Junior James Trevathan Pursuing the Intersection of Physics and Medicine

Posted on September 21st, 2012 by

James Trevathan ’14

Gustavus Adolphus College junior James Trevathan ’14 still has nearly two years left before he completes his undergraduate degree, but that isn’t keeping him from looking toward the future. Given all that Trevathan has experienced and accomplished during his first two years as a student at Gustavus, that future certainly looks bright.

If you take one look at his resume, it seems as though Trevathan hasn’t allowed one academic opportunity to slip past him. He has taken advantage of numerous student-faculty research opportunities, secured a prestigious summer internship at the Mayo Clinic, and most recently applied for and received a scholarship from the Minnesota High Tech Association.

Professor of Physics Steve Mellema calls Trevathan “one of those students who make it really fun to come to work every day.” Trevathan’s advisor in the Physics Department, Professor Paul Saulnier has similar glowing statements about the Apple Valley native.

“James is a student who is interested in everything. Outside of class he has done independent research projects with several members of the Physics Department, while in class he is always seeking to go well beyond what is required of him,” Saulnier said. “He wants to understand the material at a deep level and not just get an assignment done in the most expedient way.”

Trevathan spent the summer of 2011 after this freshman year at Gustavus conducting research in Professor Tom Huber’s acoustics lab. That research involved the vibration of cantilevers with the use of a laser vibrometer and was funded through a grant Huber the College received from the National Science Foundation.

“That was a great experience – to be able to do research over the summer full time,” Trevathan said. “I learned a lot that summer about my interests as well as the process of scientific research.”

Trevathan has also conducted research alongside Saulnier in his optics lab. Together, Trevathan and Saulnier are studying the intensity distribution of laser speckle produced by the spatially coherent waves passing through diffuse media.

“I’ve been involved in research with Professor Saulnier since the second semester of my freshman year,” Trevathan said. “He’s a great guy, an excellent teacher, and I’ve learned a lot from him.”

This past summer, Trevathan decided to go off-campus to enrich his academic profile and was able to secure a prestigious internship at the Mayo Clinic that is typically received by students entering their senior year of undergraduate study.

Trevathan’s internship allowed him work at Mayo’s CT Clinical Innovations Center under the direction of Dr. Cynthia H. McCollough. The Center is an interdisciplinary collaboration between clinical investigators, research scientists, and industry partners with the mission of facilitating high-impact imaging innovations that will translate into patient care.

Trevathan (far left) and two fellow Gustavus students working in Professor Tom Huber’s acoustics lab.

Trevathan and his colleagues at the Center worked on a couple of projects including one involving the development of a technique to differentiate between two different types of kidney stones – Calcium Oxalate Monohydrate (COM) stones and Calcium Oxalate Dihydrate (COD) stones. Travathan says that health care providers want to be able to distinguish between these two types of kidney stones because one breaks up when treated with ultrasound lithotripsy and the other does not.

“Standard dual energy CT methods can’t distinguish between the two types of stones because they have similar effective atomic masses, so we developed a method that looked at the surface curvature of the stones,” Trevathan said. “One type forms with a smooth surface and the other with a rough outside surface. We developed an algorithm that measured the curvature of the stones surface through CT and then you are able to differentiate between the two types of stones with reasonable accuracy.”

Trevathan is a co-author on a paper regarding this newly developed method that is being submitted to the Journal of Urology.

“The CT Clinical Innovations Center was a great lab for me to work in considering what my interests are,” Trevathan said. “I’m interested in the medical applications of physics and biomedical engineering. The Clinical Innovations Center at Mayo had a physics aspect to it and a medical aspect to it.”

Trevathan enjoyed his experience at Mayo so much that he is planning on returning there to work during the summer of 2013. After he graduates from Gustavus in the spring of 2014, he is considering applying for a seven-year graduate school program at Mayo that would allow him to earn both an M.D. and a Ph.D in biomedical engineering. That’s not to say that Trevathan is overlooking his junior year at Gustavus. His classes this semester include Mechanics, Experimental Modern Physics, along with Organic Chemistry II and Intro to Biology.

Trevathan also received a nice surprise during the first week of classes this semester when he was notified that he was the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship from the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA). The MHTA scholarships are given to promising undergraduate students working toward their degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.

“Receiving the scholarship was a rewarding experience,” Trevathan said. “I can’t thank my mentors here at Gustavus enough, especially the faculty in the Physics Department. My first two years here at Gustavus have been a great experience and have really laid the foundation for the rest of my career.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin



  1. RJ Ulbricht says:

    Super work on the curvature of stones. I was just golfing this afternoon with the owner of a local mobile lithotripsy company. We have chatted in the past about the procedure, but he has never mentioned determining whether COM of COD before. His http://mobileonelithotripsy.com/ would be pretty interested in this.

  2. RJ Ulbricht says:

    Sorry, also meant to mentioned that I drove by your college one week ago when travelling from Terminal 2 in The Cids to the Worthington area vacationing in home state.