna and Sofian will bring the same dedication and work ethic to their next endeavors that they honed in their optical mapping project in Dr. Efimov’s lab. As Sofian notes, “My mom told me, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well,’ and I always think about that. In college it really helped me out a lot.”