Emeline Hanna Portrait

Emeline Hanna receives award from Michigan Engineering

The NERS undergraduate student was given a Leaders & Honors Awards for her outstanding achievements and academic excellence.

Emeline Hanna, a Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences (NERS) student has been honored with a Michigan Engineering Leaders & Honors Award. She has received an Academic Achievement Undergraduate Award, which is presented annually to the outstanding undergraduate in each degree program. Criteria considered by the department awards committee include academic achievement, exemplary character, leadership in class and activities, and potential for success in future endeavors.

Emeline, a distinguished undergraduate in her senior year, has embarked on a remarkable academic journey fueled by her insatiable curiosity and passion for understanding the nuclear world. Her fascination with nuclear physics, which would ultimately lead her to our department, began in her high school physics class.

“In my physics class in tenth grade, each student got to choose a last chapter to study independently, and I chose the one least familiar to me: nuclear physics,” said Emeline. I was so intrigued by the depth of understanding of the nuclear world, which to me seemed inscrutable, and the mathematical elegance unveiling the fundamental principles governing our universe.”

Growing up surrounded by nature in rural Michigan, Emeline realized the potential of nuclear engineering to merge her love for physics with a commitment to promoting a carbon-free future. Motivated by her enthusiasm, she chose to join our department because of its small class size, numerous professors, and ample research opportunities. A pivotal moment came during her freshman year when she worked in Prof. Zhong He’s lab, measuring how the performance of thallium bromide (TlBr) semiconductor crystals changed over time, which sparked her desire to continue research.

Emeline Hanna

Emeline’s journey continued with internships at GE Hitachi, where she developed a Python-based executable for automating design parameters. A significant milestone in Emeline’s academic career was her research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she focused on automating organ segmentation for pediatric craniospinal irradiation. “The skills I learned in my NERS classwork were incredibly valuable in preparing me for research and internships,” said Emeline.

Since her sophomore year, Emeline has been working with Prof. John Foster on building a plasma reactor to destroy high concentrations of PFAS in a water purification system and building probes to determine how the background effects of a vacuum chamber impact the plasma created by a gridded ion thruster. Her skills, honed through NERS coursework, proved invaluable in her research endeavors.

During her time here at the University, Emeline’s leadership skills have shone through in various endeavors. Leading the Astrobiology Branch on the Michigan Mars Rover project team, she navigated challenges by adapting and researching alternatives, showcasing resilience and problem-solving acumen. In the Pediatric Oncology Education Program at St. Jude, she spearheaded a project on automating organ segmentation, developing innovative approaches, and contributing to a published paper.

“At St. Jude, I developed a project assessing two methods of automating organ segmentation for pediatric craniospinal irradiation, an atlas technique, and a deep learning neural network approach,” said Emeline. “I developed the data analysis pipeline and MATLAB code to calculate metrics to compare the organ contours generated by both methods. Additionally, I devised a novel method to prospectively evaluate the accuracy of automated segmentation using a knowledge-based quality assurance tool. I had to creatively design my algorithms and learn new tools to create my own workflows to interact with DICOM files, as well as solve issues and decide the next steps of the project. Furthermore, I developed learning materials and guidance on my previous work to allow for a new student to understand my methods.”

Emeline fondly recalls NERS 311 and 312, where she explored quantum mechanics and the physics of nuclear decay. These courses, coupled with memorable experiences in her senior design project on a radiation detection robot, stand out as her favorites. Working with inspiring mentors and collaborating with fellow students to achieve tangible outcomes made these projects particularly rewarding.

“I feel so grateful to receive this award and honored that I can represent the NERS department,” said Emeline. “The NERS community has largely impacted my career trajectory through research and career fairs that lead to internships, and I believe that my successes are due to the environment of this program. I was able to start researching early on, and I felt supported by my advisor Michelle Sonderman to pursue opportunities and explore different areas of interest. I felt challenged and interested in the coursework, and I loved the eagerness of my classmates to collaborate.”

Looking ahead, Emeline envisions pursuing a PhD in medical imaging, applying her skills to improve and expand access to medical diagnostics. “I plan to get a Ph.D. in medical imaging, combining my physics and engineering knowledge to impact patient care,” she shared. This aspiration reflects her ongoing commitment to advancing her understanding of the field and contributing to the improvement of healthcare through innovative research and the application of her skills.

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