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 atomic technology and manufacturing (NSE), and then a doctorate in health sciences and technology, there is one continual in Agata Wiśniowska’s life: work on MIT’s Nuclear analysis Laboratory (NRL).

“I Have always enjoyed it,” says Wiśniowska ’11. “The environment on laboratory can be so nice — it has been comfortable and inviting, just like a refuge.”

During the woman notably venturesome scholastic journey, Wiśniowska makes the NRL a casual house base. It’s served variously as her gateway into the world of nuclear research, a testing surface for technical competence, and a domain for exercising administration skills. It has in addition functioned like a launchpad.

“on lab, we gained my very first supervisory knowledge,” Wiśniowska claims. “I learned to cope with different sorts of individuals, manage various situations that may occur, and confidently make decisions.”

Wiśniowska’s connection to the laboratory began winter months of her freshman year. Newly came to MIT from an international baccalaureate program in Poland in which she had dedicated to physics, she was intent, she claims, on “choosing as being a major something i did not know already lots about.” After sampling courses, she discovered nuclear science and engineering (NSE) specially interesting. At a departmental available house, she saw an advertisement encouraging pupils to coach as MIT reactor operators.

“Since I had been deciding on atomic engineering, and I also love to discover comprehensive from basics, it made sense to operate at plant to see how it operated from within,” she claims. “I was thinking basically desired to turn into a nuclear engineer, this would be really helpful.”

In addition to money, the reactor operator task supplied unforeseen benefits. “Imagine from the various nation, with English as 2nd language, and receiving a handbook for studying this complex system,” states Wiśniowska. “i did not understand lots of the words, thus I held bugging my manager to spell out by drawing things.” While trying to master the technical demands of the woman task, Wiśniowska made development inside her attempts to be fluent in English.

She also received the deep immersion she desired in nuclear technology and manufacturing. She took part in scientific studies performed by way of a selection of investigators utilising the reactor. And many of her NSE courses dedicated to researches occurring during the reactor, including one concerning modeling tritium radiation as it dissipated through layers of experimental capsule of molten salt coolant. 

“i really could chat directly to experimenters and gain special ideas while sitting at the system being an operator,” she claims. “it had been fun to be able to work on one thing very highly relevant to the reactor laboratory while also satisfying training course work.”

Wiśniowska discovered the NRL life so enjoyable that inside her sophomore 12 months, she decided to increase her part and train to become shift manager. She clearly recalls several of the woman experiences early on in this new position. 

“My first reactor scram [automatic shutdown] had been undoubtedly memorable,” she states. “i possibly could hear the intercom announcement your reactor power was decreasing, realized we’d only scrammed, and knew that as manager, I would need use the operator to figure out what direction to go next.”

It proved that had been no crisis, however a run-of-the-mill power plunge. For Wiśniowska it in fact was a formative moment in a lengthy learning procedure. “I had this sense of doubt, but knew I could manage it, and later, coping with these problems became 2nd nature.”  

A new way

Once she reached senior 12 months, though, Wiśniowska started to press at constraints of her NSE studies. She had become interested in biochemistry and biology, and took sufficient classes to minor both in industries. Health school appeared like possible. On her behalf undergraduate thesis, Wiśniowska found a method to combine her interests, exploring proton irradiation therapy for liver cancer tumors patients at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

During the woman thesis work, she discovered that the NRL had decades early in the day contributed to health researches, providing neutrons to irradiate clients with mind tumors employing a method known as boron neutron capture treatment. 

“we became enthusiastic about health applications of nuclear research, but because there ended up being no NSE system that dedicated to this location towards level I expected, I finished up changing programs,” states Wiśniowska. “While sticking with NSE would-have-been simpler, we needed a unique challenge, even if it forced myself out-of my safe place.”

Wiśniowska landed on Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST). A rigorous span of study, combining medical instruction at Boston’s teaching hospitals with analysis, HST “felt like a beacon of possibilities,” claims Wiśniowska. 

After doing rotations in numerous areas, Wiśniowska knew she was not cut fully out to be a physician. But she spotted a research area that simultaneously pleased her desire to extend herself intellectually and also to improve human being wellness: studying the brain making use of novel imaging practices.

In laboratory of Alan Jasanoff, an MIT professor of biological engineering, brain and intellectual sciences, and nuclear science and engineering, Wiśniowska happens to be capable draw on her expertise inside a variety of industries to produce options for watching mechanistic molecular events within the mind.

“the study is leading edge,” she says. “we are wanting to understand the evasive idea of consciousness from the molecular standpoint, getting at question by viewing signaling particles into the living mind.”

On her doctoral work, Wiśniowska aided develop a natural sensor — a little protein — that when encouraged by its little molecule target inside mind triggers receptors in the smooth muscle mass cells coating blood vessels. This in turn triggers the cells to elongate and increase blood circulation into area, an activity known as vasodilation. Your local boost in blood circulation, indicative of recognition for the target molecule, may be captured in real-time by molecular practical magnetized resonance imaging (fMRI). 

“This sensor, by experiencing the contrast naturally obtainable in bloodstream, removes the need for metal-based comparison representatives usually found in molecular fMRI and we can image mechanistically informative molecular occasions in mind by having an unprecedented amount of sensitivity,” states Wiśniowska. It really is work that could give experts a close up view of exactly how neurotransmitters strive to restrict or stimulate regions in brain. 

“For the first time we might actually arrived at comprehend the fundamental procedures of brain, because we are developing resources that may look at the molecular components of signaling,” she says. “the initial application will involve mapping features and identifying regular brain task, but downstream, it may possibly be feasible to identify men and women based on habits of signaling molecules.”

Prepared to launch

Although pleased because of the fruits of her doctoral work, Wiśniowska chose to move gears once again. “i’ve contributed my little bit to research, but I’d like to concentrate today on bringing tools similar to this to market.” She will shortly be joining living sciences unit of the consulting organization, assisting to examine and boost brand-new biologics and health devices. 

“it’ll be interesting to get a sense of business end of medicine development, where I hope to leverage my study and ideas to aid companies make a direct impact for a variety of various conditions,” she claims.

But right now, as she closes out the woman scholastic life at MIT and prepares for the following stage, Wiśniowska is sticking with her regular Sunday double shift (16 hours) on NRL. “i’ve found it helpful staying in my work desk here, with my tea mug and meals supplies, in place of returning to my apartment,” she says. “folks at lab motivate us to hold focusing on my thesis, and I’m more productive.”

She additionally credits the NRL for helping the woman land her consulting work. “could work being a reactor operator is a superb conversation starter in interviews,” she claims. “But much more crucial, the NRL gave me my first proper work experience, showing myself that my choices have genuine weight, and exactly how to just take duty.”

For the immediate future, Wiśniowska plans to stay linked. “i’ll continue steadily to work as a temp and hold my license energetic,” she states. “It really is like my second home.