Meet our 3rd Annual Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award Winner, Dr. Maura Casciola from Rome, Italy

Dr. Maura Casciola interview

I caught up with Dr. Casciola just as she and her colleague were finishing up an experiment in her lab at the Frank Reidy Center for Bioelectrics, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA

The Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award is presented each year to a young Ph.D. researching the effects of Pulsed Electromagnetic fields on biological systems.  For our third annual award, we presented in Portoroz, Slovenia at the Annual Joint meeting of the Biolectromagnetics Society (BEMS) and the European BioElectromagnetics Association (EBEA).   As we approach our 4th Annual award presentation,  we wanted to take a moment to highlight our 3rd Annual award winner, Dr. Maura Casciola of Rome, Italy.   Currently, Dr. Casciola is conducting research at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.  I caught up with Dr. Casciola quite literally while she was conducting an experiment in her lab!  Here’s what she had to say:

Astrid:  Thank you for speaking with me today! Can you summarize your research for us?

Dr. Casciola:  Since 2016 I have been studying neuron excitation using Pulsed Electric Fields.  My study, entitled, “Nanosecond bipolar cancellation of action potentials in nerve fibers” sought to show the effects of nanosecond, millisecond, high-intensity pulsed electric fields (PEF’s) on biological targets.  By adjusting the amplitude as well as duration, plus the inter-pulse intervals of a bipolar nanosecond pulse, we show that we can reduce and eventually suppress the response of the nerve.

Astrid:  For those who may not understand the significance of your study, can you explain why you are excited about this finding? 

Dr. Casciola:  If we can suppress the response of cells close to the electrodes while maintaining the response in a remote area, this opens up the possibility of remote, targeted deep tissue stimulation.  Using electrodes in contact with the surface of the body we could trigger the response of any deep region without damaging the surrounding tissues.

Astrid:  What other potential applications can you think of that we can getting excited about from further research in this area?

Dr. Casciola:  Right now, we are at the stage of looking for the optimization of the experimental condition to reduce the response of the cells surrounding the area to be treated.   If we can find the optimal conditions, this can lead to exciting possibilities such as aiding in tumor ablation or even Parkinson’s Disease.  But we are not there quite yet.

Astrid: Had you heard about Dr. Pilla before applying for this award? 

Dr. Casciola:  Since I was 24 years old during my studies I have often come across Dr. Pilla’s studies.  He was one of the first in this field and I am honored to have been awarded the 3rd Annual Dr. Pilla Young Scientist Award.

Astrid:  Why do you think it is important for young scientists to be offered an Award and and recognition such as this one?

Dr. Casciola:  In our field, prizes are very important!  Awards motivate young scientists to work harder;  Many times, Awards are only offered to Senior Scientists.  Therefore, this Award lets us know that we are important and motivates the mind; It motivates us to do better, achieve more… 

If we, as young scientists have a goal to focus on, it is much more motivating and easier to put in the effort.

The potential for this award pushed me to get results.  In sum, an award such as the Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award pushes young Ph.D.’s to be the best.  My generation, we are all motivated and push ourselves and this award is a key supporting factor in that.

Astrid:  What does this award give you in terms of how you can use it ?

Dr. Casciola:  When this Award is presented to a young scientist, it is official proof of the capability and skill of the Ph.D. candidate’s duties required and training to apply for important positions, for example.  When interacting with other scientists and organizations, it is a well-respected Award that immediately attracts attention.  It is important recognition during your Ph.D. that can absolutely open up the possibility much more easily to further funding and support, as well as finding advanced positions in our field.


To support this yearly award given to a young Ph.D. candidate researching the therapeutic effects of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF) on biological systems, please consider donating to keep this award alive for years to come. The Arthur A. Pilla Research Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) Public Charity and all donations are tax deductible.

The fourth Annual Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award will be awarded in Montpellier, France during the Annual Meeting from June 23-28, 2019.   Donate today to the Arthur Pilla Research Foundation in support of young scientists at this annual event!


