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Undergraduate Research Program

2015-16 Cohort

Erica Alcantara - Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Alcantara, Erica 150x200

Minor: Bioethics and Humanities
Mentors: Maitreya Dunham, Aaron Miller

Contact: ea31994@uw.edu

Current research project: Characterization of Replicate Evolutions of S. cerevisiae Under Constant Nutrient-Limitation

 

 

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In the laboratory of Maitreya Dunham, my work is focused on learning about the forces that shape evolution. Specifically, I work with my graduate student mentor (Aaron Miller) to identify the spectrum of mutations that arise in yeast when it is grown in nutrient-limited environments. Our method of growth could be likened to the yeast version of ‘The Hunger Games’ wherein yeast cells fight one another for limited nutrients. Mutants that arise and are more fit grow in prevalence in the population, and then we characterize the adaptive mutations from these evolved populations using a variety of methods including whole genome sequencing. In addition, we test these evolving populations to study how fit the winners are compared to the ancestral cells from which they were derived. More recently, I have also helped with the study of compensatory evolution to see what alternative mutations come up when those that are most common are removed.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
If you’re interested in working in a lab but aren’t quite sure how to get started, I highly encourage you to get involved in the UW iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Team. I joined as a freshman with zero research experience and was able to learn about synthetic biology and basic wet lab techniques from the graduate student advisers and older undergraduates. We spent most of summer quarter working on our project, but we ended our experience by flying to Toronto to present at the regional jamboree. Overall, it was an extremely memorable and valuable experience, and I’m still applying things I learned from iGEM to my classes and my research at the Dunham Lab.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
Back in freshman year, I took the EFS class CSI: Seattle. It was incredibly interesting but also very challenging, so I would often attend office hours for help. In the process, I was able to get to know my TAs, ask them about the cool research they did as Genome Sciences graduate students, and express my own interest in getting involved in research. I never had any opportunities to do hands-on lab research in high school, so I was eager to come to a university so supportive of undergraduate research. Aaron, one of my TAs, plugged me into the UW iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Team, and this experience helped me learn the basics of wet lab work and synthetic biology. A few months later, Aaron contacted me about doing experimental evolution research with him and a few other undergrads in the Dunham Lab. I’ve been working with and learning from our little team ever since and have loved it!

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Presenting at last year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium has got to be the highlight of my research experience. I remember being so nervous right before my poster session because I was worried that no one would come talk to me or that someone would come and ask me a question I couldn’t answer. I ended up being absolutely floored by all the support I got from my friends that day. By the end of my session, my throat was sore from giving my spiel over and over, and my feet were tired from standing for an hour and a half, but I was incredibly happy to have gotten the chance to share my research with some of the best people I know.

Haley Amemiya - Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Biochemistry

Amemiya, Haley 150x200
Minor: Chemistry
Mentors: Bonita Brewer, M.K. Raghuraman

Contact: hamemiya@uw.edu

Current research project: Utilizing Budding Yeast to Study Dwarfism

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Since DNA replication proteins are necessary for replication to occur, it was thought that mutations within them would be lethal. Recently, researchers found that mutations within the pre-Replication Complex (pre-RC) were linked to the Meier-Gorlin Syndrome (MGS), a rare form of primordial dwarfism characterized by a short stature, small external ears, and absent kneecaps. The pre-RC must bind to origins of replication in order to initiate DNA replication. Although a genetic link between MGS and mutations in the pre-RC has been made, it is unclear how these mutations cause the phenotypes observed in humans. To better understand the mutations’ phenotypes on a cellular and molecular level, our lab is utilizing the budding yeast, S.cerevisiae.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
As a freshman, I was ecstatic when I accepted a job in the Brewer / Raghuraman lab, and began my work in this lab simply cleaning glassware and making solutions. By observing scientists in their habitat, I realized that science is a thrill. I knew I wanted to experience it. Up until that point, I thought I was going to pursue medical school. However, when I began my work as an undergraduate researcher at the end of my sophomore year, I knew I had found my true niche.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Give it a chance. Research can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in your undergraduate career. Also, even if it’s not exactly research you would think you’d be interested in, a good mentor is more valuable than research in hot topics.

