Research in the Real World
Recent LSU Honors graduate Linda Cross sat down with us earlier this summer to discuss her Honors Thesis research-- a prototype for a wheelchair device that helps to prevent pressure sores-- and how that research helped her to develop her plans for life after LSU.
Tell me a little bit about you—where you’re from, how you ended up at LSU…
I’m from Ruston, Louisiana. LSU was always on the radar—I had some siblings who came to LSU, and I also have a sister who lives in Baton Rouge. Georgia Tech was my competitor with LSU. I got into their Honors program, I got into the Honors College [at LSU] and the deciding factor was money. LSU’s in-state, so that’s great.
Coming to Baton Rouge was a big change, population-wise. But I really found a place within the Honors College. It’s a small community within LSU.
Was there anything that surprised you about the Honors College when you got here? Anything that you weren’t expecting?
I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what to expect with the classes, the rigor of the curriculum, what writing a thesis would actually entail. At the beginning, I had to get used to asking for help—get used to interacting with faculty and be able to go to them for assistance with Honors classes. I wasn’t used to not getting the material right away.
Did you find that faculty were receptive to you coming to them?
Definitely. They always want to see that you’re interested in the material and that you’re willing to learn it, and then they’ll help you from there—to teach you, at the beginning, how to learn it, and then from there, the specifics of their subjects.
So how did you get involved in your research?
I started in Biochemistry, but I said to myself, I really want a major that I can be more hands on with, that will apply more clearly in the real world. So I switched to Biological Engineering. I do research on nanoparticle biodistribution. I was planning on writing an Honors Thesis, but I didn’t know exactly what to do it on. I thought, maybe I’ll do it on my research; maybe I’ll do it on my senior design project. [All College of Engineering majors require a design project in the senior year.]
I ended up on an interdisciplinary senior design project—my teammates are mechanical engineers. One of my teammates, Amy Pinner, proposed the project last spring: to design an automated pressure sore reducer for wheelchair leg rests. I was interested in it, so I said, hey, I’ll be on the team. And when I got on to the team, I said, “I could really do more to improve the project through an Honors Thesis.”
Can you explain that to me—an automated pressure sore reducer?
Well, pressure sores result from, usually, over-bony prominences where you have a lot of pressure over a period of time. People with limited mobility don’t have the sensory perception to perceive that pain or discomfort over those areas, and they don’t have the motor control to reposition themselves. So our project worked to redistribute the legs, redistribute pressure, for them.
In the fall [of 2013] we were out in the community. We spoke with mobility-limited patients and wheelchair manufacturers and they gave us feedback on what they would want in the device—what they would actually use, what they have a need for. We also spoke with John Figarola at the National Hansen’s Disease Program Center in Baton Rouge, and they showed us the current technology and what’s being done about pressure sores right now. There’s the automated tilt-in-space wheelchair, which—the entire wheelchair, pretty much every part of it, moves up and down. But for a manual wheelchair there’s not automated technology for the feet. All of the technology revolves around the seat of the wheelchair—mobility limited patients have the technology to move the seat of their wheelchair, but they don’t have anything that moves their feet. So we tried to apply some of those concepts to our project, but with the leg rests. This spring we’ve been building and testing our prototype—with paraplegic and quadriplegic patients at the Hansen’s Disease Program and the Baton Rouge Clinic—to make sure it works.
I saw your presentation at the Honors College Undergraduate Research Colloquium—it seems like you were successful in reducing pressure at those points, but not temperature.
No, our prototype did not decrease temperature. We’re thinking that may correlate with blood flow. The right foot, which was our control foot, did decrease in temperature—we’re thinking that it lost some blood flow, and the left foot, which our prototype was moving, kept the blood flow.
Will you work on this project again in the future, do you think?
Yes—we were selected as one of the finalists for the ASME [American Society of Mechanical Engineers] Undergraduate Design Competition. We’re presenting our prototype at the 7th World Congress of Biomechanics this July. For the conference we may do some additional testing. We have a list of future changes we’d like to make—like implementing a feedback system based on the sensors—and our pad was not as breathable as we would like. There are definitely still improvements to be made.
What else were you involved in during your time at LSU? I know you’re the outgoing president of the Honors College Student Council…
Yes. I originally got involved in a lot through the Honors College Student Organization Fair—I signed up on all the e-mail lists, thought “Oh, I’ll get involved in everything!”—I was a freshman—and when I went to the Honors College Student Council meetings—it was just very friendly and was a very close-knit community. They were very accepting of new members. And their activities were fun and engaging. So I continued in that. I was elected vice president of service [when I was a junior] and then this past year served as president.
What kind of service projects has HCSC organized?
We’ve done service with Best Buddies—we did a kickball tournament with them—and we’ve worked with the Baton Rouge Homeless Youth Program—we did their 2K Walk for Kicks, which raises shoes for homeless children in East Baton Rouge schools. This year we did a local playground build and we organized our first large scale project at the Burden Center, where we worked on reforestation projects.
The skills that I’ve learned through these positions—they’ve taught me a lot about organization, and communication, having to go between peers and faculty and staff. They will definitely apply, wherever I go.
Now that you’ve graduated, what are your plans for the future?
I’ve accepted a job at the Tulane Cancer Center in New Orleans as a Cancer Registry Assistant. I will be providing support for tumor boards—multidisciplinary cancer conferences [concerning patient treatment]. I’m hoping this work will provide me with clinical experience and the opportunity to follow cases and interact with doctors. So I’ll do that for the next year while I apply for medical school—I want to become a doctor. Right now I’m thinking something in orthopedics, because of my biological engineering background. I want to be directly involved in serving people.
What advice would you give to our incoming LSU Honors College freshmen?
Get involved! The Honors College is a community—it’s very easy to meet new people with similar interests, and goals, and ambitions, just by getting involved in the organizations, or in Laville [the Honors College residence hall]. They’ve developed a lot of programs and events for Laville, and it’s very convenient for getting to classes, or for forming study groups for those Honors classes. Because they are a challenge! It is extra work, but it’s challenging work that helps you develop as a person, both academically and professionally.