At 7 years old, Allison Martinez pinched the legs of her grandmother, who was confined to a wheelchair, to see if she could get a reaction. Martinez’s grandmother had suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident.
At an internet café in Honduras, “I [had] read about the loss of an individual’s leg sensation, so I decided to... pinch her leg to see if she could feel it,” Martinez says. “Looking back, that moment defined me, and I knew that I wanted to create something that would change peoples’ lives.”
In October, Martinez won first place among 10 finalists in the WE20 Poster Competition at the national annual conference of the Society of Women Engineers. The award is across all disciplines of engineering and computing. Her project, titled “Role of Pericytes in Electrical Signal Conduction in the Cerebral Microcirculation: Insights from a Mathematical Model,” focused on how her research model predicts and contributes to the understanding of physiological phenomena.
In her research, Martinez focuses on the electrical components that influence the behavior of pericytes, which are cells that wrap around capillaries that could potentially play a role in the regulation of blood flow in the brain.
Martinez often reflects back on her childhood with her grandmother to keep her motivated for not only her studies in biomedical engineering but also when designing the poster that ultimately won her the competition.
“I would go with my grandmother to hospitals when I was in Honduras. It was there that I was able to better understand a clinical setting,” she adds. “At the competition, I knew that my research was not necessarily conventional, but that it would someday be very useful in clinical application.”
Allison Martinez presenting her research at the national Annual Conference of the Society of Women Engineers.
In 2018, Martinez came to FIU as an international student. She ultimately decided to pursue biomedical engineering and focus on a medical area that would allow her to create solutions to problems. During her earlier studies, she attended panel and outreach events hosted by FIU’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and became involved with the organization because she was inspired by the representation of women in the STEM field.
“I enjoyed going to the events and showing little girls that STEM is not unreachable, especially to those from Hispanic origins,” she says. “I was once that curious little girl at an internet café fascinated by the world of STEM.”
Martinez plans to pursue her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and continue her research into the more cognitive component of the neuroscience field, which includes small vessel diseases such as Alzheimer’s. She credits the faculty and the researchers in the lab for not only helping her learn how to work independently, but also in a team. She began her research experience under the guidance of Professor Nikolaos Tsoukias and postdoctoral fellow Arash Moshkforoush in BME’s Vascular Physiology and Biotransport Lab and focused on studies involving the relationship between brain activity and blood flow.
“Eventually, I would like to run my own lab, either in the industry or academia, to help ensure an inclusive environment and inspire young women and minorities in the STEM field. I want to give them the opportunity and resources to succeed.”
As current president of FIU’s SWE, Martinez promotes the inclusion of other underrepresented STEM groups, such as the LGBTQA+ community. Currently, she is also looking at giving back through the organization to those countries most recently affected by the hurricanes that devastated several regions of Central America, such as Honduras.
“I think it’s important to never forget where we come from,” Martinez says. “A part of me is in Honduras and always will be.”