Purdue fellowships designed to open door to scientific research for those with physical impairments

February 21, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A new research center based in Purdue University's Discovery Park will award undergraduate and graduate fellowships for students who dream of studying science but face hurdles because of physical impairments.

The Institute for Accessible Science (IAS) will grant summer fellowships to six undergraduate students with disabilities to perform independent biomedical research at Purdue. The program, lasting eight weeks and set to begin in June, will provide students with a stipend valued at $4,000, in addition to covering travel and housing expenses. 

 IAS also will award two graduate fellowships, which include an $18,000 stipend and costs for tuition and fees. These fellowships, which begin this fall, will provide first- or second-year funding for two students with disabilities to pursue a postgraduate degree in biomedical science.

Since the IAS has a national focus, student applicants for both the summer undergraduate research and graduate research fellowships from all over the United States are welcome, said Bradley S. Duerstock, principal investigator for the Institute for Accessible Science.

Priority consideration will be given to student applications completed by March 1 for both IAS fellowships. For more information about both fellowship opportunities, go to http://iashub.org/

"The fellowships will enhance the inclusiveness of students who have a physical disability and, more specifically, those with a mobility or visual impairment in the professional science community by demonstrating that research careers in science are very possible," Duerstock said.

Details about the two fellowship programs:

      * Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship - Funding and support is available for up to six undergraduate students with a medically documented mobility or visual impairment to participate in the eight-week Purdue University Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP), which begins this June. This fellowship will include, among other things, the costs of round-trip transportation to Purdue's West Lafayette campus and university housing for eight weeks.

      * Graduate Research Fellowship - To be eligible, candidates must be accepted as a full-time graduate student in any Purdue school or college pursuing a master's or doctoral degree in a field related to biomedical science. This fellowship begins in fall 2012 and will end in summer 2013.

Duerstock, an associate professor of engineering practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering, also is a neuroscientist and wheelchair user who creates assistive technologies for use in the lab. Assistant director is Susan M. Mendrysa, a professor for basic medical sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Project manager Lisa Hilliard said only 2 percent of employed scientists and engineers age 35 or younger have a disability, but that demographic represents 10.4 percent of the overall U.S. workforce. In 2007, only 1.1 percent of U.S. science or engineering doctorates had a disability.

In an effort to further its mission of promoting the inclusion of persons with physical disabilities in biomedical science careers, the center designed the Accessible Biomedical Immersion Laboratory in the Hall for Discovery and Learning Research. It uses flexible wet lab space to operate a standard laboratory for scientists to conduct experiments on chemical and biological matter.

The IAS team also developed a remote-controllable research light microsclyope known as AccessScope. Student fellows will test the instrument this summer. In addition, the IAS launched IAShub, which provides a Web-based interactive community and resource repository for individuals with disabilities working in or interested in biomedical research careers.

"Through the IAShub, researchers both professional and aspiring like these student fellows will be able to operate and control the functions of this microscope simply through a web browser and network connectivity," Hilliard said. "Users can adjust the white balance, apply florescence and switch from one slide to another - all without human assistance, thus further promoting independence and inclusion." 

The Institute for Accessible Science was established with a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health Director's Pathfinder Award in October 2010 and operates out of the Hall of Discovery and Learning Research in Purdue's Discovery Park. It was one of six such research centers funded as part of the NIH Director's ARRA Pathfinder Award to Promote Diversity in the Scientific Workforce.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Sources: Bradley S. Duerstock, 765-496-2364, bsd@purdue.edu

                  Lisa Hilliard, 765-494-4830, lhilliar@purdue.edu

Related website:

Center for Paralysis Research