Undergraduate’s Aneurysm Research Helps Him Win National Competition

Posted: February 5, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

As Americans’ arteries become more and more clogged with fast food, pizza and donuts, there is an increased concern for aneurysm occurrences.

Researchers believe cholesterol buildup and high blood pressure to be significant factors in aneurysms, which are abnormal blood-filled bulges in weakened blood vessels. However, it is still unclear as to what exactly causes them.

A Mason undergraduate was recently turning heads and creating buzz over his research on aneurysms and their causes. Steve Hendrickson, a senior majoring in mathematics, took first place in the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition at the 2008 Joint Mathematics Meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

Steve Hendrickson with his poster presentation
Steve Hendrickson explains his research at the joint AMS and MAA meeting in San Diego last month.

The meeting, held in San Diego early last month, gave Hendrickson an opportunity to showcase a poster of his research on cerebral aneurysms. Much of the findings were made possible due to rare images Hendrickson and his mentor, Juan Cebral, professor of computational and data sciences, obtained from Inova Fairfax Hospital.

“We were lucky enough to get an image of an aneurysm that ruptured hours after the image was taken, which is extremely rare,” Hendrickson says. “Generally, when an aneurysm occurs, it never ruptures. We’re now better able to identify one that is likely to rupture based on the more accurate characteristics we observed through the images.”

image of blood flow
The image shows blood flow patterns inside an aneurysm; the colors show changes in velocity.
Images courtesy of Steve Hendrickson

Hendrickson has been researching under his mentor since May 2007 to confirm Cebral’s earlier findings. Hendrickson says that by studying the blood flow in the aneurism with computational fluid dynamics, they established its shape, size and location within the brain.

“I’m very happy that we were able to get a result that I’m able to confirm, because that is often hard to do in this field,” Hendrickson explains. “Some researchers have worked for years and years without definitive results. But we were fortunate during our research to work toward a result.”

The annual joint AMS and MAA meeting is one of the top showcases of mathematics held in the United States. Approximately 300 undergraduates participated; Hendrickson’s was one of 170 posters presented.

Hendrickson is a product of Mason’s Undergraduate Research in Computational Mathematics program that is part of a National Science Foundation initiative to increase the number of computational mathematicians in the nation’s workforce.

Hendrickson will graduate from Mason this summer. He recently finished applying to graduate school and hopes to work his way toward a PhD in applied mathematics.

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