Ian Andrews - Bioengineering

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Minor: Chemistry
Mentor: Barry Lutz

Contact: iandrews@uw.edu

Current research project: Development of a Low-Cost Multiplexable Assay for Drug-Resistant HIV

 


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HIV remains a serious health challenge, particularly in developing countries. This can be attributed in part to the fact that many diagnostic procedures that are commonly used here in the United States are ill-suited for the challenges present in low-resource settings. My work focuses on using paper-based microfluidics to design diagnostic tests that meet the necessary criteria to be useful in these settings. My current work is focused on addressing the problem of drug-resistant HIV that is beginning to emerge in low-resource settings. By participating in this research I hope to make a significant contribution in the development of these devices that have the potential to save countless numbers of lives in the fight against HIV.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
One of the most exciting things about undergraduate research to me is the chance to apply knowledge from classes in a practical setting. I have found that because of this I have gained a deeper appreciation for what I learn in classes. At the same time, it is also exciting when something that I have been working on for research shows up in a class because I already have a far more extensive understanding of those principles than if I would have just read them out of a textbook.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Don’t be afraid to dive right in and give it a shot! While it may sound intimidating at first, research can be one of the most rewarding parts of your college experience. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch!

Skyler Burke - Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

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Mentor: Jim Olson

Contact: skylerb@uw.edu

Current research project: Studies on the Stability of Cysteine Knotted Peptides

 

 


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Based on the success of Tumor Paint, a small compound derived from scorpion venom that can bind tumors and light them up, the Olson lab has pursued a new drug scaffold called cysteine knotted peptides (or optides). My job in the lab is to run large scale tests on these small proteins to see which of them are able to withstand the extreme conditions of the body and still do their job. For example, I am running a test right now to see if these optides can withstand exposure to digestive enzymes in the stomach so they can be used as a drug that can be taken orally.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Being able to take techniques discussed in class and use them outside of the classroom. Learning on your own how to run a successful and impactful experiment is one of the greatest feelings. Implementing techniques that you have learned about in course work as well as new found skills that you build over time it is possible to make a difference and contribute to innovative research happening at UW.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
If this is something that interests you, it’s never too early to get involved. Talk to professors about their research, they always love to talk about it. And don’t be easily dissuaded! If you don’t get into the first lab you apply to, keep looking.

Krittika D`Silva - Bioengineering, Computer Engineering

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Mentor: Joan Sanders

Contact: kdsilva@uw.edu

Current research project: Characterizing Phases of the Gait Cycle among Individuals with Lower Limb Amputations

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
I conduct research on individuals with below-the-knee amputations. Currently, our work focuses on using force sensors within prosthetic sockets to collect data as individuals sit, stand, and walk. We are working on the development of software to categorize each phase. The motivation is to use the information while monitoring natural changes in swelling of the residual limb to ultimately develop sockets that are more robust and flexible.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
It may seem intimidating at first and it can be easy to put off, but if you have even the slightest interest in being involved in undergraduate research, start as early as you can! The earlier you start the earlier you can learn the necessary skills to contribute and make a difference. Research can provide you with many wonderful learning opportunities and there are so many ways for you to get involved at UW!

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I began working in my lab during the fall quarter of my freshman year. It began with a simple email to a faculty member within the Department of Bioengineering whose work I found interesting. At the time, I liked the idea of doing focused and innovative research work while contributing to the field I was studying. I definitely didn’t do that immediately, but I’m working my way towards achieving that goal!

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
One of the most exciting experiences I’ve had during my undergraduate career was presenting my work at a conference last year. It was a great opportunity that allowed me to practice sharing my research with others and talking to a large audience, both of which seemed very daunting to me initially.

Moshe Tsvi Gordon - Chemistry

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Minor: Scandinavian Studies
Mentors: Sharona Gordon, Sarah Keller

Contact: mosheg@uw.edu

Current research project: Regulation of TRPV1 Ion Channels by Phase Separation in the Plasma Membrane

 


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I study how an integral membrane protein called TRPV1 is regulated by its lipid environment. Cell membranes are composed of biomolecules called lipids, which assemble into spherical cell membranes. TRPV1 is an ion channel that transduces noxious stimuli into electrical signals in cells. I use a physical chemistry approach to investigate the mechanisms by which bulk properties of lipids regulate TRPV1 function in cell membranes. This work is important as it helps us better understand how pain is transmitted through the body.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience? What did you learn from it?
The most challenging aspect of my undergraduate research has been dealing with failures in the laboratory. Research can be extremely frustrating at times when dealing with equipment issues and learning many new things at once. I have learned how to overcome issues by always being prepared and knowing when and from whom to ask help. Through this process I have become more independent and I am now able to successfully work on my own independent project.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Ask for help when you need it! There are so many resources available to you whether it comes from your supervisor in lab or the Undergraduate Research Program. The problems you run into can seem daunting but with help issues become more manageable.

