Joy Jackson ’19 was recently recognized for her innovative work to address a critical health disparity for patients of color who require electroencephalograms (EEGs). Jackson, a senior, Singer Scholar, and biomedical engineering major at the University of Miami, led a team of undergraduates to design an electrode holder that improves EEG readings for people with textured hair. The design earned Jackson and her team honorable mention honors at the 2022 National Institutes of Health DEBUT challenge among the 73 entries from 43 universities. The competition challenges students to provide technology solutions for unmet healthcare needs.
“EEGs are useful tests for recording the electrical activity of the brain and are used to diagnose abnormalities such as epilepsy or brain tumors. However, there are certain drawbacks to the traditional EEG setup,” shared Jackson. “Namely, EEGs rely on small metal electrodes to be in close contact with the scalp for signal detection. For those with tightly curled or coiled hair, characteristics that are particularly consistent with Afro-textured hair, recordings may suffer due to poor electrode-to-scalp adherence.”
Although there is little research on the topic, it was clear that the disparity can be consequential to a large number of medical patients, particularly patients of color, including Jackson herself. “When my hair is not in braids or straightened, it's tightly curled. So, if I needed an EEG, this could be an issue that affects me,” she added.
Jackson began working on a design to accommodate different hair textures.
“During my junior year, I started designing prototypes and testing the fit on myself. Over time, I found a design that worked and brought in teammates to help me see it through,” Jackson said. “The final design is a custom electrode holder with two components that fit together as an assembly: a housing, which holds the electrode during the recording, and a hairpin inserted into the housing. The operator can slide the device onto parted hair and insert the electrode into the housing to complete the setup.”
At Miami, Jackson holds leadership roles with the Engineering Student Ambassadors and the National Society of Black Engineers. She is also an active member of the Society of Women Engineers and the Biomedical Engineering Society. After graduation, Jackson hopes to work in design or instrumentation at a medical device company.
Jackson credits her teachers at St. Mary’s for her ability to listen, communicate, and think critically, as well as sparking her interest in STEM.
“I had my first formal glimpse into engineering at St. Mary's. I was a student in the inaugural Introduction to Engineering class with Dr. Leathers. This class and a few others helped solidify my interest in the area,” Jackson said. She also mentioned that AP Chemistry with Ms. Rose Dunlap and AP Biology with Dr. Anna Bess Sorin helped shape her interest in science. “Even early in Middle School, we completed Independent Study projects that taught me how to understand the scientific method and conduct proper research,” she said
Jackson added, “Honestly, there are so many faculty and staff at St. Mary’s who helped shape me into the person I am today, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”