The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Two Engineering Ph.D. Students Receive Eugene M. Isenberg Scholarships

Two College of Engineering graduate students were among the 10 UMass recipients of the Spring 2014 Eugene M. Isenberg Scholarships. The engineering awardees were Michael Prokle, studying Industrial Engineering and Operations Research in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, and Akshaya Shanmugam of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department. This gift was established by Eugene M. Isenberg, a 1950 graduate of UMass Amherst and the retired CEO of Nabors Industries, Inc., and his wife Ronnie Isenberg.

The scholarships are awarded to UMass Amherst graduate students who demonstrate academic merit and a commitment to the integration of science or engineering with management. These awards of up to $10,000 apiece annually are intended to prepare recipients for leadership roles in high-tech ventures, corporate R&D, technically oriented businesses, and other entrepreneurial initiatives. Including the 10 new recipients, a total of 135 Eugene M. Isenberg Scholarships have been granted since 1995.

Prokle, who earned his undergraduate and graduate degree in Business Engineering at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, wrote that his research will be investigating inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system that lead to over 65 percent (total health expenditure per capita in 2010) higher spending than in any of the other 33 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“In particular,” he said, “I would like to use my experience in supply chain management to understand, analyze, and evaluate the value of information sharing along the healthcare supply chain.”

Prokle added that his main objective is to analyze the potential of having commonly available product information along the healthcare supply chain. He noted that lack of commonly accessible healthcare product information leads to increased healthcare costs as well as safety related issues for healthcare consumers.

Prokle explained that “I want to identify key system properties leading to the inefficiencies, develop models to evaluate their impact, and propose innovative solutions.”

After starting his studies at the Karlsruhe Institute in 2005, Prokle also attended various other universities while participating in international academic exchange programs. Those institutions included UMass Amherst, where he earned his M.S. IEOR degree in spring 2010, and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden during the academic year 2010 and 2011.

“I valued the faculty and especially my advisor Professor Ana Muriel here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s MIE department,” he recalled. “Therefore, I had no doubt about returning to Amherst to start my Ph.D. degree in IEOR.”

In addition to his teaching and research assistantships, Prokle has volunteered for the UMass chapter of Engineers Without Borders and the Freedom Café, which recently opened its first location, adjacent to the UMass Amherst campus. Freedom Café is a non-profit coffee shop supporting the rescue of victims of human trafficking in India and is operated by volunteers. In addition, the past fall he ran the New York City Marathon, which he hopes to repeat in 2014.

Shanmugam has been working in the Biomedical Electronics Laboratory of Christopher Salthouse, the Dev and Linda Gupta Assistant Professor in the ECE department. For her Isenberg project, she is working on a hepatitis C screening device.

“I am developing a single-use, portable, low-cost, Hepatitis C screening device that can be used in the field (outside the physician’s office),” Shanmugam explained. “The device will be capable of performing both serologic and molecular assays. Apart from developing the device, we are also carrying out a human factor study and exploring the market potential for this device.”

In addition, she is researching and developing an imaging system to perform 3D lensless fluorescence imaging and create a diagnostic device that is small enough and inexpensive enough for point-of-care screening of HIV patients.

With that research Shanmugam also won first place in the 2013 ECE Graduate Poster Contest and received the “Special Tang Award,” sponsored by the Shirley and Ting-wei Tang Endowment. Her winning poster was entitled “Lensless fluorescence imaging with height calculation.”

As Shanmugam explained her winning project, “Flow cytometers are laboratory instruments used to measure populations of cells. They are an essential part of treating AIDS patients and widely used in research laboratories around the world. They would be an invaluable tool for a point of care diagnostics, but traditional instruments are large, expensive, and fragile. The technique of lensless fluorescence imaging promises to make disposable flow cytometers a reality, but the strong effect of sensor-sample separation has been seen as a major hurdle. In this work, we demonstrate that this effect can be removed using straightforward image processing.”

Shanmugam is also working on a wearable sweat sensor with microfluidics and flexible circuit that can analyze sweat and transmit data to electrical devices.

Among her honors, she received a 2012/13 Hluchyj Graduate Fellowship, started by Dr. Michael Hluchyj, a 1979 alumnus of the ECE department, and his wife, Theresa “Terry” Hluchyj, a 1977 alumna from the School of Nursing. The fellowship supports two graduate students per year in the College of Engineering and the School of Nursing with annual stipends so they can do interdisciplinary research in the area of clinical healthcare.

Shanmugam earned her B.S. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Anna University, Chennai, in India. (February 2014)