Ki Han - Electrical Engineering

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Mentor: Joshua Smith
Contact: pb2au@uw.edu

Current research project: Wireless Pulse Oximetry

 

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Safety and applications of wireless power devices. Currently working on powering medical devices with Wi-Fi signals!

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most rewarding aspect of research has been the community of students and faculty that I was introduced to. With similar interests and learning, it was easy to consider them as a second family.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Go out into the labs and meet the faculty in person. Knowing what the personality of the lab is and learning what areas of research is going on is way more effective then just sending a generic email.

Darren Hou

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Major: Computer Science
Mentor: Tracy Larson

Contact: dahou@uw.edu

Current research project: Daily Oscillations in the Rate, Spectral Features, and Variability of Gambel’s White-Crowned Sparrow Song

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
I am investigating the daily oscillations in the song of the White-crowned Sparrow. I am looking at song production rate, spectral features, and stereotypy in songs produced by birds maintained in both breeding and nonbreeding conditions. With this, I hope to demonstrate both descriptions of the “dawn chorus” and growing evidence on the modulation of the song control circuit. Eventually I aim to use this data to study the relationship between song production, cellular changes, and the endogenous circadian clock.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
The UW is a huge research institution. If things between you and your PI/mentor are not working out in your lab, feel free to tell him so you can either plan out a solution or go to another lab. As long as you explain the situation, PIs and mentors should generally be understanding. And with the large number of labs in each field, finding a new position should not be all that difficult.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I joined a computational biology lab in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, on a reference from a former intern one year above me. I had nothing else to do that summer, so I dived straight in. Near the end of that year, I wanted to experience a wet lab, so I switched to the Brenowitz neuroscience lab, where I have been working since.

Do you have an interesting story to share about your research experience?
I first started at a computational biology lab along with a classmate. Our mentor was a graduate student, and when we first started communicating with him, we noticed that he would always have “:>” smiley faces scattered throughout his emails. We found that a bit odd, as we had never seen the “>” mouth anywhere else. But when we started emailing the PI regularly about status updates, we saw that he used “:>” all the time too! And as it turned out, everyone in the lab typed that face. So after a while, we started using it too, if only to fit in… :>

Shang Han (Beverly) Hung - Plant Biology

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Mentor: Sharon Doty

Contact: shh17@uw.edu

Current research project: Using Endophytes to Increase Drought Tolerance of Poplar Clone OP-367

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
My research question is to test if inoculating poplar clone OP-367 with endophytes (a microorganism) can help the plant survive drought conditions. The experiment was set up by controlling the watering schedule to simulate drought conditions and comparing the results of the uninoculated control group to those of the inoculated group.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
Go to office hours, Seminars, Professors’ web pages…etc.
Do research before you go in for an interview with the professor and show genuine interest in the topic. When you are really excited about something, I think other people will see it in you too! Therefore, pursue it!

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved in research at the beginning of my junior year, I have been researching online and emailing professors of my interest during the summer. I really wanted to do research because I believed it could increase my confidence and allow me to learn a ton more than I could have learned from classes.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
I bumped into a lot of trouble while I was applying for research when I was freshman and sophomore due to lack of experience and the poor skills in writing professional emails. I was helped by the Undergraduate Research Advising office and successfully obtained a lab position the following Fall quarter.

