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When a family friend suggested that Catherine Herchenroder ’06 (Breezy Point, N.Y.) explore her interest in biomedical engineering by redesigning the vaginal speculum, she was “a little apprehensive because of the subject matter.”

When the mechanical engineering major learned that the medical instrument has hardly changed since its development in the mid-19th century, she decided to make it the subject of her senior honors thesis research.

“The vaginal speculum is a device that dilates the vaginal canal to view the cervix during a gynecological exam,” says Herchenroder, captain of the varsity volleyball team. “The current vaginal speculum has three sizes and does not accommodate women with special needs. My thesis is to develop a design modification that will address the needs of women who are obese and who have had multiple births. I also will be researching the history of the vaginal speculum and the anthropological implications presented by the history.

“I am excited about this project because it is addressing a real problem that can be fixed,” she continues. “This design has the ability to be implemented into daily use by physicians.”

Herchenroder’s thesis adviser, Jenn Rossmann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was immediately interested in the project.

“Within days of expressing my interest in pursuing a thesis on the topic, she contacted me with information and ideas,” Herchenroder says. “Working with an adviser who is interested in your topic is so important to the success of the project.”

Herchenroder adds that Rossmann, who has an extensive background in biomechanics, “is highly qualified to assist me, and she is challenging me to [push] myself and make this project a success.”

She acknowledges that her research is not a typical project in the male-dominated mechanical engineering field.

“All the faculty have been supportive of my project, and I think it will be a learning experience for all of us,” she says. “I think the facilities Lafayette has to manufacture my prototype are much more accommodating to what I am attempting to do than I thought they would be. I may be able to manufacture the design in the machine shop, which would make the manufacturing of the prototype more controlled and, I believe, more successful.”

Herchenroder has made the most of her opportunities for undergraduate research at Lafayette.

She worked with Steven Nesbit, associate professor and head of mechanical engineering, on a biomechanical analysis of the reaction torques in the wrist and elbow of a forearm tennis swing due to eccentric impacts on the racket. She designed and manufactured an inertia pendulum prototype and an impact-testing apparatus for the project.

“It was the first time that I had the opportunity to use engineering knowledge and apply it in conjunction with a field that I was not completely familiar with,” she says. “It was a great learning experience. The idea of medical design, such as artificial organs and prosthetics, has always appealed to me. I like the bridge between mechanical design and biomedical applications.”

Herchenroder is also conducting a biomechanical analysis of the dominant shoulder during a topspin and float serve in volleyball. Last spring, she participated in the Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists’ arsenic research group, a student team that won a research competition hosted May 3-5 by the PA-American Water Works Association in Valley Forge, Pa., and finished second in the 2005 WERC International Environmental Engineering Design Contest hosted April 3-7 by New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M.

She chose the engineering field because she enjoys math and science and quickly became interested in mechanical engineering as her concentrated major.

“I think Lafayette is an amazing place to breed engineers because it allows for a close environment where the students feel a connection with their professors,” she says. “We all know each other, and the professors are willing to put in the effort for your success as long as you are too.”

The close relationship between students and faculty extends outside the classroom as well. Herchenroder adds that several of her professors come to cheer her and the volleyball team on.

“I think that is just amazing,” she says.

Herchenroder served internships at Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based worldwide supplier of industrial gases and equipment, and in the civil engineering department of Lawless & Mangione Architects and Engineers, LLP, in New York City. She also has studied abroad at Vesalius College in Brussels, Belgium, and was a member of the team that won first place for its design paper and earned an honorable mention in the 2003 Pennsylvania-Delaware Region Concrete Canoe Competition sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and Master Builders, Inc. She is a graduate of Bishop Kearney High School.

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