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Marquis Scholar Josh Porter ’06 (Pittstown, N.J.), an electrical and computer engineering major, is spending his summer conducting research that will find its way into artificial hearts.

He is continuing a project he began during the January interim session, when he developed a mathematical model to simulate a particular phenomenon in a beating heart. Porter is now taking that model and integrating it into one of the entire cardiovascular system.

His work in January led to a paper Porter will present at the Biomedical Engineering Society’s annual conference in September. He will continue his research for an honors thesis when classes resume.

Porter is collaborating with Yih-Choung Yu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, as part of Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend. The program has helped make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate in EXCEL each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Previously, Porter conducted EXCEL work withIsmail Jouny, professor and head of electrical and computer engineering, to refine the movements of robotic arms that could benefit mine defusion and the exploration of Mars.

The research with Yu is significant because the numerous types of artificial hearts are cumbersome for patients, with batteries and control systems that have to be carried outside the body. Porter’s research is being applied to rotary heart assist devices.

“The current state of technology we have in a rotary blood pump, or heart assist device, is that someone has to follow the patient around, turning knobs to adjust the rotational speed of the device,” he says. “They haven’t yet developed a good enough controller to auto-regulate itself, so what this model will do is to provide researchers a design tool to build a physiologic controller for a rotary heart assist device that could operate the pump at a proper speed to avoid suction, a phenomenon that is life-threatening.”

Suction occurs when the blood volume in the heart is too low while the assist device is operated at a higher speed; the pressure imbalance causes the heart to collapse. When the speed of the device is too low to overcome the pressure difference between the arteries and the heart, a regurgitant blood flow returns to the heart from the artery through the device, which is also a life-threatening situation.

“Because of the valve-less nature of rotary heart assist devices, one of the difficulties in designing this type of device is to properly regulate the pump speed to provide enough blood to the body,” says Yu. “This presents a great challenge.”

Yu has been involved in research with artificial hearts for 12 years. The National Science Foundation has awarded him a $138,000 grant to provide faculty and students, particularly in the electrical and computer engineering department, access to high-end instrumentation equipment to conduct research projects and for research training in signal processing, control, and bioengineering. Additionally, he collaborates with a team of surgeons, nurses, medical students, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, biomedical engineers, and material scientists to refine the rotary heart assist device. He has been developing mathematical models that are being used to develop better artificial hearts by more accurately simulating heart and cardiovascular functions. Yu’s work is conducted in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, one of the leading centers for heart research.

Porter’s research models the cardiovascular system in terms of math equations.

“Once we have the mathematical model of the cardiovascular system, we can implement it in computer simulations to duplicate the heart function,” says Yu. “We can then conduct tests before using the rotary pump device in animal studies. This enables design engineers to test new designs to see how circuit or mechanical elements are going to function, improves the efficiency of physiological control and design tests, and provides medical people involved with the device with a more effective training tool.”

Yu has high praise for Porter’s research accomplishments.

“There was one model to simulate heart suction that had existed for 15 years. We found out the model wasn’t accurate to simulate suction in comparison with our animal data,” says Yu. “So Josh started feeding data into a mathematical function and created a more accurate model than the existing one. He did this in just three weeks. Scientists I work with were impressed that an undergraduate could do this in such a short period of time.”

Porter is now integrating a model of a cardiovascular system created by others in the field with his suction model.

“I’m adding things to this model, validating them, and integrating them with a model of a rotary pump device,” he says. “The results from this work can be used by researchers who are developing controllers for the device.”

His EXCEL experience has enabled Porter to spend considerable time conducting his research, which has led to intellectual growth as well as success with his project.

“Scientific integrity is very important to Professor Yu,” says Porter. “I spend a lot of time running tests to validate what I have done. The times when I’ve learned things that I applied to my research project which turned out to be correct, and Professor Yu said it was right, that made me more confident as an engineer.”

“What the EXCEL program does is give students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in class. When you see that what you learned in class has applications, you see that it is important,” he adds.

Obviously a talented engineer, Porter credits the academic diversity of Lafayette’s student population as a contributing factor to his success.

“I like the fact that Lafayette is not just an engineering school,” he says. “I can hang out with English and psychology majors—people who aren’t in engineering and think a different way than I do. It broadens your horizons. You have to educate the whole person, and although I love math and science and computers, that’s not the whole person–there’s so much more to life than things in that area.”

Porter was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi (national engineering), and Eta Kappa Nu (electrical engineering) honor societies, and is a member of the College Choir, Lafayette Christian Fellowship, and Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection.

Chosen among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Porter receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News