Optical Phantoms Work Wins Student Research Prize

Senior Jerry So and junior Sheryas Chandragiri took the Grand Prize in Summer Research Poster Symposium on July 28. Working with Dr. Chetan Patil, the two developed optical phantoms, or recreated tissue, to help mobile-based diagnosis of disorders in newborns.

So and Chandragiri joined Dr. Patil’s lab earlier in their academic careers. Chandragiri credits the department’s social hours with allowing him, as a freshman, to meet the new professor and find out more about his research. So joined during his sophomore year.

The work on this project actually began last summer with literature reviews. “The field for phantoms, at least for skin phantoms, is a lot smaller than we thought,” So recalled. “Our goal for the project was to make phantoms that had known scatterings and absorbing properties. For polydiamethale siloxane, that wasn’t shown before. Our project for the year was trying to do this.” They helped build up the lab and procured materials while finding new ways to design these phantoms.  

So and Chandragiri worked throughout the school year with Dr. Patil on this research, reaching a breakthrough in June after designing an analysis process and accurately executing it. “The poster and presentation we gave at the symposium was more like a story of the past year,” So noted. “One of the goals that we said was trying to make sure we were able to include these properties well and being able to characterize them afterwards.”

“It was a two-part project,” Chandragiri added. “One part was can we make these, can we make them so they’re consistent, that they don’t have inclusions. The next part was characterizing them and seeing what the optical properties of these things actually are.”

While both are on pre-health tracks, they appreciate the interdisciplinary approach bioengineering offers. Classes in chemistry, physics, even coding helped the students with aspects of their research, while engineering classes helped them take on this project and devise a plan to accomplish their goals.

For those looking to join a lab as an underclassmen, So suggests stepping out of your comfort zone and going to meetings with projects that match your interests. Chandragiri mentioned Temple promotes students getting involved early, which isn’t the case at some other schools. “Temple makes it really easy to do research,” he said. “I’ve talked to friends at other schools and if you’re a freshman or sophomore it’s very hard to get into a lab. I came in before I even finished my freshman year and I was able to do a lot.

“If you want to get into a lab, just talk to professors. Wait for something that makes you interested. Getting your foot into a lab isn’t hard but a lot of information can be very intimidating. When I came in I understood about 10 percent of what was being said. It’s a huge step when you’re working towards what was being said by other people. Once you do that, I think everything else becomes a lot easier.” 

--Marco Cerino