Sarah and AC lab were featured on National Women in Engineering Day
The day was set up by the Women’s Engineering Society and is dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering. By encouraging girls into engineering careers we will not only increase diversity and inclusion, but also enabling us to fill the substantial future job opportunities that have been predicted in this sector.
Sarah and AC lab were featured in the RE•WORK blog in MEET THE FEMALE PIONEERS OF ENGINEERING
Some parts of the article:
Q) Which emerging or future technologies are you excited about?
Sarah: I am very excited about the technologies that aim to promote cooperation between humans and computers. Instead of choosing between a human or a robot for a task, many companies are looking at co-robotics where robots support human partners. This extends beyond just physical robots to AI. For instance, instead of diagnosing disease, AI is being used to give doctors more information for a better diagnosis. These systems augment human information processing capabilities to support better/faster decisions. In fact, I think this is such an important idea that these systems, called decision support systems, are a major focus of my lab. For example, we are developing an interventional technology to empower individuals on the autism spectrum using real-time emotional cue visualization.
Q) What areas of engineering do you think will have the biggest breakthroughs in the next 5 years?
Sarah: Ever since the 60s, AI was set to drastically change our lives 20 years from now. Every year, it was still 20 years. Then a few years ago, this number suddenly went from 20 to 0. People talk to virtual assistants, packages are routed using complex AI, and we get our food and movie suggestions from AI. Moving forward, even our trucking and cab drivers may be robotic. As more and more researchers are pouring in this area, subspecialties will start to emerge. One of these subspecialties is Big Data which looks at the unique problem presented by the massive amounts of data collected by websites, phones, and sensor technologies. A relatively recent subspecialty which I am very excited about is Small Data, which looks at figuring ways to meaningfully use data where some section is lacking. This occurs often with medical data where it is easy to collect vast amounts of data from healthy individuals, but difficult to collect enough data on sick people for traditional machine learning algorithms. This lack of data can be addressed by using pre-existing knowledge to build analytical models. Machine learning within these constrained models requires significantly less data. My lab solves Small Data problems with primary applications in healthcare especially related to the congenital or chronic diseases. For instance, in Georgia Tech, our team developed a non-invasive airway resistance estimation system to be used for infants. Current airway obstruction detection systems are invasive and can only properly be used on older children and adults, so doctors often rely on direct observation. By using a physics model, we were able to build an airway resistance measurement system out of parts typically used for gaming!
Q) What can we do to ensure equality in the field of engineering?
Sarah: One thing I’ve seen throughout my research career is the importance of diversity. Every culture and country emphasizes different skill sets. Some are better trained theoretically, while some are better able to build things, and others know how to write. From what I’ve seen, the best research comes from labs that have a mixture of people from different origins and backgrounds. As we move deeper into the 21st century, we must continue embracing this diversity, as well as get better at bringing women into STEM. Missing out on the contributions of 50% of our population is not the way to continue leading the world in scientific contributions.
Q) What advice would you give to someone starting a career in engineering?
Sarah: For people thinking of entering a research career in engineering—great choice! It is intellectually rewarding and forms the backbone of society’s efforts to improve the human condition through greater knowledge, better communications tools, and improved healthcare. The first thing you’ll need is a very solid math and science background. The second is vision: read widely and consider how you think you can best contribute. Third, you need passion. Science is hard work: a small part is theorizing, the rest is working to confirm and build the theory. Passion will get you through the hard parts. Finally, persevere. Nobody is born with a math gene. It comes down to hard work and practice.