Childhood STEM experiences had big impact on MechSE grad student

11/09/2016
 
MechSE graduate student Lydia Bakalova has had a lifelong interest in math and science. However, she has more than just her schoolwork to thank for that passion. 
 
Bakalova grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria. As a child, she enjoyed puzzles and construction sets, rather than dolls and playing dress up. Bakalova said that she believes her exposure to toys and games with an educational focus was the reason she became so interested in the sciences. And the math and science-focused high school she attended allowed her to further develop her interest in the sciences. In particular, she found herself fascinated by medical studies and decided to go into biomechanical engineering. 
 
After graduating from high school, Bakalova moved to Boston, where she received her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. During her studies there, she discovered an interest in orthopedics and orthopedic research. 
 
Following her undergraduate studies, she worked at a Boston-based consulting firm, where she focused on intellectual property for medical devices. She decided to return to school, and found the MechSE department to be a perfect fit. But as she works on her research for her master’s degree, Bakalova has kept the experiences of her childhood in mind.
 
Bakalova, far right, works with University High School students.
Bakalova, far right, works with University High School students.
“When I think back to my childhood, I think that playing with Legos and construction sets really impacted my choice to go into the sciences,” Bakalova said. “I knew when I was little I wasn’t drawn to dolls or anything that was specifically designed for girls.” 
 
This experience inspired her to participate in and lead outreach activities in the STEM field and get students excited about the things engineers do. This past summer she participated in several outreach activities in MechSE, including the annual week-long GAMES Camp (Girls' Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science). Bakalova also recently led another outreach activity with the students at University High School, teaching them about biomechanics and building prosthetics. 
 
“It’s great to encourage students to pursue a career in engineering, and I am glad to share my experience with them,” she said.  
 
Bakalova’s graduate research is with MechSE assistant professor Mariana Kersh, in her Tissue Biomechanics Lab, where she works on high-resolution human bone models generated from microCT data provided by the group’s collaborators in Denmark. She focuses on the characterization of the mechanical effect of enlarged intracortical pores on bone strength using finite element methods. 
 
Because there is still a lack of understanding within the scientific community of the biomechanical processes that occur in bones, so her work in understanding the specific relationship between bone loading, morphology, and strength will benefit the development of successful treatments of bone diseases like osteoporosis.
 
Some of her research was recently presented at the annual conference of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR). Bakalova said the response was very positive and she is excited to continue working on with Kersh and their collaborating team in Denmark.