Biosensors and Grad Life

Back in early November, I had the privilege of sitting down and speaking to a couple of PhD graduate students, Christopher Uhl and Yu Song, who are both in the Bioengineering  Program here at Lehigh University. For me, it was very exciting to talk to Yu as he is a 5th year PhD student and close to graduating this upcoming May. The following is a brief summary of what I learned from Yu from his experiences, his decision to come to Lehigh, and the projects he is currently working on. Hope you readers enjoy this as much as I did!….

Having obtained his undergrad degree in Materials Science from the University of Science and Technology Beijing, Yu decided to come to Lehigh because of its strong connections with his university in Beijing and also because of the positive professional environment he felt Lehigh provided. And just as Christopher had also mentioned, what Yu was intrigued by was the diversity within the Lehigh Bioengineering faculty members; a lot of the professors had different engineering backgrounds which led to different perspectives on things. As Yu put it, “No matter what background you come from, you can always find something in Bioengineering.”

One of Yu’s biggest interests is in Biosensors. By designing and engineering Bio-sensor cells, tasks such as protein and glucose concentrations within the human body can be recorded and controlled. Integrating these small sensors would not only allow for the monitoring of a person’s health but also provide an advantage due to its size (no blocking within the human body would occur as these sensor cells are in the nano-scale). Upon coming to Lehigh, he met Professor Berdichevsky and the two talked about biosensors and Yu eventually ended up getting a position to work in Professor Berdichevsky’s lab.

Yu is currently working on three projects: IGF and Epilepsy, siRNA and abnormal formations, and OCM (Optical Coherence Microscopy). IGF is an Insulin-like Growth Factor that is very important for neurons to survive. Yu’s work with IGF revolves around answering questions such as: How is IGF related to epilepsy? What is the importance of IGF in assisting neuron-survival? His second project deals with abnormal formations in the brain and how this leads to epilepsy. How do these formations grow after brain and spine injuries? By using siRNA, a silencing protein, the attempt is to silence protein expressions to ultimately prevent dendrites from forming abnormal circuits.

 1The last project we talked about was on using Optical Coherence Microscopy (OCM) to study epilepsy. This apparatus (as pictured above) is of advanced optical technology that allows for monitoring of brain cells while they are alive. The deal with OCM is to use this to integrate a recording system that collect brain signals, their activity, and also figure out why and how pathways occur. This last project combines bio- with electrical engineering to further try to understand epilepsy. The picture below is the system instruction for the OCM.2

After five years of being a PhD student here at Lehigh, Yu was very excited to be graduating in May. His hard work and projects will continue to get recognized and appreciated and I cannot wait to meet with him next semester to find out how everything (from his projects to his thesis) is coming along. Best of luck Yu!

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Studying ‘Smart’ for Finals

Finals week is here at Lehigh and everyone has officially entered hard-core study-mode. The libraries are packed and students can be found in every crack and corner of buildings, surrounded by piles of textbooks and a semester’s worth of notes. As a junior ending my first semester of my third year, I have learned (the hard way unfortunately) that studying is not about studying hard but studying smart. The most effective way to study for finals is not to try to relearn everything that was taught in the semester but rather review the notes you took while in class along with spending a few minutes working out practice problems. Based on the type of classes I generally take, I have complied a small list of study tips that have helped me when preparing for finals.

-Reviewing Personal Notes. All throughout the semester, I try and read as much textbook material as I can, writing notes and quick summaries of things I found to be of importance or things that took me a while to understand. So during finals, I simply go back and review my personal notes to refresh my memory on textbook material.

-Reviewing In-Class Notes. Professors dedicate time to certain topics within the textbook. Some pages on my notes are filled with one topic more than the other, so when I am studying, I go over the topics the professors really stressed out. These are always on the finals so this is a big key component to studying.

-Finding your ‘spot’. Since the beginning of the semester, I often go to the topmost floor of the library and study there. It’s usually the quietest and not many people visit this area often. So during finals week, I am already accustomed to the spot and it becomes just another day of studying for me.

-Get together with a group of classmates prior to the exam, study, and review notes together. This is extremely helpful because oftentimes you surprise yourself by discovering gaps in your knowledge bank that someone else has and you exchange and teach each other concepts. Also, I sometimes feel I learn more from peers than professors.

-Go over Practice Problems and Practice Exams. The exams you have in class give you a general idea as to how the final is going to be. Learn the professor’s style for writing an exam and also how they word questions. Go over the homework problems you (hopefully!) worked on throughout the semester as the professor assigned those in particular for a reason!

Since all of my classes are typically math and science based, the best technique for me is to do as many practice problems as I can because, you know, practice makes perfect! Master the material and memorize some of the equations; after a bunch of practice problems, you’ll learn tricks and shortcuts to take that will help when you’re crunched for time.

