Research Recap for July 9: Work on hemoglobin and virtual reality assistive technology

Western’s faculty and students are engaged in exciting research and scholarship across a variety of fields, from marine science and climate change to teaching, the humanities, and the arts. Periodically, Western Today will share short summaries of the latest developments in scholarship and research at the University. Interested in reading in-depth stories about science and research at Western? Go to Gaia, the university's online journal of research, discovery and scholarship, and subscribe (it's free) to that site by clicking the "Follow" button. Want more research news? Follow @WWUResearch on Twitter.


Johanna Urbach

Johanna Urbach is a first-year graduate student of chemistry, with a special interest in bio-chemistry, who studies hemoglobin. She is a recipient of the WWU Graduate Research Award for her thesis entitled, “Design and characterization of stable polymeric variants of human hemoglobin.” She has presented her research at NORM2021 and at WWU Scholars Week. 

A lot of research has gone into producing synthetic hemoglobin, which would make blood stores more accessible to victims of trauma and to people in need in the developing world. In the lab, Urbach focuses on hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (HBOCs). Her goal is to optimize the expression of rHb-cTRP and characterize the resulting polymeric hemoglobin. The process is complex, but Urbach hopes to see if attaching more than four hemoglobin units together will yield favorable results in the development of synthetic human hemoglobin.

Urbach says that as a person with a disability, she spent a lot of time in resource classes in elementary school. It was unclear whether she would be able to go to college, let alone succeed academically and pursue an advanced degree. But Urbach says her faculty have been overwhelmingly "supportive and amazing," and that WWU has been completely accommodating of her disability and that the offer of help is real. Her mentors have fostered development and learning, and she says there is a level of respect that feels rare.  

Urbach’s faculty advisor is Spencer Anthony-Cahill; she also gives thanks for Clint Spiegel for her time in his lab and to John Antos for guidance and use of his mass spectrometry. 


Anais Dawson 

Computer Science graduate student Anais Dawson is utilizing virtual reality and wearable sensors to address challenges in the domain of assistive technology.

Under the guidance of professors Shameem Ahmed, Wesley Deneke, and Moushumi Sharmin, Dawson led a small group of undergraduate students to develop "InterViewR," a VR-based platform that provides training to autistic young adults to better prepare them for job interviews. 

Dawson supervised and trained undergraduate students who previously had little awareness of the domains of Autism, Virtual Reality, and Human Computer Interaction. As a teaching assistant, Dawson also mentored students at all levels by providing thoughtful, detailed, and encouraging feedback to them and by creating an inclusive and accessible environment for all students.

As a student researcher, Anais published her preliminary work in IEEE CompSAC 2020, presented her work in Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2020, and is currently in the process of submitting her graduate research work in ACM CSCW 2021 – outstanding accomplishments for a graduate student who is just starting her research career. 


Anais poses in a field on a cloudy day