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SPIE-ing a scholarship opportunity

Schellenberg, in a cap and blue shirt, poses in a long hallway.

SPIE granted one of its very competitive Optics and Photonics Education Scholarships to MU Bioengineering graduate student Mason Schellenberg in recognition of his research work and in support of his future goals. Photo by Amy Parris.

MU Bioengineering graduate student Mason Schellenberg has done extensive work developing a handheld device to better determine the severity of burn wounds using ultrasound in his time in the lab of Heather Hunt, assistant professor of bioengineering. His efforts caught the attention of the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE), the world’s leading society for optics and photonics, and they decided to aid his journey.

SPIE granted one of its very competitive Optics and Photonics Education Scholarships to Schellenberg in recognition of his research work and in support of his future goals. Only 88 such scholarships were given out to SPIE student members around the globe this year.

“I was very proud that I had done this,” he said. “At the beginning of college, I wasn’t really interested in research. I did research just as something to put on a resume, to get my bachelor’s and just get out of here. But I just fell in love with it. So to think in the span of two, two-and-a-half years going from no research to now earning a scholarship to complete my master’s, I’m really proud of that.”

Schellenberg, who recently earned his bachelor’s degree from MU, said his eventual goal is to earn his master’s in bioengineering, then later complete a master’s in business administration. He eventually hopes to work translating research discoveries into easy-to-use medical devices for clinical use.

SPIE certainly took a liking to his plan, since part of the decision-making process for scholarship applicants is their potential contribution to the field of optics and photonics in the future.

As for the present, Schellenberg has been working on improving the hand-held burn detection device in Hunt’s lab. The device utilizes ultrasound, and based on the path taken by the waves, can determine the depth and severity of a burn, helping to more accurately diagnose burn degree. More accurate diagnosis leads to better physical recovery for patients and lower medical costs by avoiding repeat doctor visits.

“With this, you’re using light to create ultrasound signals in tissue and detecting those ultrasound signals with the ultrasound transducer,” he explained.

“You can actually differentiate between healthy tissue and non-healthy tissue. Using that, we can get kind of a cross-sectional view of the wounds and tell them how deep it goes.”