I hope some of you find these tips and tricks helpful as you study for finals and I wish everyone the best of luck in nailing those exams!

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Mechanical Arm Project

This semester I took Mech003, which is an introductory class for intended Mechanical Engineers at Lehigh University. Throughout the course of this class, some of the things we looked at were particles and rigid bodies in static equilibrium as well as truss and frame structures among other things. As a final group project, our class was broken down into teams and we were asked to analyze and design a model arm as a simple machine that would then be programmed to lift and support a dumbbell at the hand.

human vs model arm

The picture above is what the model arm was supposed to represent: a human arm (triceps, bicep, elbow joint, etc. included) with its functions and forces taken into account and represented as a simple machine consisting of mainly two rigid bodies: an upper arm and a lower arm. Since engineering is about building machines that simplify complex systems, this arm was to be designed in a way that would allow for the human arm to be simplified into a mechanical arm.

In this project, the arm was broken down into two rigid body components and the forces and support reactions were determined by use of free body diagrams and applied principles of equilibrium. By deriving functions of equilibrium in terms of angles that corresponded to different arm positions, the motion of the arm was to be controlled. Once these equations were obtained, a MATLAB code that would produce corresponding forces and reaction values depending on what the angles were was written. As a final task, a dumbbell of weight 5 lbs was actually attached to the hand at the end of the arm and the angles formed and forces calculated were recorded and plotted to see what relationship there was between forces, angles, and distance of the bicep away from the elbow joint.

This project was really interesting because as a bio-engineer major with intentions on pursuing a career in bio-mechanics, it was a great insight into using engineering to develop and replace fractured human limbs. In a team of bio, materials science, and mechanical engineers, I can see how this project could resemble a real-life scenario where you have to work in teams and develop innovative bio-mechanical technology for the medical field. With everyone bringing in different perspectives within their field of engineering (i.e. mechanical engineering members bringing their knowledge of computer programming and thus obtaining the image below), I can see why diversity in the workplace matters. And to think I am learning all of this in my introductory mechanics course!

solidworks arm representation

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From Bachelors to PhD

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting down and talking to a couple of BioE Grad students to gain an insight as to what it meant to be a BioE grad student at Lehigh and (for mere curiosity) what their schedules looked like. The first student I spoke to was Christopher Uhl, a PhD candidate who obtained his bachelors in Biology from Kings College. Although his degree was in biology, his interest was in medical equipment: since biology was a lot about memorization, he knew he wanted to be able to use his knowledge to yield a product. After looking into various universities, what caught his attention about Lehigh was the diversity in faculty and most of all, his advisor, Dr. Yaling Liu, whose background was in Mechanical Engineering. After talking to Dr. Liu, Christopher became a part of Dr. Liu’s Microfluidics Research Lab.

In this lab, tiny devices were generated so as to mimic and study the flow of liquids within the channels. Why was this important to accomplish? As Christopher explained to me, the pharmaceutical industry had done a great job in manufacturing techniques that make the process of delivering  medicine efficient (ie pills that are easy to swallow, etc). But how does the medicine actually get taken in by the body? The answer to this question was what his project was about.

The picture on the left is a representation of what a single network of channels looks like. The design of the cross-symbol in the middle helps mimic the tiny blood vessels within the human body and this in turn allows for the observation of how nano-medicine is delivered. With his undergrad knowledge in biology, Christopher gave input towards how to correctly model the human vasculature within these tiny devices. By using these tiny channels, bonding efficiency and uptake were being studied and the pathway pills took towards being absorbed would ultimately be understood and controlled. The pictures on the right are the devices being ‘cultivated’ in Sinclair Lab, which is where the facility needed to manufacture these devices is located.

It was fascinating to hear about Christopher’s project with these micro-fluidic devices. After he finished explaining to me more about his project, he then went on to tell me that this was just one of his seven projects he was working on. And on top of that, he was also a TA for an undergrad BioE lab. As he mentioned to me, the time he was able to invest into his projects was not a set time; whenever he saw the opportunity or whenever he was not busy with students, he would put in time to continue his research. As an undergrad, it can get overwhelming to try and balance classes and extracurricular activities, but as a graduate student, there is almost no time left to worry about such things as your schedule is pretty booked. As Christopher put it, “You’re not going to come in to work one morning and expect for someone to have set up the lab for you already. You have to figure out what set up to use and if that fails, you have to move on and look for another one.” The countless of hours and dedication he puts into his work is motivating. As I head on to my remaining labs as an undergrad, I will think back to what I learned from my two hour session with Christopher; there is a lot of planning, sacrifice, and hard work that goes into being a grad student, but the final product is worth it. I can’t wait to meet up with Christopher some time in the near future and see what progress he has made with his projects!

