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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI student earns $20,000 NIH fellowship

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Award includes 12-month paid internship after graduation

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 5, 2004 -- A University of Rhode Island senior has been awarded a $20,000 fellowship from the National Institutes of Health that will provide tuition and living expenses for his final year at URI as well as a one-year paid internship at NIH beginning next summer.

Stephen Furlani, a biomedical engineering major from Wakefield, is one of just 28 students from around the country to earn the prestigious award.

"It's so great to have this guaranteed job once I'm out of college so I can concentrate on my studies this year," he said.

Furlani earned the need-based fellowship in part because of the heart modeling research he conducted under the guidance of URI Professor Fred Vetter.

"Steve is a hard worker who developed several computer applications for biomedical engineering to help us better visualize models of the heart," Vetter said. "He wrote the visualization software so we can compare different heart models and compare the models to what was found in actual experiments."

In addition to the computer applications, Furlani studied the electrical signals in the heart cells of mice. The next stage is to compare those signals with the electrical signals in the cells of mice with damaged or enlarged hearts to compare how they differ in hopes of understanding what goes wrong in a damaged heart.

After graduation in May, Furlani will move to Bethesda, Md., the headquarters of NIH, for his 12-month internship. He hopes to work in the neuroscience department.

"My dream is to develop prosthetic devices that are operated by computer chips in the brain," said the URI student, "so people can control their prosthetics with their thoughts. I want to give people back real-life control of their limbs, so moving your hand, for instance, requires no more thought than it did before they lost use of it.

"I want to give people who are physically challenged better control of their lives."