Inventor Ranu Jung, Ph.D., has dedicated her career to developing neurotechnologies that provide recovery and repair lost function due to a neurological disability or trauma. While creating neurotechnologies like a prosthetic hand system, she is also able to explore and better understand the functions of the nervous system. Then Dr. Jung uses computational models to understand and implement her neurotechnologies.
Under her leadership, researchers have created the first wireless, implantable, neural-interface system for a prosthetic hand. Devised to restore the sensation of touch for amputees it received an investigational device exemption from the FDA to proceed with a first-in-human clinical trial to evaluate safety and effectiveness. The neural-enabled prosthetic hand provides the sensitivity for users to pick up soft objects like a banana or grape without crushing them. The system is designed to enable upper limb amputees to perform some daily tasks independently.
Her journey towards her career as a scientist began in what she described as typical career confusion in her younger high school days. She said, “I was like a lot of high school students—I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. What I did know, was that I wanted to answer challenging questions.”
Dr. Jung received her bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Warangal, in India. She continued her education and obtained her master’s and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. During her graduate education, she studied the cardiorespiratory system and its connection to the brain, which sparked her initial interest in her current work. “My graduate research work had very little to do with technology development,” said Dr. Jung. “I was ready to take what I’d learned through research in graduate school and integrate it with the engineering education I had.”
Currently, Dr. Jung is a Professor and Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, where she holds the Wallace H. Coulter Eminent Scholar endowed Chair in Biomedical Engineering at Florida International University (FIU). Before her appointment at FIU, Dr. Jung was a faculty member at Arizona State University and the University of Kentucky.
Dr. Jung has been a grantee of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for nearly fifteen years, and her cutting-edge research is at the forefront of engineering and neuroscience. She views one of her most significant accomplishments as merging these disciplines at the start of her career. “Back then, it wasn’t as common as it is now to have interdisciplinary research,” said Dr. Jung.
Currently, she holds 10 U.S. patents, has founded a company, and has authored more than 130 publications. Her contributions to science are evident, but she thinks her greatest impact has been on students. She strives to create excitement among undergraduate students and enjoys witnessing the success of her graduate students. Dr. Jung expressed, “There’s nothing like the feeling of pride I have when my students are successful. It is through them I know I will continue to improve human health for years to come.”
While speaking about mentoring, Dr. Jung turned toward the future for women in science and engineering careers. She is enthusiastic about the movement to bring awareness to the lack of diversity in science and engineering fields, especially at universities, and hopeful the future will bring change. She was one of only three women in an engineering major in her cohort during her undergraduate studies and the only female Ph.D. student that graduated from her advisor’s lab. “I think the outlook is positive for women in science and engineering. I sometimes struggle with how long it has taken to get to this place of change. In the future I hope women are valued equally for their research contributions and leadership roles,” says Dr. Jung.
When presented with obstacles throughout her career, she said it has been important for her to recognize the opportunity inside the challenge. It served her well in her career to find role models and mentors that were strong women. Her advice for future women scientists and engineers is to be resilient and persistent and feel comfortable with uncertainty. She went on to explain that everyone experiences rejection sometime in their career, but it’s essential to get up and try again.