A Budding Bioengineer
“I used to be a professional badminton player in the Philippines, and my dream was to play in the Southeast Asian Games,” says Mary Margarette Sanchez. After she sustained an injury, she stopped playing. “I’ve always thought that incident was a blessing. It may have been the end of my athletic career, but it opened a gate for a new beginning.”
Sanchez had a knack for math and knew she wanted to pursue engineering. When she came to New York Tech, she fell in love with biology and chemistry, which is what drew her to the life sciences – biomedical engineering program (now bioengineering). “It combines computer science, engineering, math, and the sciences. That tells you enough that it will be a challenging major. However, I am convinced that the program will have adequately equipped me for the demands of the biomedical engineering workforce.”
During the spring 2022 semester of her junior year, Sanchez worked with Professor of Biological and Chemical Sciences Niharika Nath, Ph.D., on a research study that aims to automate the detection of cervical cancer using a method that measures and analyzes an entire cellular pap-smear image and classifies the cells into four groups: normal, mild, moderate, and severe dysplastic.
“To accomplish this, our group developed a deep learning convolutional neural network (CNN) algorithm, which trained and produced a model that distinguishes the cells between the four categories,” explains Sanchez. “The program was able to produce reasonably accurate findings, demonstrating the potential of pre-cancerous cell image analysis in detecting cervical cancer.” Sanchez worked with graduate student Venkata Sumanth Dasari to develop a working CNN algorithm that was used to analyze and classify 2,680 benchmark pap-smear images for this research.
With Nath’s encouragement, Sanchez submitted the abstract to the Sigma Xi Research Showcase, an online science communication competition in which students compete for awards and recognition for outstanding virtual research presentations. She came in second place in the undergraduate division. (Sigma Xi is an international honor society for scientists and engineers.)Watch an explanatory video about the research.
“It was overwhelming, especially since it was my first time participating in a research event organized by a well-known honor society organization,” she says. “All of what I learned from this experience can be useful after graduation. From applying the concepts to presenting myself professionally. It was indeed a great learning opportunity.”
Sanchez will continue working with Nath on another cervical cancer study focused only on the nucleus of a pap-smear image. But she hasn’t limited her research opportunities to only one course. She worked on astrophysics research with Assistant Professor of Physics Even Armstrong, Ph.D., on “Inference of bipolar neutrino flavor oscillations near a core-collapse supernova based on multiple measurements at Earth” and machine learning with Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Maryam Ravan, Ph.D. “Our paper ‘A Machine Learning approach to Distinguishing Bipolar from Major Depressive Disorder Based on Resting EEG Data’ was accepted and is going to be presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference 2022 in Glasglow, Scotland,” she says.
To many, Sanchez’s workload may sound daunting, but she is determined to make the most out of her college experience. “Spring 2022 was very challenging,” she says. “I’m a full-time student, and I worked on four research projects and presented three of them. It was hard to manage, but I’m proud to say that I did it.”
Through it all, she is grateful to have these opportunities. “I love the research opportunities and the professors who are willing to teach you their experiences here at New York Tech. They push you to go beyond your limits, and for someone taking my major, their support is very important,” she says.
And to incoming students, she has this advice: “Be sure you love what you’re doing and always have some time for yourself. Knowledge is important and an investment. Appreciate everything and be greedy with opportunities and experiences.”