North­eastern Uni­ver­sity mechan­ical engi­neering major Lyda Sall­away expected to con­duct under­grad­uate research. But she didn’t antic­i­pate get­ting the oppor­tu­nity so early in her aca­d­emic career.

In the summer fol­lowing her freshman year, Sall­away got a job con­ducting exper­i­ments on backscatter X-​​ray imaging tech­nology, which is used to per­form full-​​body scans at air­ports throughout the country.

She secured the posi­tion through her role in Northeastern’s Investing in Tomorrow’s Engi­neering Leaders (ITEL) pro­gram, which pro­vides schol­ar­ships and men­toring to engi­neering students.

Through ITEL, Sall­away con­nected with Richard Moore, the director of breast imaging research at Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital and a part-​​time lec­turer at North­eastern whose work cen­tered on cancer screening and home­land secu­rity, which dove­tails with Northeastern’s focus on use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sustainability.

Sub­se­quently, Sall­away was one of seven stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in the Center for Aware­ness and Local­iza­tion of Explosives-​​Related Threats (ALERT) Research Expe­ri­ences for Under­grad­u­ates pro­gram. ALERT is a multi-​​university Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity Center of Excel­lence based at North­eastern that focuses on research aimed at elim­i­nating the explosives-​​related threats facing the country and the world.

In her research role – under the direc­tion of Moore, who is funded by the ALERT Center – Sall­away scanned man­nequins posi­tioned on a rotating table to develop a deeper under­standing of what scanned objects looked like in the backscatter machine.

This tech­nology is still rel­a­tively new, so we’re still trying to figure out what many things look like and get an overall better feel of what these machines are capable of,” Sall­away said.

She worked full time over the summer and has con­tinued con­ducting exper­i­ments on a part-​​time basis this fall. Sall­away, who has taken classes in mechan­ical engi­neering, plans to focus on bio­med­ical engi­neering in prepa­ra­tion for finding a co-​​op posi­tion in the booming biotech industry.

I want to work in a field that will let me find solu­tions that help people out, whether it makes people safer through secu­rity work or healthier through cancer research,” Sall­away said.