A chance opportunity to work with a young girl with a genetic neuromuscular disease inspired a woman to study fluid mechanics as a way to help others overcome physical challenges. “I want my efforts in fluid mechanics research to have a positive impact on others’ quality of life,” says Juliette Sardin, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at Penn Engineering.
During her undergraduate experience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar, Sardin worked with a team to design and build a tandem bicycle for a young girl who had little control of her muscles due to spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Witnessing 7-year-old Allison’s joy when she first rode the bike convinced Sardin to use her problem-solving skills to provide and gain new perspective on human health.
FINDING SUPPORT AT PENN ENGINEERING
With a niche in mechanical engineering and controls and design work, Sardin had anticipated doing rehabilitation robotics research in graduate school. Nevertheless, she chose to focus her graduate study research on fluid mechanics at Penn Engineering after speaking with Paulo Arratia, professor and MEAM Associate Chair for Undergraduate Affairs.
“After that first meeting, I knew I would have an incredibly supportive and inspiring mentor to guide me along the way,” explains Sardin. That support was important as she is a first-generation American and the first in her family to attend college. “I think of how blessed I’ve been to have so much support from my family, the Meyerhoff program and Paulo, and it inspires me every day to be that person for someone else,” says Sardin.
Penn Engineering has also helped Sardin to pursue her other passion — mentoring younger students and inspiring them to pursue their interests in STEM. “I’ve had the opportunity to mentor Upward Bound students over the summers via Penn’s Neuroscience program, volunteer at local middle and high schools to judge STEM science fairs and career fairs, volunteer at FIRST LEGO League competitions and much more. My passion in working with younger students has been greatly supported and encouraged here at Penn and I am truly grateful for that,” she says.
ENHANCING QUALITY OF LIFE
Sardin intends for her research in fluid mechanics to help solve two complex problems: genetic muscular disease and infertility. Her experimental studies have led her to publish research on restoring locomotor dysfunction in nematodes with SMA, with hopes that these findings will give rise to new understandings of the disease and new opportunities for therapy. “Overall, this project reminded me of Allison, the impact that our work had on her and the possible impact that our research now could have on so many people that also suffer from this disease,” says Sardin.
She has also been investigating the locomotion of sperm cells in viscoelastic fluids to understand the effects of viscous and elastic stresses on sperm motility, which could lead to the development of new techniques to treat infertility. “I hope that my research will inspire more researchers to pursue these studies,” says Sardin. “There’s so much beauty hidden in the area of fluid mechanics. I hope that my research findings thus far will lead to further developments in the field, and that my experiences will inspire young students to explore their interests and pursue their passions.”