Sandhya Kumar: Research, Cognitive Neuroscience

Sandhya KumarAlthough autism remains a mystery, scientists using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have begun to uncover intriguing clues to the neural basis of this developmental disorder. Starting in her junior year, recent UAB graduate Sandhya Kumar (right) got a front-row seat to the groundbreaking work under way in UAB’s Autism Brain Imaging Lab. But she wasn’t just an observer; working under the supervision of UAB psychology researcher Rajesh Kana, Ph.D., Kumar took part in several fMRI-based studies—winning first place in UAB’s John Ost Undergraduate Research Competition in both 2009 and 2010. In May 2010, she presented her findings at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.

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Jake Nelson and Kyle Gilbraith: Research, Bamboo Wheelchair

Last fall, UAB senior engineering students were met with a challenge: to design a wheelchair that was cheap, easy to assemble, created entirely out of renewable materials—and able to handle the rough terrain found in the African nation of Zambia. “I think everyone was pretty intimidated,” says Jake Nelson. “But that attracted Kyle and me.”

Nelson and Kyle Gilbraith built their prototype on a bamboo frame fastened with sisal twine and wood glue. “We went with bamboo because it’s strong and easy to grow,” Nelson says. “It’s a good renewable resource.” The bamboo came as a gift from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens; the back wheels were scavenged from a mountain bike.

Construction took two months, most of it done on Nelson’s front porch with a hand saw, a wood file, a knife, and some degree of trial and error. The result—strong, lightweight, and built for less than $20—was enough for an A. But Nelson and Gilbraith had another goal: to bring their wheelchair to Zambia.

Their opportunity came during a service trip to Zambia this summer with the group Engineers Without Borders, during which Nelson, Gilbraith, and other UAB students helped to build a water purification facility.

Although shipping the prototype itself to Zambia would have been prohibitively expensive, Nelson and Gilbraith were able to make contact with representatives from Zambikes, a local bicycle company that offers a bamboo-frame model. “We learned a lot,” Nelson says. “They use a pretty similar process to ours, and they were really good contacts for further work. The whole purpose was to make this and actually help out people who can’t afford a modern wheelchair, and I feel good about how it’s turned out.”


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