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Xerox fellows fine tune microfluidic chamber to study the inner ear


Xerox fellows Rebecca Gillie, in the foreground, and Dyreek Brathwaite are helping fine tune a microfluidic chamber that is being used to study the organ of Corti in the inner ear.

Jong-Hoon Nam, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and of biomedical engineering, is combining ambitious computer simulations with a novel microfluidic chamber to study the organ of Corti in the inner ear.

The organ -- consisting of sensory receptor cells called the inner and the outer hair cells, and their supporting cells --plays a key role in converting sound-generated oscillations in the inner ear’s fluid-filled chambers into electrical signals that go to the brain.

He hopes his study will lay groundwork that eventually will lead to hearing aids or implants that are better customized to the needs of individual patients.

Three Xerox research fellows, two of whom are being mentored by Professor Sheryl Gracewski, another mechanical engineering faculty member, are helping him fine tune the microfluidic chamber this summer.

Dyreek Brathwaite, a rising junior in mechanical engineering, is creating membranes that can be used as pressure transducers to calibrate the microchamber. Rebecca Gillie, a rising senior in audio and music engineering, is working on a broader frequency range of input for the chamber. And Devanjith Fonseka, a rising senior in mechanical engineering and physics, is modeling the microchamber to obtain simulation results that will help guide and interpret the experiments.

For all three, this is their first research experience.

“Since Rochester is one of the best places for research, this was a good opportunity that I could not pass up,” said Brathwaite.

“I knew it was time to get my feet wet in research,” added Gillie. “I wanted to accomplish that this summer, so the program really fit well with that goal. It has helped me understand more deeply what I’m learning in class, and how it is applied.”

 Fonseka, who plans to pursue a PhD, says his experience this summer has been “a good insight into what to expect.”

“It’s a real pleasure to work with the students,” says Gracewski, who has mentored eight Xerox fellows over the years. She encourages the students to continue their projects during the school year, earning credit for independent study, and developing enough data to write papers. “We get some good work out.”


Xerox fellow Devanjith Fonseka says his research experience this summer is giving him a “good insight into what to expect” when he pursues a PhD.