Is it neuroscience? Chemistry? Art? Wulff Lecture shows versatility, diversity in materials science

A pivotal moment in Polina Anikeeva’s career was when she looked at an MRI scan of Parkinson’s disease patient, about a decade ago.

Now professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, Anikeeva had recently worked on optoelectronics, devices that can detect and control light, and her work was used to illuminate the quantum-dot displays on Samsung TVs. But Anikeeva’s research interests started to stray into biology and neuroscience, disciplines outside her immediate orbit.

“I wanted to apply my knowledge as a materials scientist and engineer to problems that were unsolved, to devices that didn’t exist,” said Anikeeva on April 22, while delivering the Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s twice-yearly Wulff Lecture.

She found those problems in nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s. In Parkinson’s disease, neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain begin to die off. Patients often have difficulty controlling…
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