Commencement 2007: Student-Athlete Aims To Tackle Medical Challenges
Troy, N.Y. — No one can say Abigail Eldridge wasted any time
during her four years at Rensselaer Polytechnic
Along with conducting cutting-edge bioengineering and
nanotechnology research, she served in Rensselaer’s student
government, played on three varsity sports teams, and loaded up
on extra classes. She also managed to sneak in a pair of
internships, including one at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic
Lerner Research Institute.
“I like being busy,” Eldridge said with a smile. “If I’m not
busy, I don’t feel productive.”
But the senior biomedical engineering major does plan to
take a break from her studies and activities on May 19 to
participate in Rensselaer’s 201st Commencement
Eldridge hails from Northfield, Mass., a small town of less
than 3,000 people — about one-third the population of
Rensselaer’s Troy, N.Y., campus. Her research, however, aims to
tackle truly global challenges.
Throughout her senior year, Eldridge has been a key
contributor to an ongoing project at Rensselaer to investigate
ways of expediting the regeneration of damaged nervous system
cells. The research team is examining how tiny engineered
scaffolds and different combinations of stimuli can promote
cell re-growth and help damaged cells reconnect with muscles,
sensory receptors, and other targets in the body.
If a favorable combination is identified, a small matrix
could be implanted in an injury site to help recreate precise
microenvironments that encourage healing and regeneration. A
breakthrough could lead to significant advancements for
treating spinal cord injuries.
Eldridge took her first biomedical engineering class as a
sophomore, and by the end of that year she decided to major —
and pursue a career — in the field. She is particularly
interested in furthering her exploration of nanotechnology’s
role and continued impact on bioengineering, but said it’s
still too early to decide on a specific concentration.
“I’d like to go into something where I could draw on all my
experiences and studies,” Eldridge said, noting that she’s
currently applying to several graduate schools. “I really just
like trying to figure things out.”
Her faculty adviser and leader of the nervous system cell
re-growth project, Deanna M. Thompson, an assistant professor
in Rensselaer’s School of Engineering, is confident of
Eldridge’s continued success.
“Abby is an enthusiastic and highly motivated student and I
expect that she will continue to impress us with many diverse
sets of accomplishments as she embarks on her newest goal,
graduate school, to pursue her doctorate,” Thompson
Eldridge also was involved in a project to demonstrate
better, more effective bioartificial kidneys, which incorporate
a patient’s own kidney cells and help filter waste out of the
bloodstream. Last year she spent eight months in Ohio at the
Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, as part of
Rensselaer’s Cooperative Education Program.
The opportunity, part internship and part academic exchange
program, afforded Eldridge hands-on lab experience as well as
the chance to see the project through to peer-reviewed
publication, she said. The resulting paper is currently under
review by the American Journal of Physiology - Renal
Eldridge’s role in the project was chemically modifying the
nanoengineered surface of a bioartificial kidney to more
efficiently repel blood and attract nutrient-absorbing renal
cells. Scientists anticipate implantable bioartificial kidneys
will one day be a long-term solution more effective and less
disabling than dialysis for millions of kidney failure
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation,
and Eldridge will return to the Cleveland Clinic this summer to
work on a similar project to improve the design of a
When not conducting research, Eldridge has been deeply
involved in Rensselaer’s campus community.
As a junior she sat on the Rensselaer Union Executive Board,
which is responsible for distributing the student government’s
$8.5 million budget to different school clubs, services, and
athletic teams. Eldridge served as chair of the Union’s
Athletic Board and oversaw funding of Rensselaer’s 23 Division
I and Division III teams.
The insight to hold such an important position was
undoubtedly gained firsthand. Eldridge played on Rensselaer’s
varsity soccer team her freshman and sophomore years. She also
played varsity softball for three years, but had to give it up
as a junior after a shoulder injury.
“It’s OK — because of that I was able to pick up extra
research,” she said.
Eldridge was also a member of the RPI Alpine Ski Racing Team
for four years, functioning as coach and holding different
positions including vice-president, treasurer, and secretary.
During her senior year she also played intramural hockey and
In April, Eldridge was inducted into Rensselaer’s Phalanx
honor society. The school’s highest honor society, Phalanx
members are nominated by their peers for excellence in
leadership, service, and devotion to their alma mater.
Despite her long list of accomplishments and awards,
Eldridge remains humble and stresses she was simply taking
advantage of all the different ways to get involved at
“I think it makes you a well-rounded person,” she
said. “I’ve really enjoyed my experience here.”
Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161