SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (STCC) – Emerson T. Alexander had an eye-opening experience when she was a student at  Springfield Technical Community College.

Alexander, who graduated in the spring 2020, was part of a team that invented a lightweight mask that can sense eye movement and sleep signals when worn in an everyday environment. She co-authored an article about the invention in a peer-reviewed journal, “Matter.”

Now a student at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, Alexander recently spoke about her experience in a video conference call.

“It was awesome,” said Alexander, who grew up in Hampden and graduated from Minnechaug Regional High School. “I definitely learned a lot – and learned new skills. I had never sewn before. It was really neat. I was learning to sew in a lab.”

Alexander did more than sew while interning at the Wearable Electronics Lab at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She helped with a vapor-phase “deposition” process to create the fabric electrodes that can be sewn onto garments, including the eye mask invented by the team.

The mask is designed to track pulse and eye movement and will enable a host of sleep and psycho-social studies in addition to improving the accuracy and usability of gaming and virtual reality headsets, said Trisha L. Andrew, materials chemist and director of the Wearable Electronics Lab.

Andrews said she is proud of Alexander, who she described as an exceptional student.

“During her internship, Emerson learned how to perform a process called reactive vapor deposition, which we developed in our lab to create such robust, fabric-based devices,” Andrew said. “The exciting feature of these thread-based electrodes—which Emerson helped name tAgTrodes—is that they can simply be embroidered or sewn into any desired shape and pattern, onto any commercial article of clothing, and can be treated as harshly as we treat our clothing without losing their electrode performance.”

Alexander took part in a paid internship funded by a $2,500 L’Oréal USA Changing the Face of STEM grant to increase hands-on research opportunities for community college students. Alexander received training to create garment-integrated sensors from fall 2018 until spring 2020.

Alexander said she was grateful to Reena Randhir, the director of the STEM Starter Academy, who helped her get the internship.

Inspired by her training at the Wearable Electronics Lab, Alexander created an electronic device to be worn on the wrist and to take measurements to gauge stress levels. She brought the idea to a STCC Stem Starter Academy contest and won first place in the “STCC Creates” event.

“Emerson was a top performer in our STEM Starter Academy’s summer bridge program,” Randhir said. “Emerson was diligent, curious about science and would participate actively in our events. She continues to serve as our mentor and ambassador for the program. She was also active in the STCC soccer team winning several laurels. We’re proud of her and know she has a bright future.”  

Emerson hopes to one day become a dentist. She said she will always cherish her memories of STCC and be grateful for the rich opportunities the college afforded.

She received an associate in science in Engineering and Science Transfer. The degree meant she could seamlessly transfer her credits from STCC to the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her advice to current STCC students: Take advantage of internships and other opportunities at STCC.

“STCC was really a good bridge from a high school to a four-year university. STCC also was affordable. I saved a lot of money,” Alexander said. “I made a lot of connections that I wouldn’t have necessarily made if I went straight to a big university. I thought the teachers were helpful and the students were really nice.”

Interested in applying to STCC? Visit stcc.edu/apply or call Admissions at (413) 755-3333.

About Springfield Technical Community College

Founded in 1967 and located on 35 acres of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, STCC is a major resource for the economic vitality of Western Massachusetts. As the only technical community college in Massachusetts, STCC offers a variety of career programs unequalled in the state. STCC’s highly regarded transfer programs in business, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, liberal arts, and STEM fields continue to provide the most affordable options for students pursuing a four-year degree. With an annual enrollment of about 7,000 day, evening, weekend, and online students, STCC is a vibrant campus rich in diversity.

For more information about STCC, visit www.stcc.edu.