Radiologist discusses medical technology needs with software engineering students

Dr. Charlene Varnis explains how complex formulas lead to real-world applications

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Dr. Charlene Varnis, a radiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, delivered a lecture to RIT software engineering students April 8, stressing the need to understand the practical uses of applications when developing technology.

Second-year software engineering students in the Engineering of Software Subsystems class are in the midst of building a simplified version of a medical image viewer program, which radiologists such as Varnis use to diagnose patients.

“It’s really important for software engineers to understand the needs of the user,” says software engineering professor Jim Vallino, who teaches the course. “We were able to put together a description of the project, but we didn’t connect for the students why they were doing what they were doing. Why does the image need to be manipulated this way? What purpose does it serve? Dr. Varnis was able to answer those questions.”

Vallino says that enrollment in computing disciplines across the country dropped earlier this decade. Many computing experts believe that decline was because today’s students want a strong connection to the “real world.” A desire to provide that connection inspired Vallino to invite Varnis to class.

“Now students are understanding that the things they will work on as software engineers will make a big difference,” Vallino says. “They’ll be doing things like helping radiologists tell the difference between normal tissue in the body and a tumor.”