Lisa Hysa - Biology (Physiology)

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Minor: Anthropology
Mentors: Donna Cross, Elaine Peskind

Contact: lisahysa@uw.edu

Current research project: Association of Alzheimer’s Disease Genetic Risk ApoE4 with Brain Metabolic Function in Veterans with Mild Blast TBI

 


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I have been working on a collaborative project with the VA this past year where I looked at the effects of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) from repetitive blasts exposure on Veterans. I am now looking to see if there is an association of ApoE genotype with the deleterious effects from brain injury. This is interesting because ApoE4 is an apolipoprotein allele already known to increase the risk of onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Through this research we hope to build a greater knowledge of the risks and progression of the effects of mTBI. This can lead to an improvement in awareness of genetic risk, technological advancements in prevention, or even pharmaceutical treatments.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Being able to present your research and share it with other researchers! It is daunting and intimidating at first, but after you’ve presented at a couple conferences you will feel more confident as a researcher. It is important to learn how to communicate your research to peers. Getting this experience as an undergraduate better prepares you for graduate and professional work in the future. For starters, I highly recommend presenting research at our very own UW Research Symposium!!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
If you get into a lab on your first try–you’re lucky. If you don’t, you’re normal, don’t panic! It can take many no’s until you finally get a yes. A no usually means you’re not a good fit. So look again and don’t give up until you find your “fit”!!

Ranee James - Chemistry

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Mentor: Sarah Keller

Contact: raneej@uw.edu

Current research project: Minor Changes in Sterol Structure Impact the Miscibility Temperatures of Model Cell Membranes Significantly

 

 

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I use simplified versions of cell membranes that contain two lipids, and a sterol, to study the connection between the structure of the lipid or sterol and its function. Discrete domains in these membranes are essential for various cellular functions, and our lab studies how and why these domains form. My results are useful to biologists, chemists, and physicists who want to predict how certain lipids and sterols affect membrane functionality.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
I enjoy presenting my work. Though it can be nerve wracking, it is rewarding for me to look back and see all of the improvements I have made, and all of the new things that I have learned!

Samantha Kang - Mechanical Engineering

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Minor: Nanoscience and Molecular Engineering (NME)
Mentor: Dr. Michael Khbeis

Contact: kangsam7@uw.edu

Current research project: Microfabrication of Permalloy Core On-Chip Transformers and Inductors

 


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance

Radio frequency integrated circuits (RFIC) are major components in enabling wireless communication. The RF inductor is integral to these applications but has traditionally suffered from low quality factors (i.e dissipative losses) and thus has had lower performance than off-chip discrete inductor components. Adding permalloy in integrated inductors enhances inductance and results in a higher quality factor with frequencies exceeding 1GHz possible than is currently achievable. This makes it possible to use on-chip inductors for higher performance in RFICs such as cell phone RF transceivers that may otherwise require off-chip discrete inductors. Fabricating integrated inductors would reduce component area and power consumption of RFICs.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most rewarding aspects of my research experience so far was interning at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan as part of the NNIN iREU where I worked on the photoelectrochemical water oxidation of ZnO nanowires for total water splitting and adventured all over Japan, including climbing Mt. Fuji! I never imagined traveling to Japan for research, but that gives you idea of the opportunities research can provide!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
While it is intimidating to talk to professors and people with Ph.D.s in general, sending a quick email showing genuine interest can go a long way! So don’t be afraid to take that step, you never know where it can take you.

Malte Lange - Biochemistry

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Minor: Mathematics
Mentors: Xiaosong Li, David Lingerfelt

Contact: langemf@uw.edu

Current research project: First Principles Molecular Dynamics of Lithium Ion Intercalation into a ZnO Quantum Dot

 


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance

We understand very little of the atomic world, since we are unable to view it directly or manipulate it readily. Therefore our group’s research focuses on computational models which simulate reactions on a scale that we can readily appreciate.
My research specifically focuses on the dynamics associated with a lithium ion moving through a small lattice of zinc and oxygen atoms. Our hope is that we can develop a system which is capable of efficient energy storage, possibly increasing the efficiency of lithium ion batteries.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
Be genuinely interested and excited about trying out research. PIs get loads of trite research requests, but they can generally spot a truly excited student and are more willing to give you a chance. And furthermore, why go through the trouble of failing so many times if you aren’t motivated in the first place?

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I began undergraduate research the summer before my freshman year in a pharmaceutical/veterinary laboratory at WSU. After taking biology and chemistry, I realized that I was interested in applying what I had learned and exploring potential career paths, so I asked my high school chemistry teacher if she knew anyone that would be willing to take me. She pointed out a number of PIs and I eventually talked to one and he was willing to let me have a go at research!

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most rewarding aspect of my research was being able to put in a large amount of effort into answering a single question, and following huge amounts of frustration finally getting results. Unlike normal classes in which practice problems have no meaning and take a few minutes to solve, with no real satisfaction won; research problems are highly complex, have big implications, and are time/effort consuming, but therefore hugely satisfying to answer.

