PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Alejandro Jackson had always loved the physical sciences — engineering, robotics, mathematics and computers. Then during the summer of 2019, the Miami, Florida, native encountered a logic problem that brought his academic interests to life, almost literally.
As part of a high school internship at the Adaptive Neural Systems laboratory at Florida International University, Jackson and a team of fellow students were challenged to code and create a robotic hand with fingers that could move independently. He enjoyed the experience so much that he returned the lab — which develops technology to offset the effects of limb amputation, orthopedic injury and disease — the following summer.
This time, he had the opportunity to hear from real-life people who’d had amputations talking about what they needed from a prosthetic. The gears in Jackson’s brain whirred as he processed conversations about the difficulties presented by something as mundane as a water bottle: the round shape and fragile plastic made them too easy to accidentally crush with a standard prosthetic arm and hand.
“I started thinking about how sensory feedback and virtual reality training could be used to improve prosthetics,” Jackson said. “I became really interested in how I could use my skills to improve quality of life for people who’d had amputations.”
The experience inspired Jackson to seek an undergraduate program where he could study biomedical engineering with the ultimate goal of becoming an M.D./Ph.D. physician-engineer. And he already knew where he could expand his skills and create new connections: Brown University, where he’d wanted to go since he was 8 years old. It was then that Jackson’s mother, a Brown alumna, brought him along to her 20th class reunion celebration.
“I always say that two things attracted me to Brown: the blueberry muffins at the Blue Room and meeting my mom’s friends,” Jackson said with a laugh, recalling his trip as an 8-year-old. “The muffins are really great, and my mom’s friends from Brown are just super upstanding people. The biggest thing I noticed, then as well as now, is that they are compassionate — always willing to listen to someone no matter where they are from.”