For engineering undergraduate, an opportunity to scan the future

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Northeastern University mechanical engineering major Lyda Sallaway expected to conduct undergraduate research. But she didn’t anticipate getting the opportunity so early in her academic career.

In the summer following her freshman year, Sallaway got a job conducting experiments on backscatter X-ray imaging technology, which is used to perform full-body scans at airports throughout the country.

She secured the position through her role in Northeastern’s Investing in Tomorrow’s Engineering Leaders (ITEL) program, which provides scholarships and mentoring to engineering students.

Through ITEL, Sallaway connected with Richard Moore, the director of breast imaging research at Massachusetts General Hospital and a part-time lecturer at Northeastern whose work centered on cancer screening and homeland security, which dovetails with Northeastern’s focus on use-inspired research that solves global challenges in health, security and sustainability.

Subsequently, Sallaway was one of seven students to participate in the Center for Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. ALERT is a multi-university Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence based at Northeastern that focuses on research aimed at eliminating the explosives-related threats facing the country and the world.

In her research role – under the direction of Moore, who is funded by the ALERT Center – Sallaway scanned mannequins positioned on a rotating table to develop a deeper understanding of what scanned objects looked like in the backscatter machine.

“This technology is still relatively new, so we’re still trying to figure out what many things look like and get an overall better feel of what these machines are capable of,” Sallaway said.

She worked full time over the summer and has continued conducting experiments on a part-time basis this fall. Sallaway, who has taken classes in mechanical engineering, plans to focus on biomedical engineering in preparation for finding a co-op position in the booming biotech industry.

“I want to work in a field that will let me find solutions that help people out, whether it makes people safer through security work or healthier through cancer research,” Sallaway said.