Terence Leach - Ecology, Evolution, & Conservation Biology, Oceanography

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Minor: Marine Biology
Mentors: Dr. Gabrielle Rocap, Michael Carlson

Contact: tleach32@uw.edu

Current research project: Uncovering the Evolutionary Relationships of Pseudo-nitzschia

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
In my lab, we work with a group of microscopic marine phytoplankton called diatoms. Diatoms account for 1/5 of global photosynthesis and they make up the base of many marine food chains. Specifically, my project focuses on a genus of diatoms called Pseudo-nitzschia. Pseudo-nitzschia are known for their formation of harmful algal blooms in which they produce a sometimes deadly neurotoxin called domoic acid (DA). In my project, I am attempting to find a trend or connection between DA producers on an evolutionary level by sequencing DNA sections of various species of Pseudo-nitzschia and putting them on a phylogenetic tree to find their relations to one another.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
For those considering undergraduate research, I would strongly recommend getting involved. Go to the Undergraduate Research Symposium to see what others are doing. You don’t have to do research in your major, if you find something that you think is interesting and would enjoy, you should get involved in the vast amount of great opportunities at the University of Washington.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to do research in a science field, so during my senior year of high school I applied to a program called GenOM ALVA. This program sought to take incoming minority students and introduce them to the vast amount of research opportunities at the University of Washington. Through this program, I was matched up with an Oceanography lab that I work in currently.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Getting into research can be both challenging and rewarding. Being a student comes first, so on top of studying and any other activities that you are already juggling with hitting the books, you will have to add research to your workload. Although this will be a challenge, especially at the beginning, over time you will find how to balance your work. Time management is a great skill to have for the future, so honing it now will benefit you immensely. Do not let the amount of work scare you off; because you will be doing research at a university, most labs will know you are also a full time student. In my experience, I have found that most labs are flexible to class schedules. School and research can also work hand-in-hand because applying the concepts you learn in class to real life will help you a lot in both your research and in class.

Qimin Liu - Psychology, Philosophy, Mathematics

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Mentors: Irene M. Geisner, Corey Fagan

Contact: liuqimin@uw.edu

Current research project: Cross-Cultural Adaptation and Psychometric Evaluation of the Brief Adjustment Scale

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Routine outcome monitoring (ROM), which is quantitatively tracking treatment outcome on a regular basis, has been proven effective for improving the quality of care in behavioral health settings. In recent years, given the advantages of using ROM to improve behavioral health outcomes, there has been increasing interest on an international level. However, English literature regarding ROM implementation in Asian population seems sparse. The Brief Adjustment Scale (BASE-6) is a six-item measure that is appropriate for ROM use and assesses perceived distress and ability to function in everyday life. The present study aims to cross-culturally adapt this measure into Chinese, and evaluate the psychometric properties of the Chinese version.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience? What did you learn from it?
Research can be frustrating when the experiment is not yielding significant results as hypothesized or when the argument you contracted turns out to fall short for one text that suggests otherwise. I learned not to give up. I would go through the analysis repeatedly and critically think about the insignificant results; or revisit the text again and try to construct ways of reconciliation between the text and my argument. While results are important, science is, irrefutably, the end in itself.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Be boundless. Put aside your worries about time, energy, and cost. Simply embrace the joy in research. The moment you gain knowledge from research, no matter how minute, you will feel and you will understand the boundlessness of the human mind.

Jennifer Look - Biology (General), Comparative History of Ideas

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Minors: Statistics
Mentor: Ram Savan

Contact: jennlook@uw.edu

Current research project: Genetically Engineered Lactococcus lactis Producing Type III Interferon to Cure Viral Infection of the Gut

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Norovirus infection is one of the leading causes of gastroenteritis (often referred to as “stomach flu”) in the world. Although the virus affects multiple populations, from passengers on cruise ships to communities lacking efficient water sanitation systems, a safe and effective vaccine is not yet available. Interferon lambda (IFNL) has been shown to enhance viral clearance by inducing transcription of anti-viral genes. This project seeks to engineer a novel treatment method by using bacteria which colonize the gut and secrete IFNL3 to cure viral infection. This treatment method is an innovative therapy against infectious disease and has great potential for widespread implementation due to its low cost and easy administration.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most exciting aspect of my undergraduate research experience is the opportunity to have a hands-on role in developing solutions for real world issues. Working on research projects allows me to synthesize and apply information from my classes while constantly learning and gaining an in-depth perspective on the finer details. Furthermore, I love being able to contribute to a growing body of knowledge that helps improve lives.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Remain curious! There are many different ways to approach problems so ask questions and be open-minded. Research is a great way to engage in a professional environment while exploring your passions.

