Student's Work With Epidural Simulator Lands Her a Place in National Conference

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Sep 15, 1997) — 

When Leslie Hiemenz's doctoral adviser encouraged her to take her engineering skills and use them to advance medicine, she never imagined she would end up presenting her work at a national conference.

"I can't believe that I have come this far," said Leslie Hiemenz, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering at The Ohio State University. "It feels awesome. I keep giggling every time I read the conference poster and see that the presenters are 'experts in their fields.'"

Hiemenz, a two-time alumna of Ohio State, will present her research in developing an epidural simulator on Sept. 20 at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a technical conference that focuses on the role of women in the computer industry.

Her presentation will focus on virtual environments for medicine and the challenges facing developers of this technology. She also will discuss the work she did with John McDonald, M.D. of The Ohio State University Medical Center, and Don Stredney of the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), to develop a virtual reality application that will transform the way medical students learn how to administer epidural anesthesia.

"The research that I am doing involves doing biomaterials testing in order to measure the forces required to insert an epidural needle," Hiemenz said. "The results of these tests along with data from Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the same materials will be used to create force models for the virtual reality simulator of the epidural."

The Grace Hopper conference is not the first time Hiemenz's work has received national attention. Earlier this year she was honored with a Link Foundation Fellowship in Advanced Simulation and Training. The prestigious award recognizes graduate students each year who are studying training and research, and who are enhancing ways to train people how to use complex systems. She was awarded $18,000 to allow her to focus full-time on her dissertation research.

"To have a renown foundation believe in my work, to the extent of funding me for a year, has really boosted my confidence in my research and the impact it can make on medical training," Hiemenz said.

Presenting at the Hopper Conference ties in with the Link Foundation award, because the fellowship requires professional presentations in order to promote the student's work. Hiemenz believes the conference is a positive sign that women are a strong force in the world of computing.

"I think that women have come a long way, as seen by increasing numbers of female computer scientists," she said. "This field has been traditionally male dominated and I am looking forward to attending the conference to learn about how women have dealt with these issues in addition to handling two-career marriages and raising children."

Hiemenz credits many people for her success, including her adviser Alan Litsky (OSU Biomedical Engineering), Don Stredney (OSC), John McDonald (OSU Medical Center), Robert Small (OSU Medical Center) and Petra Schmalbrock (OSU MRI Project). She will finish her dissertation research next year while working for MusculoGraphics in Evanston, Il., a small company specializing in biomechanically-based haptic feedback models.

The Ohio Supercomputer Center is a state-funded resource serving Ohio's higher education community. The Center facilitates discoveries that enhance Ohio's economic development and supports statewide technological advancement and education. OSC's networking initiative provides Internet access to faculty, staff and students at Ohio's colleges and universities, state government agencies in Ohio and Kentucky, as well as many K-12 schools.