Students come from across the country for Rowan research program

Students come from across the country for Rowan research program

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Ten students from across the country have been spending their summer in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering and elsewhere at Rowan University, riveted by nematodes and novel medical devices and growing tissues, among other things

The students are participating in the Department of Biomedical Engineering Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site in Biomedical Materials, Devices, Therapeutics, and Emerging Frontiers at Rowan University.

Coming from as far as Puerto Rico and Minnesota and as near as Delran and Annadale, New Jersey, they are members of the first cohort of the REU in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering.

NSF funded

The National Science Foundation awarded more than $360,000 in funding for Rowan to host REUs during this and the next two summers, with the goal of advancing research in engineering, science and medicine.

Dr. Mary Staehle, associate professor and undergraduate program chair, and Dr. Mark Byrne, professor and founding department head, Department of Biomedical Engineering, are principal investigators and directors of the REU site, which focuses, among other initiatives, on biomedical materials, devices and therapeutics.

“These programs are crucial to encourage the next generation toward advanced careers in science and engineering,” Byrne said. “REU fellows join major research teams and work on difficult problems while learning effective and efficient ways to conduct research. And this is combined with key interactions with faculty and leaders in the field, which yields a unique, intensive and productive learning environment.”

Cutting-edge research

Rising Johns Hopkins University senior Sarah Lee, 21, is a biomedical engineering major working in the lab of Dr. Peter Galie, an assistant professor in Biomedical Engineering. There, the Winchester, Massachusetts, native is helping to develop scaffolding to grow blood vessels to treat spinal cord injuries.

Lee only applied for an REU appointment at Rowan. “I liked this one because there were more projects that were device-focused and seemed to have direct clinical applications,” said Lee, who plans to enter the medical device field or create a startup company after graduation.

In addition to Biomedical Engineering, students are working in labs in or on projects for professors in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Biomedical Sciences, and Molecular & Cellular Biosciences on the Glassboro campus and at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. In addition to Lee from Johns Hopkins, the REU fellows are Jeremy Decker from Rowan University, Mia Fiacchi from Clarkson University, Maura Francis from Rowan University, John Liu from the University of Minnesota, Morgan Miller from Rowan College of Burlington County, Thaddeus Palmer from Rowan College of Gloucester County, Neal Patel from the University of Virginia, Nayra Lee Salas-Gonzalez from the University of Puerto Rico and Olivia Sergent from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Diverse departments

Patel, a rising sophomore computer science and mathematics major at the University of Virginia, is working in the lab of Dr. Nidhal Bouaynaya, Electrical & Computer Engineering. Patel, 19, of Richmond, is assisting with a project on brain tumors.

“This REU is my first exposure to working in a research environment. It is important to me because it is helping me decide whether I want to pursue graduate school or industry after I graduate,” Patel said. “Also, sharing my ideas with the other REU students has given me new perspectives on research and taught me what it is like to work in academia.”

Staehle and Byrne recruited students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields from four-year colleges/universities and community colleges, pairing them with faculty mentors in the College of Engineering, the College of Science & Mathematics, and the two medical schools.

Like other REUs, Rowan’s program is open to underrepresented populations in STEM, first-generation college students and undergraduates who don’t have opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research. Those accepted into the highly competitive Rowan REU received $5,000 stipends and housing in the Rowan Boulevard Apartments off the Glassboro campus.

Provides opportunities

Said Staehle, “Through this program, we aim to provide opportunities for these young scientists and engineers to contribute to new areas of research and innovation, and this summer we are pleased to have a strong group of talented fellows who are learning about and contributing to research in labs across Rowan.”

Liu, a rising junior biomedical engineering major from the University of Minnesota, worked on Synthesis of LecA - Targeted Diblock Copolymers for Pseudomonas Aeriginosa Drug Delivery Nanoparticles under Dr. Lark Perez, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Science & Mathematics. Liu, 19, from Menomonie, Wisconsin, added, “This REU program has helped me to develop skills necessary to carry out experiments independently and also strengthen my practical problem-solving skills I can use in the future as an engineer.”

Getting to know fellows

Salas-Gonzalez traveled the furthest to attend the REU. The San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, native attends the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. The rising sophomore chemical engineering major, 19, is working in Byrne’s lab, assisting in developing biodegradable hydrogels to treat problems after cataract surgery.

She said that in addition to the research, she has enjoyed getting to know the other students and plans on keeping in touch when the program ends.

Palmer, of Washington Township, a recent graduate of Rowan College of Gloucester County and an incoming junior biochemistry major at Rowan University, echoed that.

The 23-year-old, who worked on Human Lymphoid Tissue Cultures Grown in a 3-D Cell Culture Environment with Dr. Andrea Bottaro at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, said, “The highlight for me with regards to the program was both in getting to meet and getting to know my other nine REU fellows, as well as the opportunity to experience what it is like to participate in pure biological research.”