EngageHer.org

For one graduate student, MIT's nuclear reactor is like a "second home"

Starting in 2008, as she pursued dual undergraduate degrees in physics, and nuclear research and manufacturing (NSE), after which a doctorate in health sciences and technology, there is one constant in Agata Wiśniowska’s life: just work at MIT’s Nuclear analysis Laboratory (NRL).

“I Have always enjoyed it,” claims Wiśniowska ’11. “The atmosphere during the lab is indeed good — it’s been comfortable and inviting, such as for instance a refuge.”

During her particularly venturesome educational trip, Wiśniowska made the NRL an informal house base. It offers supported variously as her portal into the world of atomic technology, a examination surface for technical competence, as well as a domain for exercising administration abilities. It has in addition functioned like a launchpad.

“at lab, I attained my first supervisory experience,” Wiśniowska claims. “I learned to manage different types of people, manage various circumstances which may occur, and confidently make choices.”

Wiśniowska’s connection to the laboratory started winter months of her freshman 12 months. Recently arrived to MIT from a worldwide baccalaureate system in Poland in which she had focused on physics, she ended up being intention, she says, on “picking as significant some thing I didn’t know a great deal about.” After sampling programs, she discovered atomic science and manufacturing (NSE) specifically fascinating. In a departmental available residence, she saw an advertisement motivating pupils to coach as MIT reactor operators.

“Since I had been deciding on nuclear engineering, and I also love to discover detailed from basics, it made feeling be effective at plant to see how it operated from within,” she says. “I thought if I wanted to develop into a nuclear engineer, this would be truly helpful.”

Along with earnings, the reactor operator work offered unexpected advantages. “Imagine from a different nation, with English like a 2nd language, and receiving a handbook for studying this complex system,” says Wiśniowska. “I didn’t understand most of the words, so I held bugging my supervisor to explain by attracting things.” While trying to learn the technical demands of the woman task, Wiśniowska made progress in her attempts to be proficient in English.

She in addition got the deep immersion she sought in atomic technology and engineering. She participated in scientific studies performed by way of a range of investigators with the reactor. And many of the woman NSE classes dedicated to researches occurring in the reactor, including one concerning modeling tritium radiation because it dissipated through the layers of experimental pill of molten salt coolant. 

“I could talk right to experimenters and gain special insights while sitting during the system as an operator,” she says. “it absolutely was enjoyable to run something extremely highly relevant to the reactor lab while also pleasing program work.”

Wiśniowska discovered the NRL life therefore gratifying that in her own sophomore 12 months, she decided to increase her role and train becoming a shift supervisor. She clearly recalls several of the woman experiences early on inside new position. 

“My very first reactor scram [automatic shutdown] had been certainly memorable,” she says. “I could hear the intercom statement your reactor energy ended up being decreasing, understood we’d simply scrammed, and knew that as manager, I’d need work with the operator to determine how to proceed after that.”

It ended up that ended up being no crisis, however a run-of-the-mill power plunge. For Wiśniowska it had been a formative minute inside a long learning process. “I experienced this sense of doubt, but discovered I could handle it, and later, dealing with these problems became second nature.”  

A fresh way

Once she reached senior 12 months, though, Wiśniowska started to press at limitations of the woman NSE studies. She had become thinking about chemistry and biology, and took sufficient courses to small both in fields. Medical school appeared like a chance. On her undergraduate thesis, Wiśniowska found a method to combine her passions, researching proton irradiation treatment for liver cancer patients at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

During her thesis work, she discovered that the NRL had years earlier in the day contributed to medical scientific studies, supplying neutrons to irradiate customers with brain tumors using a method called boron neutron capture treatment. 

“I became contemplating health programs of atomic research, but since there was no NSE system that centered on this location on degree I expected, we ended up altering programs,” says Wiśniowska. “While staying with NSE would-have-been much easier, we required a fresh challenge, regardless if it forced me personally from my rut.”

Wiśniowska landed in the Harvard-MIT Program in wellness Sciences and tech (HST). A rigorous course of research, combining health training at Boston’s teaching hospitals with analysis, HST “felt like a beacon of possibilities,” states Wiśniowska. 

After performing rotations in various specialties, Wiśniowska knew she was not cut fully out to become a physician. But she spotted a study location that at the same time happy her desire to extend by herself intellectually and enhance human wellness: learning the mind utilizing novel imaging strategies.

Inside lab of Alan Jasanoff, an MIT teacher of biological manufacturing, mind and cognitive sciences, and atomic technology and engineering, Wiśniowska has-been in a position to draw on the expertise within a range of fields to produce means of watching mechanistic molecular events inside brain.

“the investigation is cutting edge,” she claims. “we are trying to understand the evasive idea of awareness from the molecular standpoint, getting in the concern by considering signaling molecules into the living brain.”

On her doctoral work, Wiśniowska helped devise a natural sensor — a small protein — that whenever encouraged by its tiny molecule target in the mind activates receptors on smooth muscle cells coating blood vessels. As a result causes the cells to elongate while increasing the flow of blood towards area, an ongoing process called vasodilation. The neighborhood escalation in blood circulation, indicative of recognition regarding the target molecule, may be grabbed in real-time by molecular practical magnetized resonance imaging (fMRI). 

“This sensor, by experiencing the contrast normally for sale in blood vessels, eliminates the necessity for metal-based contrast agents ordinarily found in molecular fMRI and we can image mechanistically informative molecular events when you look at the brain having an unprecedented amount of sensitiveness,” claims Wiśniowska. It is work which could offer experts a close up view of just how neurotransmitters strive to restrict or stimulate regions when you look at the brain. 

“For the first time we might truly arrived at understand the fundamental processes regarding the mind, because we’re establishing tools that will glance at the molecular aspects of signaling,” she states. “1st application calls for mapping functions and determining typical brain activity, but downstream, it might be possible to diagnose men and women considering patterns of signaling particles.”

Prepared introduce

Although pleased because of the fresh fruits of her doctoral labor, Wiśniowska made a decision to shift gears once more. “I have added my little bit to research, but I’d like to concentrate today on bringing tools like this to market.” She’s going to quickly be joining living sciences unit of the consulting company, assisting to evaluate and boost brand new biologics and health products. 

“it is exciting to acquire a feeling of business end of drug development, where i really hope to leverage my research and insights to help organizations make an impression on a array of various problems,” she states.

But even now, as she closes out her educational life at MIT and prepares for the next period, Wiśniowska is following the woman regular Sunday double shift (16 hours) during the NRL. “i’ve found it helpful staying at my desk indeed there, with my beverage mug and meals supplies, in the place of returning to my apartment,” she says. “individuals on laboratory motivate us to keep taking care of my thesis, and I’m much more effective.”

She also credits the NRL for helping the woman land the woman consulting task. “might work as reactor operator is a superb conversation beginner in interviews,” she claims. “But more crucial, the NRL gave me my first genuine work knowledge, showing me that my decisions may have real fat, and how to take duty.”

The immediate future, Wiśniowska intends to stay linked. “i’ll consistently work as a temp and hold my permit active,” she claims. “It really is like my second house.