Natacha Lou Comandante - Bioengineering

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Mentors: Kim Woodrow, Jaehyung Park

Contact: natacom@uw.edu

Current research project: Multifunctional Nanoparticles for Dendritic Cell-Based Intravaginal Vaccine against Sexually Transmitted Infections

 


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a huge global health burden. Besides the life-threatening HIV, annually there are approximately 500 million cases of other types of STIs which also caused 1.2 million deaths in 2010. Hence, there is a huge need in developing efficacious vaccines against STIs. To achieve this, it is often important for our body to develop local adaptive immunity at genital mucosal tissue, the site of STI infections. The goal of my project is to develop a novel vaginal vaccine by engineering nanoparticles that can program dendritic cells, a type of potent immune cells, to mature and activate immune response, such that when delivered to the vagina, the local immunity at the vaginal mucosal can be enhanced.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
My research experience has significantly enriched my education at UW. The most rewarding aspect of it would be the process of designing experiments and trouble shooting, in which I often exchange ideas with my mentors. This is challenging but also an important process in research and I’ve learned a lot during this process from my mentors’ feedback to my questions or ideas.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
DO IT! To start, I would suggest going to the drop-in hours or schedule an appointment with the advisors at the Undergraduate Research Program. They even can help you with the whole process, such as talking to faculty and researching lab positions.

Stephanie Martinez - Psychology

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Minor: Diversity
Mentor: Erasmo Gamboa

Contact: sm1127@uw.edu

Current research project: The Children Left Behind: How Deportation is Affecting Our Own Citizens

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance

Deportations unfairly target Latinos and are becoming an increasingly important socio-political issue. Recently, President Obama put forth an Executive Action which would relieve many undocumented immigrants from deportation, including parents of U.S. citizens through Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). However, there is widespread contention on this issue with many people wanting to reverse this Action. Within this socio-political immigration policy there’s an understudied and important issue: what happens when undocumented parents are deported and their U.S. born citizen children are left behind? This project unveils the psychological and health issues that result from this traumatic separation.

Do you have an interesting story to share about your research experience?
Coming into college, I thought that research was too difficult and something I would not be interested in. One quarter, a professor announced that he held a seminar in which he would mentor students on their own research topics. I decided to join the seminar and created a project with a classmate that became entirely our own. Now I find myself involved in my third research opportunity in my time as an undergraduate here at the UW!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Definitely get involved in research when you have the opportunity and find an area that has some type of interest to you! You never know if that will turn into a big passion, revealing a different part of yourself that you didn’t know existed.

Jesus Martinez-Gomez - Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Martinez-Gomez, Jesus 150x200

Mentors: Veronica Di Stilio, Kelsey Galimba

Contact: jesusgm@uw.edu

Current research project: Characterization of a Floral B-class Gene Homeotic Mutant in a Ranunclid

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
I work on the genes which produce the organs of a flower. These genes are known to work together in different combinations; each combination produces a different organ of a flower. Since these genes are very important for the development of the different organs, they are highly conserved throughout flowering plants. For example, most of the genes involved in petal formation in tulips are the same ones involved in petal formation in tomatoes. Even though tulips and tomato are very distantly related, these genes work in a very similar fashion in both species. That being said, they don’t function in exactly the same way, so it is interesting to study in what ways they interact differently and how this leads to all the different flower diversity that exists.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
There is so much opportunity at the University of Washington to participate in the fantastic Spencerian that is Undergraduate Research. Even if you are not considering a career in research, it will teach you how to work independently, think critically, present complicated work to a general audience and a ton of other universal skills! For those of you who are considering a career in research or medicine, it is fantastic opportunity to start now and establish a foundation by learning basic methodology and about current topics in research. Also you can get paid!

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved in research through the ALVA GenOM project here at the University of Washington. They placed me into my lab the summer before my freshman year and I have been working here ever since!

