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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