Who is Muyinatu Bell, the Engineer Who Won the Alan T. Waterman Award

Muyinatu Bell the first recipient from Johns Hopkins to win the Alan T. Waterman Award in 48 years.

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Who is Muyinatu Bell, the Engineer Who Won the Johns Hopkins Alan T. Waterman Award

Muyinatu “Bisi” Bell a researcher in medical imaging technology at Johns Hopkins University, has been awarded the 2024 Alan T. Waterman Award, the nation’s highest honor for early career scientists and engineers.

Bell, the John C. Malone Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was recognized for her groundbreaking interdisciplinary work spanning photoacoustic and ultrasound imaging. Her innovations include developing the world’s first short-lag spatial coherence beamformer that revolutionized imaging clarity for ultrasound.

Established by Congress in 1975, the prestigious Waterman Award includes a $1 million research grant over five years. Bell is the first recipient from Johns Hopkins in the award’s 48-year history.

“I am grateful and honored that the esteemed selection committee chose me to receive this award, which has an amazingly rich history and inspiring legacy,” said Bell.

Early Life and Education

Muyinatu Bell was born in Brooklyn, New York, United States. At age six she decided she wanted to be a scientist. Bell attended Brooklyn Technical High School and was selected to take part in a math and science program for successful women sophomores

Bell earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a Biomedical Engineering minor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006 and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University in 2012. She later completed postdoctoral research in computer science at Johns Hopkins University.

Career and Accomplishment

When Muyinatu Lediju Bell was a student at MIT, her mother died from breast cancer. Bell thought her mother may have lived if doctors found the cancer earlier. This made Bell want to fix the problem of blurry ultrasound images. Blurry images make it hard for doctors to catch cancer and other diseases quickly. So Bell decided to study what causes some ultrasound pictures to be unclear. This led her to developed and patented a novel signal processing technique that produces clearer ultrasound images in real time. 

Her research also focuses on reducing acoustic clutter and skin tone bias in photoacoustic imaging, promoting more equitable healthcare practices for diverse communities.

“Bisi is at the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries that benefit individuals and society, making medical procedures more effective, safer, and available more equitably,” said Ed Schlesinger, dean of Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering. “She is a multidisciplinary pioneer, and this achievement recognizes her innovative solutions to complex problems.”

Recently, Bell has applied artificial intelligence techniques to detect COVID-19 in lung ultrasound images, advancing medical diagnostics. Her work spans neurosurgery, cardiovascular health, women’s health, and cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Bell’s long list of honors includes being named to MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 list, receiving the NIH Director’s Trailblazer Award and NSF CAREER Award, and being elected as a Fellow of several prestigious scientific organizations.

Among Bell’s most significant honors are being elected as a Fellow of Optica (2024) and SPIE (2023), the prestigious societies for optics and photonics. She also received the IEEE Ultrasonics Early Career Investigator Award (2022) and was elected to AIMBE, the top society for medical and biological engineering (2022). Previously, she was named a Sloan Research Fellow (2019), Maryland’s Outstanding Young Engineer (2019), and one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 (2016).

Recognition of Bell’s paradigm-shifting work includes the NIH Trailblazer Award (2018) for high-risk, high-impact research, as well as an NSF CAREER Award (2018). With over 60 published journal articles and an extensive list of patents pending, Bell is just getting started on achieving her goal of advancing healthcare for all through continuous innovation.

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