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SHPE 2015 National Conference

The past week, I was fortunate enough to attend SHPE’s national conference in Baltimore, MD along with 11 other Lehigh undergraduate members. SHPE (The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) is a national organization that helps promote the growth and success of its members by planning and focusing programs and events on 5 pillars: Academics, Community Outreach, Leadership Development, Chapter Development, and Professional Development. As a female Hispanic engineer at Lehigh, it was important for me to attend this conference as I saw this as a time to expand my network and also gain motivation from other Hispanics in engineering disciplines.


IMG_4524 At the conference, one thing SHPE did tthis year was organize a track for female Hispanic engineers. This track was filled with workshops and luncheons for girls to attend and there was also a panel hosted by Boeing. Being present at this panel of Boeing female executives and managers was amazing. We got to hear about their personal experiences and also about how they dealt with both struggles and accomplishments as they made their way up the career path. And since females in general are few in numbers in engineering disciples, I felt more motivated to come back to Lehigh and plan events to increase the number of females.

This conference was very informational as well: from resume workshops, hospitality suites, and a career fair to research symposiums based on the work of some of the student attendees, there was a lot going on and the organization made sure it touched upon a lot of aspects that would help the growth of a lot of its members. Although the planning for this event was stressful, I felt fortunate that a lot of Lehigh faculty helped make this possible for all 12 of us attendees since this is something that not all schools are able to afford for their students. I am definitely looking forward to next year’s national conference in Seattle, OR!


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Gaining an Insight into Lehigh’s Bioengineering Graduate Program

As an upper-class undergraduate student here at Lehigh, it’s easy to get immersed into your own schedule; from lectures to labs, from club meetings to quick dinners, etc. it’s hard to stay in the loop of what’s going on. I recently discovered that, although I knew how small the undergraduate Bioengineering program was, I did not expect the graduate program to be even smaller in number. This got me thinking that if it was hard for me to stay connected to a lot of things at Lehigh, it must be even harder for grad students to keep in touch. And to add to that, since the bio-e grad students are few in numbers, I figured it was also easy for a lot of their hard work and talent to go unnoticed. Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with two Bio-e grad students and get a rundown of their busy and demanding work schedules. What was supposed to have been a quick 30 minute interview session each turned into almost a two-hour session..

Although both of the students I interviewed came from different undergraduate backgrounds, their PhD work was all geared towards Bioengineering. The first student I interviewed was Christopher Uhl, a 3rd year PhD student focusing much of his work on micro fluids and modeling human vasculature. The second student I interviewed was Yu Song, a 5th year PhD student whose work led to the development and improvement of bio sensors. Each of these students spent countless of hours working on several projects in labs and for one of them, part of his time was also dedicated towards managing an undergraduate lab as a TA for one of the Bioengineering professors. Although each had different projects and interests, what I gathered from the two was their interest in Lehigh’s graduate Bio-E program due to the diversity in faculty in terms of engineering backgrounds. This allowed for both of them to venture into different fields that would allow them to further their research work.

After talking to each of them for almost two hours, I learned a great deal in terms of the grad program at Lehigh as well as material from their work. To begin to describe their experiences would take too long to talk about in one blog post so I have decided to split up each of their interviews into two and truly allow for their extensive work to get recognized. Whether you’re an undergraduate student or a grad student, it is important to recognize just how much work it takes to succeed as a grad students and these students are clear examples of that. So stick around my fellow readers and be on the lookout for the next posts!

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Mid Atlantic Graduate Fair

As my time with Lehigh rapidly approaches its end, I tend to get blasted a lot with the question What comes after? For me, I’ve decided to go with the approach where I just apply to as many things as possible – grad schools, jobs, anything – and see what sticks.

The process for finding grad schools is similar to finding an undergraduate college in a lot of ways – there are opportunities to meet the admissions offices, applications, application fees, and essay questions. However unlike undergraduate education, there is not always a lot of information about a program on a universities websites. That is why any opportunities to meet with a program face-to-face are absolutely crucial. Not only do you get immediate answers to your questions but it also gives the schools an opportunity to put a face to your name when they see your application.

This weekend I traveled to the University of Delaware to present a poster on my research and network with some of the graduate schools in the area. Even though they claimed the event was thrown together in the last few moments – I thought it was a great success! Some other universities that were there were Rutgers, Johns Hopkins, Drexel, City College of New York, Rowan University, University of Maryland, University of Delaware, and Lehigh. I was able to get some information from programs I hadn’t really thought too much about applying for and was able to connect with some departments I was truly passionate about. It was also a chance to get to talk with some other bioengineers from outside of Lehigh.

While my experiences at the fair were entirely positive, my experiences trying to get my poster printed were less than ideal. After spending an hour figuring out how to change the resolution of an exported power point slide (here’s the link for anyone who’s curious….) I spent another chunk of time figuring out how to find the “same day pick up” option on Staples website. But, at the end of it all I ended up extremely pleased with how the print turned out (even if I did have some technical difficulties in the process).



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