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
By far the most exciting aspect is knowing that I am at the frontier of scientific knowledge. Unlike science class labs where there are known results, no one knows what exactly my results will be! Provided I do have hypotheses and predictions of what I expect, it is still exciting knowing that I am delving into the unknown! I find the most challenging aspect is all the failed experiments! There is a ton of troubleshooting and a lot of time is spent trying to figure out how to make things work. It can be discouraging if things haven’t worked in a while but at the same time it can lead to the most rewarding feeling when you finally figure out what is going wrong and get things to work!

Albert Ng - Neurobiology, Medical Anthropology

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Mentors: Beth Buffalo, Adrienne Fairhall, Mark Opp

Contact: albertng@uw.edu

Current research project: Understanding Neural Encoding of Space and Navigation in the Rhesus Macaque during a Virtual Foraging Task.

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
The hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are structures involved in the formation of spatial memory. To investigate virtual spatial memory, formation, and representation in the hippocampal complex of non-human primates, Rhesus Macaque monkeys will utilize a joystick to move a first-person avatar in a virtual reality foraging task, collecting virtual objects, and obtaining food rewards. Because Alzheimer’s pathology affects medial temporal structures and is characterized by deficits in memory, spatiotemporal reasoning, and route finding, better understanding of spatial representations in medial temporal areas would help create virtual reality with potentially therapeutic effects in patients with memory deficits.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience? What did you learn from it?
All researchers struggle with the pressure to make fast and significant progress. News outlets constantly report on the latest research and technology that could change fundamental aspects of society, making it is easy to feel discouraged by our individual advancements. However, I have learned that research is inherently slow and that this training is refining my skills in critical thinking, professional development, and technical skills that are imperative in pursuing a career in science.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Anyone considering getting involved in research should start conversations with, meet, and learn from the experiences of others in research. The field of academia is incredibly diverse and offers opportunities for everyone to explore their passion.

Ky Ngo - Neurobiology, Medical Anthropology

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Mentor: David R. Flum

Contact: kyvngo@uw.edu

Current research project: RYGB Mechanisms Lab

 

 

 


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance

Over 29.1 million Americans have Type II Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM). Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (RYGB) surgery achieves remission of T2DM in approximately 84 percent of cases, but the improvement in glucose homeostasis precedes the significant weight loss associated with the procedure. The mechanisms behind the ‘weight-independent’ correction of glucose homeostasis remain unclear, in part because large animal models of naturally occurring insulin resistance (IR) have been lacking. The purpose of the study was to examine the mechanisms behind improved glucose homeostasis and T2DM remission after bariatric surgery using a large animal model. In our case, we use the Ossabaw hogs as an animal model.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The experience working at the research lab has significantly improved my understanding of my classes including Biology 350 and Biology 468. In addition, I got the opportunity to learn step-by-step about the progression of translational research from research design, grant writing to execution, data gathering, and data analysis.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Start early and be patient! You should spend time learning about the research you are applying to and ensuring it fits with your career path–you may spend the next few years working there. Commitment to the research and quality trump quantity.

John Nguyen - Neurobiology

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Minor: Diversity
Mentor: Heather Mefford

Contact: nguyej7@uw.edu

Current research project: Identifying Pathogenic Copy Number Variants in Patients with Epileptic Encephalopathies

 


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance

My project is focused on examining the genetic characteristics of patients with severe pediatric epilepsy to see if we can identify rare mutations that may be causing their disorders. Specifically, I am screening patients with epileptic encephalopathies for rare chromosomal deletions and duplications (copy number variants) that are not found in the general population. Identifying variation in chromosomal regions that contain genes of interest for epilepsy studies will allow us to learn more about the pathology of the neurological disorder.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The clinical outcomes of my project are what excite me the most about getting involved with research. Working with my mentor, we are able to discuss the results of the experiments I am running and see how my results might add, strengthen or conflict with the
current sphere of knowledge in epilepsy and genetics studies. My project has a strong connection between the research bench and clinical bedside and I even get to see that connection unfold when I shadow my mentor at Seattle Children’s!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
BE PERSISTENT. Finding a position that you like can be difficult, but don’t settle on a project you have no interest in just to be in research. You want to be passionate about your project – it will lead to a more rewarding experience.

