Science & Biomedical Engineering Students Gaining Valuable
Research Experiences Through Summer Programs

Writing the traditional "What I Did This Summer" essay won't be hard for a select group of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology engineering and science students, after spending the past two months working on cutting-edge projects in the college's Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration and biomedical engineering research programs.

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Colorful Computer Simulations: Biochemistry student Melissa Galey showcases computer simulations of estrogen receptors for two projects she is working on this summer at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The computer screen on the right has the yellow and pink portions of the estrogen receptor project. Meanwhile, the screen on the left features a multi-colored estrogen receptor. She is working with professors Mark Brandt and Yosi Shibberu on these projects.

The problem will be summarizing the students' accomplishments in a one-page document.

After all, biochemistry student Melissa Galey has used computer simulations to view the interactions of the hormone/ligand binding domain within the human estrogen receptor, whose characteristics may have consequences to aging, cancer and obesity.

Or, chemical engineering majors Gregory Blachut and Daniel Lee are examining carbon cryogels, a highly porous material that possess unique nano- and macroscopic properties. Blachut hopes to prove that carbon cryogels are a viable medium for liquid chromatography applications and lead to future studies that will apply cryogels to a wide range of compounds. Meanwhile, Lee wants to demonstrate that carbon cryogels are a viable candidate for use as a reusable medium for remediation of metal ions from aqueous solutions.

Then, biomedical engineering majors Katie Trella and Karah Hickman are studying the role of fiber-gel interactions as they impact the overall mechanical response of collagen fiber/gel composites under loading. Collagen fiber/gel composites are a very important type of scaffold utilized in tissue engineering. Hickman is working on the assessment of the elastic properties of collagenous tissues using different approaches.

 

These are examples of the innovative and leading-edge research projects in the biological and chemical sciences supported by Rose-Hulman's Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) and biomedical engineering research initiatives. The programs are organized by Peter Coppinger, assistant professor of biology and biomedical engineering; Mark Brandt, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and Glen Livesay, the Samuel F. Hulbert Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

 

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Brown Bag Sessions: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students and faculty members exchange ideas about the status of their projects during bi-weekly Brown Bag lunch discussion sessions. These meetings replicate conditions that these students might encounter in graduate school.

Sixteen students have been working full time on campus this summer to expand on research performed during the academic year. The 10-week IRC and biomedical engineering research programs differ from typical Research Experience for Undergraduates programs in that they allow students to work on projects that they may have already started or may continue during their Rose-Hulman undergraduate careers.

Besides the laboratory component, a valuable part of the summer educational program is bi-weekly Brown Bag lunch discussion group meetings when assigned students discuss the progress of their projects and difficulties encountered. In most cases, faculty mentors and students colleagues provide valuable feedback and offer suggestions for future research paths. A recent Brown Bag session provided valuable faculty advice to students considering to attending graduate school or exploring the possibility of earning a doctorate degree in their career fields.

 

"These Brown Bag group meetings are a great learning experience for students with graduate school in their futures," Coppinger said. "Throughout the IRC research experience the students acquire an appreciation for the role of original research in creating the information found in their textbooks, an enhanced understanding of the theoretical information presented in their classes, and experience that provides a competitive edge in obtaining internships, post-graduation industry employment and acceptance for post-graduate studies."

 

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Summer Research Group: Sixteen students and several faculty members from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology are spending this summer completing a variety of projects for the Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration and biomedical engineering research programs.

Complimenting the summer research experience is an undergraduate research symposium, conducted late in the fall academic quarter. The symposium serves as a forum for students to share their research experiences with colleagues. Also, summer biomedical engineering research students are planning to submit abstracts to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Summer Bioengineering Conference.


"Our experience strongly suggests that involvement in  sponsored full time research has allowed interested students to develop laboratory skills and understanding well beyond what is possible during the academic year," Brandt said. "During the research program and symposium, students gain experience in effective scientific communication, both written and oral. Taken together, these factors provide our top students with opportunities difficult, if not impossible, to obtain elsewhere, and assist both beginning and more senior faculty in initiating and maintaining active research endeavors. Therefore, the IRC has roles in student education and in faculty recruitment and retention that make it an important asset to Rose-Hulman."

John Beals, research fellow for Eli Lilly & Company, states: "The research being performed by IRC participants is exactly the type of experience we seek in applicants."

Faculty members joining Coppinger, Brandt and Livesay as mentors for summer research projects have been Ross Weatherman, Justin Shearer and Michael Mueller, professors of chemistry and biochemistry; Jameel Ahmed, Ric Anthony, Jennifer O'Connor, Lee Waite and Bill Weiner, professors of biology and biomedical engineering; Yoshi Shibberu and Allen Holder, professors of mathematics; Scott McClellan, assistant professor of chemical engineering; and Dr. Gabi Waite of the Indiana University School of Medicine's Terre Haute campus.