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Rachael Mansbach '11 Helps Build Instrumentation to Detect Breast Cancer

Rachael Mansbach '11 Helps Build
Instrumentation to Detect Breast Cancer

by Mariam Zakhary '13

Rachael Mansbach '11
Rachael Mansbach '11 at the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter

Rachael Mansbach '11 has spent the summer working on a system that will create three-dimensional images of breast tissue using visible light. To develop the system for a third generation, frequency-domain, multi-spectral breast imager employing a method called diffusive optical tomography, she has worked closely with Professor of Physics Frank Moscatelli in the bioimaging lab of Arjun Yodh, director of the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter at the University of Pennsylvania.

Moscatelli says Mansbach's experience has allowed her to do work that most undergraduates do not get to experience. She primarily tested the cooling abilities of various kinds of temperature controllers in order to stabilize the laser and wrote a fair amount of code in order to run the instrumentation via computer. Mansbach presented her data on the system's performance to a group that included several doctoral students and postdoc fellows, Yodh, and Moscatelli.

"I never had the opportunity to do physics research before and it requires you to think in new and different ways," says Rachael, an honors physics major from Ames, Iowa. "It isn't a straightforward shot from experiment to results, but rather a tortuous path which often branches into quite unexpected territory. Overall, it gave me a fundamentally different outlook on physics. Now I have a better idea of the place experiment holds alongside theory and how the two interact."

"Our research is generating original data that has an impact on the assumption that the breast is modeled as a semi-infinite, diffusive, absorptive volume with the light entering one face and leaving the other while neglecting the chest wall" Moscatelli says. "Computational modeling concludes that this assumption is innocuous, but it has never been tested experimentally. We have begun to investigate the question and the experiment is generating very interesting data."

Mansbach plans to spend the rest of the summer studying for the physics GRE and determining whether to craft an honors thesis from her original data. She also plans to present her work in poster form on campus this fall.