Cambridge Calling

School of Science alumnus is working on revolutionizing the MRI system as part of his research with the National Institute of Health-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, a doctoral training program for outstanding science students.

It just wasn’t working out at Carnegie Mellon University, so Prantik Kundu ’07 returned home after his freshman year. He moved in with his parents in Queens, while he tried to figure out his next move — he wanted something different. 

Kundu decided to go to Manhattan College, the same school his father, Ranjit Kundu ’80, attended. “I just wanted a place that had a tight-knit community,” says Kundu, who graduated with a B.S. in chemistry. “And my dad suggested Manhattan.”

Kundu spent much of his time as a student at Manhattan as a research scientist. Today, he is in his third year at the National Institute of Health (NIH)-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program. The program, as he explains, is an accelerated, individualized doctoral training program for outstanding science students committed to biomedical research careers. It is based on the British system in which students perform doctoral research without required formal courses other than those that students take in relationship to their interests. Those selected for admission to the program have already developed a sophisticated scientific background by having engaged in research as undergraduates.

While in the program, students undertake a collaborative Ph.D. project in any area of biomedical investigation with two research mentors: one at the National Institute of Health intramural campus in Bethesda, Md. (where Kundu spent his first two years) and one at either Oxford or Cambridge universities (where he will spend his next two years).

Kundu decided to earn his Ph.D. from Cambridge and says that the university’s prestigious alumni, such as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, made his decision easier.

Manhattan Laid the Groundwork for Success

Even though the NIH-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program is fairly new, Kundu experienced a similar program while still at Manhattan in 2006. At the urging of his chemistry professor, Joseph Capitani, Ph.D., Kundu participated in a program at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. At the completion of the program, he ranked first place out of the 200 student researchers.

“Manhattan and the professors were just super encouraging,” Kundu says. “They sent me to conferences and allowed me to get all this experience, and that’s really helped with [the NIH-Oxford-Cambridge] program.”

The professors were super encouraging. They sent me to conferences and allowed me to get all this experience, and that’s really helped with [the NIH-Oxford-Cambridge] program.

It’s a scholars program where Kundu routinely talks science with graduates of MIT, Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

“It was definitely a little weird in the beginning,” he says of starting in the NIH-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program.

Not coming from a traditional research school, Kundu was a little intimidated at first, but he soon realized that his time at Manhattan was more than enough to prepare him for the challenge.

“I didn’t feel like I was the classical student, but when I was at Manhattan, they gave me a chance to be creative,” he says. “They gave me enough access to make things happen, but it’s small enough where they will give you the attention you need.”

That attention and freedom was apparent early on to him.

Kundu, along with faculty and student support, began the Manhattan College High-Performance Computer Initiative, a grant proposal to obtain high-performance computers for Manhattan.

“It’s a big processing system,” Kundu says of the computers. “It’s able to do real hard, computational math. That was a resource that wasn’t available for student use at the time. But Manhattan supported me and gave me an opportunity to pursue something I thought we needed.”

MRI Breakthrough

Kundu’s current project is a little bigger.

After spending his past two years in Bethesda at the National Institute of Health, Kundu, along with his fellow researchers, are nearing completion of an important change to the MRI system.

“We submitted a paper about the change, and we really think this could be a groundbreaking method,” he says.

According to Kundu, when an MRI scans a person’s brain, the patient needs to react or move in order for doctors to map out the different parts of the brain. However, with this new breakthrough, he says that within 10 minutes of having an MRI, this method automatically maps out a person’s brain without needing the patient to do specific tasks.

“If a person is unconscious or paralyzed, we’d still be able to map out their brain,” Kundu says. “This is something that’s important to neurosurgery because a surgeon needs to know how a person’s brain operates.”

Now that Kundu has headed to England to complete his Ph.D. program, he will finalize his MRI method. But while his first two years in this prestigious program have been a great learning experience, it’s those Manhattan professors that he credits for his success.

“I had really educated professors [at Carnegie Mellon], and I didn’t think I’d find people like that anywhere else,” he says. “Then I came to Manhattan, and there are some really, really smart people at this small liberal arts school.

“And they were more than willing to help out an eager student and give me the attention I needed. I don’t think I would have gotten that anywhere else. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without going to Manhattan.”