What I Did on My Summer Vacation - Research

Classes end in May but that doesn’t mean things shut down on campus. Actually, some of your classmates were actively conducting research with professors at the College of Engineering.  Here’s what they shared about their experiences.

What was the focus of your role and how did you get the position?

James Karchner, senior majoring in Bioengineering - I am returning to this position from last summer, which is through the University of California-San Diego STARS program. STARS is a summer research program for students interested in pursuing graduate degrees. I am funded by the MARC U-STAR program here at Temple, which is an NIH grant funded program designed for students dedicated to pursuing graduate degrees in the biomedical sciences. The MARC program provides funding for two summers of research, which allowed me to reach out to labs that I am interested in. Initially I reached out to Dr. Robert Sah, which was encouraged by my PI at Temple, Dr. Nancy Pleshko, because of the similarities in my interests with his research. Dr. Sah and Dr. Pleshko then encouraged me to apply to the STARS program, and I am extremely grateful to have been accepted two summers in a row.

John Kelley, CE ’16, Graduate Student majoring in Civil Engineering - I started as a graduate research assistant after working as an undergraduate research assistant for one year with Dr. Ryan in the Civil Engineering Department. I was interested in pursuing a graduate degree and Dr. Ryan encouraged me to apply for the program to become a research assistant.

Emily Kight, senior majoring in Bioengineering - I'm focused on microengineered platforms that allow the study of multiple aspects of the metastatic microenvironment. I'm working on a project where I create microfluidic devices to study how cancer cells change motility through different channels. I'm creating my own 3-D printed project for this so we can standardize the distance between channels. Microfluidic devices offer the opportunity to monitor complex phenomena in real-time, using non-invasive probing techniques.

Jack Oswald, sophomore majoring in Bioengineering - A teaching assistant I worked with in Intro to Engineering contacted me after the semester ended, encouraging me to apply to his lab. I already planned on taking summer classes and I figured lab work would be a great way to balance my schedule.

Omar Mustafa, senior majoring in Bioengineering - I was hired as a research assistant where my main tasks focused on data analysis and performing experimental procedures. In particular, I am investigating the effect of a novel anti-inflammatory therapeutic (PKC-delta-TAT inhibitor or PKC-delta-i) on both human and murine neutrophil-endothelial interactions. PKC-delta is a molecule that has demonstrated mediation characteristics in systemic inflammation processes, where neutrophils roll and adhere to endothelial cells, and finally transmigrate across the endothelium where they cause tissue damage. As endothelium display significant heterogeneity, I characterize the impact of endothelial cell phenotype on neutrophil-endothelial interaction. I am currently researching the best method to quantify the rolling events of neutrophils, and then characterize how it affects velocity or number of rolling neutrophils. Per conducting experiments, I am utilizing microfluidic devices that are imprinted with anatomically realistic vascular and tissue models consisting of various compartments (e.g. microvascular compartment, tissue compartment, etc.), along with the methodology to co-culture various cells in these compartments, depending on the tissues/organs investigated.

Neil Chada, senior majoring in Bioengineering - As a research assistant, my general role is to plan and implement experiments involving human neural stem cells and their response to various synthetic compounds produced in the lab. The purpose of these cytotoxicity assays is to synthesize a gel that will emulate brain tissue and be used instead of brain tissue that needs to be harvested from human subjects.

How does this position help with your studies?

Mustafa - I am a member of the Accelerated Dual Bachelor & Master Degree Program to obtain my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years. I plan on utilizing my current research as the thesis of my master’s degree.

Kight - I enjoy learning "on-the-go." You are thrown into it and learning so much at once which is better than reading a power point in class and never seeing the application with your own eyes. I am always asking the PhD students to explain things to me or show me things. They have a way of putting complex science terms in context so I understand it. You don't get that from a book!

Oswald - My project involves many practical fluid dynamic applications, which I am getting a head start on as a sophomore. This project also involves prototyping using a laser cutter and a fair amount of C++ programing.

How does this opportunity impact the engineering program?

Karchner - Considering our Bioengineering department is still young and developing, I hope to bring back ideas or concepts from UCSD, which has a very well-established Bioengineering program. Also, it still seems that internship/research opportunities presented to our undergraduate students are very rare. Through my experience in STARS and MARC, I have had opportunities to learn of many summer research programs, and hopefully these can be presented to the students. To go along with that, I have spent two summers conducting research in a program, so I am available to give pointers and help students prepare for such programs.

Mustafa - Bioengineering is an extremely broad field. It encompasses subfields such as Biomechanics, Tissue Engineering, Bioimaging, Bioinstrumentation, and Neuroengineering. In most cases, these fields require interdisciplinary collaboration. My role involves interdisciplinary collaboration because I am working in the lab with a biologist and a mechanical engineer, which helps broaden my field of study and set of skills. Thus, I believe that I am diversifying the Bioengineering program at Temple, and I hope I can influence my peers to follow my footsteps.

How will this experience help reach your professional goals?

Kelley - I believe my work as a research assistant will help me reach my professional goals by giving me experience I can build on in the future. I am hoping to find a job relating to GSI design, so the lessons I have learned from this research should translate very well to future work.

Chada - After my undergraduate studies at Temple University, I hope to pursue a MD/PhD degree in the future and ultimately become a physician-scientist who works in a hospital while at the same time heading a cutting edge research lab. My experience in the research lab currently is constantly preparing me for the future and allows me to gain valuable skills in the field I hope to study.

Kight - I always wanted to do research so being able to not just perform the experiment but also design it to some degree, so this is going to help me develop as a researcher. Also, if I am able to publish my data from this summer in a conference paper, that will help open doors for me in the future.

What will take from the experience that you can apply to your career?

Oswald - The quality of work you produce will always be a function of how well equipped you are for that kind of work. There are so many facets to being the right candidate for a position, including established knowledge of job duties, interpersonal chemistry with potential coworkers, seeing the micro and the macro of each process, proficiency in learning, and many others. In an interdisciplinary field such as biological engineering, it is of vital importance to learn new skills and concepts quickly and effectively. This field always keeps you on your toes.

Kelley - Besides the engineering-specific lessons, I have learned how to balance the demands of project work with the classwork required for a full-time student. That balance requires good time management and task prioritization, which will help me in any career path I choose.

Kight - I developed new skills that are in demand for cancer research. Before this position, I worked in a chemistry analytical lab but now I have cell culturing experience which is very valuable. Also, reading research papers with the whole lab group has helped