Grace Peng is a Program Director for the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) within the National Institutes of Health. She is responsible for overseeing programs that span across the areas of mathematical modeling, simulation and analysis methods, and next generation engineering systems for rehabilitation, neuroengineering, and surgical systems. Her role includes staying abreast of the latest cutting-edge research and technological advances coming out of the field. Peng’s zeal for biomedical engineering lies in applying engineering principles to real-life health issues facing people everyday.
Peng pursued her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana. She selected a bioengineering track within her program. One of her research projects involved designing a noise-emitting device measuring the PH of a swimming pool for the blind. “I wanted to apply engineering principles to solve human problems,” said Peng. Another project focused on developing a means of communication for persons who cannot speak. Peng was developing a passion for adapting engineering techniques for people who can’t process information the same way as others.
After completing her undergraduate training, Peng enrolled in Northwestern University’s graduate program in biomedical engineering. “I chose Northwestern because they had a broad choice of focus areas within biomedical engineering that I could explore. I was still narrowing-in on my interests.” She initially focused on designing new optical microscopes for imaging the cochlea for her Masters thesis, then ultimately focused her research on developing computational models of the vestibular system, controlling motion and balance in humans for her PhD thesis. Peng had the opportunity to connect with prominent researchers through conferences and lab visits. Those experiences enabled her to become comfortable networking and making connections in the research world.
Peng continued her research on the vestibular system during her post doc at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School where she studied patients with dizziness. Next, she landed a faculty position at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 2002, Peng transitioned to working for the U.S. federal government within NIH, where she currently works.
At NIH, Peng particularly enjoys interacting with PI’s and colleagues, planning new initiatives, and acting as a facilitator. “It’s really a bigger picture look at science and guiding where the whole field should go. This is my niche. I really enjoy what I do.” Peng advises potential grantees, follows the progress of grantees under her portfolio, and shares in the joys of discoveries that happen along the way. And when discoveries are made, patients reach out to the NIH and thank them for providing hope. “It’s really rewarding.”