Experiencing the democratization of media through third-party applications like LimeWire, YouTube and MySpace may have influenced the perspective and career trajectory of a woman who wants to impact the process of nanofabrication.
“I lived through the CD-to-iPod-to-iPhone progression and felt that computers and technology could be a means by which to increase expression and understanding. That probably has a lot to do with my fascination with electrical and computer engineering,” says Maya Lassiter, doctoral GEM Fellow in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering at Penn Engineering.
At Penn, Lassiter is applying an instrumentation and systems perspective to understand how nanoscale robots can be fabricated, controlled and used to further biological research. Along the way she hopes to inform the practice of creating devices from a holistic understanding of design, resource use and application.
INFLUENCING NANOSCALE INSTRUMENTATION
“I am interested in what nanoscale instrumentation can uncover regarding cell behavior and tissue dynamics, and how they affect larger systems,” says Lassiter. “I hope to create devices that have rhyme and reason — such as a clear rationale for materials use. As we advance the science of nanofabrication, we should introduce manufacturing processes and creative solutions that are much broader than those currently being implemented. Those changes can be changes for the better, and I want to be part of that.”
Ultimately, she also wants her research to help further the understanding of how biological systems work in order to engineer nanoscale instrumentation that works with the systems, not against them. “I am especially interested in developing non-destructive devices for neural systems so our attempts to engage with specific cells do not come at the expense of harming the surrounding tissue.”
TAKING A HOLISTIC FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY
Lassiter, who earned her BS and MS degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering and was named the Outstanding Woman in Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, was excited to continue her education at Penn Engineering for a number of reasons. “I get to work in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, an exciting facility with world-class technical staff. Plus, I have the resource of Penn Engineering’s faculty who are at the frontier of science and technology,” she says. “Philadelphia is a well-connected city and a great place to be a graduate student. Coming from Pittsburgh, I am glad to experience another part of the state, where there is an active art and broader city culture that I want to get to know!”
Lassiter is a GEM Fellow, part of the National GEM Consortium that is dedicated to enhancing the value of the nation’s human capital by increasing the participation of underrepresented groups (African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic Americans) at the master’s and doctoral levels in engineering and science. “I believe I have something to offer in the creation of technology,” she says. “My long-term goal is to change how we think about community in engineering. I am not sure about the path to get there, but my next step will be to make work that conveys a holistic understanding of technology.