By Rob O'Connor '95
Dr. Sandy Simon Halliburton '94
has grown accustomed to succeeding in seemingly strange situations.
graduating summa cum laude from Hendrix with a physics degree, Halliburton went
immediately to Vanderbilt University, where she earned her master's degree and
doctorate in biomedical engineering.
"I was very nervous majoring in
biomedical engineering at an elite university," said Halliburton, whose graduate
classmates held engineering degrees from top-ranked schools such as Duke
University and Johns Hopkins University.
Though the head of the biomedical
engineering program knew of Hendrix and its reputation, Halliburton was offered
only a 50 percent tuition remission for graduate school, which is considered
"one step above rejection" in the field, she said.
Fortunately, she was
awarded a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which included a
stipend and three years of paid tuition expenses.
"I can credit [Hendrix
physics professor] Bob Dunn for that," said Halliburton, who worked for Dr. Dunn
as a research assistant. "He encouraged me to apply and helped me put together a
"That award obviously got me a little recognition when
I started, but I still had a bit of an inferiority complex, coupled with being a
physics major jumping fields and types of institutions," she said. "But by the
end of the first year, I knew it was a great fit."
She also received a
training grant from the National Institutes of Health during her time at
Vanderbilt, where she was a member of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor
Her master's thesis and doctoral dissertation focused on aspects of
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This research, coupled with the emerging
technology of cardiac computed tomography (CT), gave shape to her post-graduate
Since 1999, Halliburton has worked as a cardiac imaging scientist at
the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, where she develops and implements novel
and state-of-the-art CT imaging and post-processing techniques for clinical
cardiac studies. She also holds staff appointments at Cleveland Clinic in the
cardiovascular medicine and biomedical engineering departments and serves as an
adjunct professor in the biomedical and chemical engineering department of
Cleveland State University.
Just as she felt in graduate school, Halliburton
found herself to be unique in her new environment.
"I'm a technical person in
a sea of clinical people," she said. "It's medically trained people (e.g.,
radiologists, cardiologists, nurses) and me, a scientist."
medical teams understand the technical aspects of the imaging equipment so that
physicians can get more diagnostic value out of cardiac CT images.
technology has evolved with new machine hardware and software, my role is to
help integrate that into the clinical environment," she said.
research areas include radiation dose optimization, contrast agent dose
optimization, dual energy CT, iterative image reconstruction, atherosclerotic
plaque characterization, and coronary calcium scoring.
"Our research is very
close to clinical application," she said, adding that her "army" of researchers
generally includes one Ph.D. student and maybe a couple of research fellows.
"Our interest is in some particular challenge in the clinical environment at the
Halliburton has become the go-to person for education on new CT
technology. She routinely gives "technical talks" to cardiologists and
radiologists at medical conferences around the world.
"I speak all the time,"
she said. "My personal niche is the ability to communicate. It's what's given me
a career ... As a liaison between the CT industry and physicians, I take
complicated physics and engineering concepts and distill that down to language
that clinicians with different training can understand. That's what I do."
Halliburton credits Hendrix with honing her communication skills.
I value most from Hendrix is my ability to write," she said. "I didn't think
about it at the time, but I was writing mini-papers in Calculus I. Lab reports
were writing assignments."
"I advise students writing dissertations. They're
great engineering students, but their writing is often disappointing," she said.
"There's an idea that engineers can't write, and that's supposed to be
acceptable in some way? Not to me."
"If I zone in on one thing that has
helped me in my career, it's the ability to communicate and take complicated
things and make them understandable," she said. "If you can't communicate what
you learn, what you discover, you might as well not even do the work."
Halliburton and her husband, Michael Halliburton '94, live in Shaker Heights,
Ohio, with their two children.