2nd Annual Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award Winner at BioEM2017 Hails from Zurich, Switzerland

During BioEM2017, a joint annual meeting between the Bioelectromagnetics Society (BEMS) and the European BioElectromagnetics Association (EBEA), our 2nd annual Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award winner was selected!  The meeting, which took place June 5-9, 2017 in Hangzhou, China, had 5 entries this year- with topics ranging from nerve stimulation by PEMF, modeling of electroporation, magnetophosphene perception at Extremely Low Frequency magnetic fields and bacterial absorption of THz.

Dr. Manuel Murbach, from Zurich, Switzerland, was chosen as our winner for having the best presentation this year with his study entitled, “Numerical MRI Radiofrequency Exposure Estimation in Morphed Patient Anatomies”.   Manuel won a $1,200 cash prize, as well as a copy of Dr. Marko Markov’s book, “Dosimetry in Electromagnetics”, donated by Dr. Markov.

Read on to learn about the study “Numerical MRI Radiofrequency Exposure Estimation in morphed patient anatomies” and about Manuel’s view of the importance of a Young Scientist Award.

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Dr. Manuel Murbach of Zurich explains his winning research project and his view on why making Awards like this available to young scientists are so important.

Background:  In 2008, Manuel conducted a study on the effect of mobile phones on human sleep.    His current MRI safety study involve electromagnetic fields that are 100 times stronger than mobile phones.  For humans, as Magnetic Resonance Devices evolve and get stronger and faster, our safety protocols for new machines must be updated and modified.  FDA approval for all new machines is complex and this study seeks to aid and simplify this process for manufacturers.   When studying the effect of an MRI on human tissue, certain virtual body models are used, but Manuel found that there are currently not enough body types offered, therefore he developed a system whereby one can choose any body type to put into a virtual MRI machine and simulate how the radiation travels and can effect human fat and muscle tissue.  Manuel developed this MORPH tool to make it easier to see the effect of an MRI on someone with more muscle tissue, for example.  “We can cover more patient anatomies with this tool and get a better view on how an MRI affects certain human body types”, states Manuel.  For example, we can answer the question of whether obesity lowers or increases the safety of an MRI for certain body types.  At first glance, it looked like having more body fat was actually a good thing, and those with leaner bodies and more muscle tissue were more affected.  The new generations of MRI devices have quite different excitation technologies in order to among other things, speed up image taking, and these new machines need to be tested for safety.    MRI manufacturers must prove to the FDA that they have covered all types of scenarios and this tool will make it easier for manufacturers to do just that, which in turn translates to better patient safety.  A win-win in my book!


Manuel Murbach accepts his certificate, $1200 prize money and book entitled “Dosimetry in Electromagnetics”, donated by Dr. Marko Markov

“In the end, we are moving in the right direction and this study could potentially lead to a new protocol on how to measure MRI safety on ALL body types, whether we have more or less muscle tissue, whether we have a very slight frame and not much fat around our organs, or if there is a lot of fat tissue”, says Manuel.  All of these factors can impact the effect an MRI can have on tissue and organs.

For Manuel, having a young student award stimulates creativity and energizes meetings.  It motivates young scientists to do their best and gives a certain environment of positive challenge and competition to the meetings, something that is very important in getting our younger scientists interested and involved.   I love to hear this and cannot wait to award our Third Annual Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award in Slovenia next year!  So get your submissions in soon and see you in Slovenia!


For those very young scientists out there, it’s always interesting to find out how a scientist arrived at their present day activity.  In Manuel’s case, he started in electro-technical engineering studies, which he did not fully enjoy.  He ended up earning a Master’s Degree in Biomedical technology.   “The interaction between tech and humans is what I like”, says Manuel.  That, coupled with a love of teaching and social service is why Manuel does what he does today.  Manuel is currently working at The Foundation for Research on Information Technologies in Society (IT’IS) – a non profit organization dedicated to improving our quality of life by enhancing the safety and quality of emerging electromagnetic technologies.  Read about his latest study here.


Written by:  Astrid Pilla, President of the Arthur Pilla Research Foundation.  © June 2018