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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Table Top Midterms

Last week all the engineers involved in integrated product development (think capstone design projects with industry sponsors) gathered up on mountaintop for our midterm presentations. Only instead of the typical presentation where teams stand up and point at figures on a powerpoint we were given the challenge of presenting our work at table top demonstrations. Our advisers decided to use this as a gentle nudge to make us start prototyping ideas earlier than the week before the final and I think it ended up being a huge success!

For the last year and a half my group has been working with Aesculap – a company that specializes in surgical tools. We have been working with their spinal correction division and have been working on developing a device that will help surgeons close the spine during a spinal osteotomy.

So what’s a spinal osteotomy? It’s a procedure where a section of bone is removed in the spine to fix severe deformations.

Spinal Osteotomy Closure

Current methods to close the spine are using manual compression or using spinal compressors. Neither provide constant, controlled force and this could mean serious complications for an already risky procedure (no thank you).

Our solution!

Our solution!

Here’s an image for what our device will eventually look like once we have it all assembled – right now we’re developing all the parts separately to make sure they work on their own before we go through putting it all together. The main mechanism (1) is a rack and pinion to control the closure by exerting a constant force on the spine while preventing backlash. It connects directly to existing pedicle screws developed by Aesculap (2) and can be screwed in by adjusting the angle at the joint (3) by controlling the handles (4). There’s still a long way to go for this project but so far, so good!

I thought the midterm was a huge success because I’m not the greatest public speaker – I would much rather talk one on one with someone about an idea and answer questions as they came up rather than just ramble on for twenty minutes. Also I feel like this was a good chance to see what all the other teams were doing and how far along they were. Some teams barely had posters together while others had full prototypes and testing completed. It would be awesome if the final presentation could be more casual like this – but unfortunately I think we’ll be going back to the powerpoints by then. Sigh…..

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Pacing Break

Pacing break was this week. It felt good to be able to go to Philadelphia and visit family as I desperately needed to get away from school work for a while. With two little cousins though, I lost track of how many Disney movies I watched with them but it was a much-needed stress reliever. I was happy to come back to Lehigh though because as a STEM major, I have realized that pacing break is actually two days given to us to catch up on schoolwork that was neglected due to some intense studying after the first round of four o’clocks. From Organic chemistry to linear methods, I was definitely able to get some reading and homework done and now it was back to class today.

I have also realized that we are pretty much halfway done with this semester. Just a few more weeks til the second round of four o’clocks and then it will soon be finals. This semester is going by pretty quickly and these two days off definitely helped me catch up on everything I had fallen behind in. I hope everyone has a good rest of the week and stay tuned for whatever comes next here at Lehigh University!

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The FAST Intramedullary Nail


Today I attended one of the Bioengineering seminars held for students (primarily freshmen students) who are interested in pursuing a career in the Bioengineering field. The guest speaker for today’s presentation was Professor Dailey, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering department who also happens to be a Lehigh Alumni! Her topic was on the Flexible Axial Stimulation Intramedullary Nail, a medical orthopedic device used in the recovery of bone fractures (i.e. tibia, humerus, etc).

I really enjoyed her presentation as she went into detail not only on the product itself but also on the process one goes through prior to getting the product into the market.

2 tibia-intramedullary-nail-adult-79814-2947603

(Above is an image of the intramedullary nail once inserted into the tibia cavity, with the nails locking the metal rod that prevents rotation between the fragments of the broken tibia.)

In the case of the intramedullary nail, she spoke of how the device is designed and how it is implanted within a patient (animal or human). By finding an incision site, the nail is inserted into the hole created and then by a hammer-technique, gets pushed into the tibia cavity at an angle. Professor Dailey mentioned that we learn in our Mechanics 003 and Mechanics 012 courses (i.e. forces, stress, strain, etc), they all come into play when ensuring efficiency in the product, both in design and function.

As a Lehigh Alumni, she also spoke of her trajectory prior to working for a start-up company, Orthoxel and becoming a professor: from grad school to the work industry, then back to school for her PhD, she talked to us about what her major in college was and what got her interested in pursuing her PhD and beginning her research lab here at Lehigh.

This presentation served as a reminder that from the research and industry perspective, Bioengineering is a constantly growing branch of engineering, especially within the medical devices field.

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