Curiosity inspires great things – and a nearly $1M grant

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Achyuthan Jootoo Ramesh Bapu had a $1M idea. Photo provided.

Through creative freedom and curiosity, Achyuthan Jootoo Ramesh Bapu had an idea during his time as a PhD civil engineering student at George Mason University. 

That idea eventually led to Mason’s College of Public Health and College of Engineering and Computing receiving a $988,599 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for a three-year study on bruise analysis. The study is led by College of Public Health Associate Professor Kat Scafide and CEC Associate Professor David Lattanzi. Janusz Wojtusiak, professor of Health Informatics in the College of Public Health, also serves as co-PI on the study.

“By being able to determine the age of bruises regardless of skin tone, through image processing and AI, it’s a step towards helping domestic violence victims as they go through the medical and legal processes,” says Jootoo. 

Now working at LinkedIn, Jootoo connected a few dots while studying at Mason. He saw that the work of Lattanzi and Scafide had many parallels.  

“Achyuthan is the only reason this project happened,” says Lattanzi. “He exemplifies how doctoral students make research happen at the university because they see the bigger picture.” 

Jootoo began participating as a volunteer in Scafide’s work in injury analysis. Through sheer curiosity he asked questions, did some research on his own, and thought about Lattanzi’s work in image analysis and machine learning. He suggested Lattanzi and Scafide talk, and a collaboration was born.  

“The goal of the project is to identify how bruises age over time,” says Jootoo. He participated as a volunteer at the beginning of the bruise imaging study, where small, non-harmful bruises were inflicted on participants and then analyzed in the following weeks to look at color, skin pigments, and how bruises appear and change on darker skin tones. 

He says applying sophisticated image analysis to bruising could help curb any bias or subjectivity from medical practitioners and law enforcement examining a potential domestic violence victim, particularly if the person has darker skin. Having concrete data of bruising could help victims get the treatment and support they need. 

“During my time at Mason, I felt encouraged to think creatively and explore anything that caught my interest, even if it wasn’t within my specific degree concentration,” Jootoo said.  

Lattanzi says it’s important for professors to give students the freedom to explore, because great things can happen. 

“When you advise graduate students, it’s the easy thing to tell them to focus on one project,” he says. “But it’s good to support students like Achyuthan, that demonstrate curiosity and interest, to let them explore. It can come back tenfold.”