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Meet the Fresh Faces of GWHT: Introducing Our New Graduate Students

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

GWHT is happy to introduce the newest additions to our lab - our first-year graduate students. Each of these individuals comes from a unique background and brings with them a diverse set of perspectives and experiences. We are thrilled to have them join our team and are eager to see how they will contribute to the dynamic and innovative environment at the Center for Global Women's Health Technologies. 


We are confident that these exceptional students will make a significant impact on our ongoing research and projects, and we look forward to learning from them as much as they will learn from us. Their passion and dedication to the field are truly inspiring, and we know that they have promising futures ahead of them. We are honored to have them as part of our team and cannot wait to see the amazing things they will achieve in the years to come.


Without further ado, let’s meet Márcia, Sarah, and Katie!



 



Márcia Cunha dos Santos


What motivated you to pursue a PhD/join GWHT?

Since I started undergrad, I knew I wanted to work in technology and social impact, which led me to work in different aspects of technology: science, industry, and entrepreneurship. Those experiences made me realize that my passion was in translational science and how to deliver that to effectively impact people. Duke BME and GWHT matched perfectly with my passion. Here, I can dive deep into medical technologies and global health while connecting with a highly entrepreneurial community.


What is your area of interest?

My area of interest is medical devices and AI. Still, more than that, I want to work with medical technologies for women's health, focusing on empowering them and community-level care.


Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Brazil, more specifically, a city called São Leopoldo, in the country's southern state. I started my journey in science during high school when I participated in many national and international science fairs. Then, I studied computer engineering at UNISINOS, a private university in south Brazil, where I got involved with projects related to medical devices and bioimages.


What are some hobbies or interests that you have outside of your research?

One of my main hobbies is dancing. I love dancing, and I love trying out new styles. I also love film photography, cooking, and, of course, exploring new restaurants and foods.



 


Sarah Mekha


What motivated you to pursue a PhD/join GWHT?

It has been a career goal to pursue research and eventually get involved in low-cost, globally oriented technologies. When I came across GWHT, I thought that it was a great opportunity to have this impact as early as during my PhD!


What is your research topic/area of interest?

I am concentrated in imaging and optics for early cancer diagnosis and treatment. Ever since high school, I have been interested in learning about the different biomedical imaging modalities and understanding their purposes and limitations. I wanted my research to have an impact in the early detection of diseases or recurrence so that treatments can be administered optimally for the patients’ needs.


Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Houston TX, and my family is originally from Iraq and Jordan. I studied Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Hook ‘em!


What are some hobbies or interests that you have outside of your research?

Outside of research, you can find me on the soccer field! I play goalkeeper on the Duke Women’s Club Soccer team. I also really enjoy trying new restaurants, hiking, and exploring new cities with my friends.


Are there any particular goals you have set for yourself during your PhD?

My goal during my PhD (which I also apply to my life more generally!) is to put myself in situations where I have the potential to grow and not be afraid to make mistakes, as uncomfortable as it may be. This ranges from meeting new people that may or may not be in my program, to asking questions to lab members, and being open to learning new skills like machine learning and animal work. I aim to be comfortable with making mistakes and putting myself out there in order to grow as an inquisitive researcher.


Is there a specific professor or researcher who has influenced you in your field?

I would like to shout out Dr. James W. Tunnell for his great mentorship for my years in undergrad at UT Austin. I learned about biomedical optics research, scientific communication, and, arguably the most important, the prioritization of work-life balance in these high-stress environments.


What are some aspects of your field that you find particularly exciting or fascinating?

I have always been fascinated with optics and the amount of information we can extract just from light in such a minimally invasive way. I’m very excited to see where this field can go!



 


Katie Broun


What motivated you to pursue a PhD/join GWHT?

My enthusiasm for research and learning in general as well as my desire to teach others motivated me to pursue my PhD. Additionally, since medical technologies are constantly being modernized, I was interested in creating more accessible, low-cost tools for cancer diagnostics, making GWHT an amazing fit. 


What is your research topic/area of interest?

I am excited to join the breast cancer metabolic imaging team and work on low-cost imaging technologies developed in our lab. I am hoping to answer important biological questions while simultaneously bettering our optical technologies for potential utilization in a patient-facing setting. 


Where are you originally from/where did you go to undergrad, etc?

I’m originally from Wallingford, CT and grew up in the greater New Haven area (which in my personal opinion has the best pizza in the world). I also just graduated from University of Rochester with a degree in Biomedical Engineering, concentrating in Medical Optics. 


What are some hobbies or interests that you have outside of your research?

Outside of research, I love to rock climb, sing, listen to music, cook, and spend time with friends. I am particularly excited to explore Durham over the course of my PhD and to go through the PhD process with Sarah and Marcia! 


Are there any particular goals you have set for yourself during your PhD?

I want to set a personal goal to maintain balance while working on my PhD. While I am excited to go on a research deep dive and become a more informed thinker and problem solver, I am equally excited to learn more about and take care of myself. I am excited to make new connections with people in and out of the lab, become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and set reasonable goals both for myself and my research. 


Is there a specific professor or researcher who has influenced you in your field?

One of my advisors in my undergraduate career, Dr. Ed Brown, is someone who has always inspired me both as a researcher and teacher. Working with him to teach first-year undergraduates the foundational knowledge of engineering is something I will always be grateful for. His care for students while also pursuing research on monitoring breast cancer metastasis is what has inspired me to continue the path of education as well as join GWHT. Additionally, I would like to shout out Dr. Whasil Lee for all of her mentorship and research guidance in my undergraduate years and for helping me find Duke and GWHT as my next research home.

 

What are some aspects of your field that you find particularly exciting or fascinating?

I have always been fascinated with super resolution techniques in microscopy, particularly FPalm and STORM techniques for single molecular localization. While never made in a low-cost format, it is something that I think would change the way we think about diagnostics, especially if utilized in low-resource settings.


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