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A biomedical researcher and modern-day Renaissance woman

Joanne Hoffman  ‘12 ’13 was attracted to Lehigh because of its emphasis on incorporating arts and sciences. As a student in Lehigh’s arts and engineering program, a five-year, dual-degree endeavor, Hoffman earned a B.A. in 2012 in anthropology, and the following spring, Hoffman received her B.S. in chemical engineering. She also completed a minor in classics through Lehigh’s Classical Studies Program.

Today, she is working alongside some of the world’s leading biomedical researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where she has a fellowship in the post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) program.

The highly competitive fellowships, awarded to just 10 percent of applicants, enable recent college graduates who hope to attend graduate or professional school the chance to spend one or two years doing biomedical research full-time at the NIH.

Hoffman focuses on the mediastinal lymph nodes, which are located along the esophagus and trachea and between the lungs and the diaphragm. She writes computer programs that utilize image processing, machine learning and computer vision, and she analyzes data from MR, CT and PET scans. Her mentors are Dr. Jianmin Liu, a staff scientist in the Imaging Biomarkers and Computer-Aided Diagnosis Laboratory of NIH’s Clinical Center, and Dr. Ronald Summers, the lab’s principal investigator.

“We write programs that map out the human body and basically identify different pathologies or anatomical structures that might be hard for a radiologist to find,” says Hoffman.

Mayuresh V. Kothare, the R.L. McCann Professor of Chemical Engineering and Joanne’s teacher in  process control, recalls Hoffman’s interest in biomedical research. Kothare told Hoffman about his sabbatical at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he worked on brain-computer interface technology to help patients regain control of functions they lose because of brain damage or disease.

Hoffman cites the arts and engineering program as one of the reasons she came to Lehigh.

"Lehigh is a unique school in that students can cross different lines, such as arts and sciences, without any trouble," says Hoffman. "And Lehigh promotes interdisciplinary practices. You can do research as a freshman, as a sophomore. You can take any imaginable combination of classes."

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