Exploring Physics in the Field of Medicine

Jesica Mena, COL ‘ 23, Philadelphia, PA

‘This summer, I had the privilege of working for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as a research assistant in the department of radiation oncology. As a member of the Hao Huang laboratory, I contributed to projects that involved the use of MRI technology to detect the early onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. With the assistance of Career Services funding, I was able to learn about the cutting-edge technology responsible for research in childhood mental development.

As a physics major, working in the radiation oncology department was an enlightening experience as it allowed me to draw the connection between my studies and its practical applications. Radiology has transformed the way we study and treat diseases and learning more about the subject has shown me how physics can be used for the betterment of our lives and our health.

Under the guidance of my graduate student, Tianjia Zhu, I worked on a method known as DECAM that computes cortical microstructure quantities such as soma and neurite densities from diffusion MRI images. These densities provide insight into brain disorders. One of my responsibilities includes performing registration and DTI/DKI fitting on diffusion weighted images to extract soma and neurite densities (SD &ND) estimation from diffusion MRI metrics. By providing high-fidelity estimated soma and neurite density maps validated with histology, DECAM is paving the way for data-driven noninvasive virtual histology for potential applications in neuropsychiatric diseases.

In the future, I want to assess clinical data independently and use this tool to investigate diseases of my choice. Overall, this experience has inspired me to delve further into radiation oncology and the field of medicine as a whole. In addition to academic research, I also shadowed a medical physicist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and decided to choose the pre-med track for my senior year at Penn. My experiences this summer have truly impacted my career path post-graduation and I couldn’t be more grateful for the mentors and funding I have received which helped lead me to that path.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services