Billie Ocampo - Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

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Mentors: Haeri Choi, Matt Kaeberlein

Contact: bryman@uw.edu

Current research project: DDS, 4, 4’-diaminodiphenylsulfone, Extends Lifespan in Caenorhabitis elegans

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Aging is associated with progressive deterioration of cellular components eventually resulting in mortality. There is still much to learn about the aging process and many of the molecular mechanisms and pathways of aging are yet to be understood. This research involves identifying and testing possible interventions that increase lifespan and could delay the onset of aging-related diseases. The nematode,Caenorhabiditis elegans, is used extensively in studying the biology of aging because it is relatively easy to handle and many determinants of aging in C. elegans are conserved in mammals. The drug DDS (4, 4’-diaminodiphenylsulfone), which has been used to treat leprosy, shows promising results in extending lifespan of nematodes and we are currently performing experiments to determine the specific pathways and genes involved in lifespan extension through DDS.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there and getting involved in different opportunities like research. Before you get involved, find out what you’re interested in, but also be open to new things; maybe you’ll find something new that you’ll end up loving!

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved in undergraduate research at the beginning of my sophomore year because I wanted to get hands-on experience applying concepts that I learned in classes and to explore different career pathways in science.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most exciting aspect of undergraduate research is being able to work alongside professionals who have dedicated years to their field and being able to learn from and along with them.

Sharon Pan - Public Health, Biochemistry

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Mentor: Dr. Teresa Brentnall

Contact: shrnpn@uw.edu

Current research project: Harnessing Cancer Invasion

 

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Through data processing to correlate patient information and clinical outcomes with laboratory data, I studied the role of an oncoprotein related to pancreatic cancer progression and metastasis. The results could potentially be useful in early detection and prognosis in understanding how to contain and control the spread of the cancer.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The reality of research is that while the end result is incredibly rewarding, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Sometimes, data and results don’t come out as desired or information isn’t compiled as hoped. More often than not, research is about piecing together little steps of progress into one giant step forward. Sometimes these pieces don’t fit, but that’s what makes it so interesting: it is up to you to figure out how to make a story with your data!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
Don’t be afraid to look into something that may not typically fall within your realm of study. Search for opportunities based on your interest and passion, not necessarily what your major implies. Be open-minded in the process of finding research, and be patient in finding opportunities. Once you find an opportunity, allow yourself to fully immerse in the experience to optimally learn and grow, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions!

Amisha Parikh - Biochemistry

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Mentor: Nicholas Poolos

Contact: anp786@uw.edu

Current research project: Examining the Activation of c-Jun N-terminal Kinase during the Development of Chronic Epilepsy

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Chronic epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by recurrent seizures. Past researchers at this lab discovered that chronic epilepsy is related to an increase in activation of a specific protein, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), as shown by increased levels of phosphorylated JNK in animals experiencing seizures. The goal of my research is to map the timeline of JNK activity to see if JNK activation is a cause or a consequence of chronic epilepsy. If we discover that JNK activation is a cause, we can explore ways to prevent the onset of epilepsy or lessen its severity after a brain injury.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved in research during Winter quarter of my freshman year. I’ve been fascinated by neurology since high school and knew that I wanted to get involved in this field. After sending many emails to different faculty through the research database, I went out on a limb and directly emailed the principal investigator of a lab that piqued my interest in the Neurology Department. Fortunately, that paid off and I have been at that same lab since, and loving it more everyday!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Be sure to find a research project that is the best fit for YOU! There are a number of unique opportunities and research can extend over many fields. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, as it will definitely be rewarding!

Julia Proctor - Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

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Mentor: Stanley Fields

Contact: jjpro94@uw.edu

Current research project: LacO Repression System to Alter Expression of Genes in S. cerevisiae

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
I work in the Fields lab, which focuses mostly on the development of new technologies within biological systems. In other words, we work on creating novel systems that replace commonly used procedures in research so that future biological research can be more efficient. One of my current projects is to construct an activation-repression system that can easily be incorporated via the CRISPR-Cas9 system in front of any gene (or genes) of interest. This gives researchers a quick and easy way to control how much of a gene’s product is made (you can turn it up or down at varying levels). Let’s say you want your cells to make a lot of C. If A makes B and B makes C, then you can turn up A, B, and C all at once. Or vice versa.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved at the beginning of my second year at UW. How I got my position is really a story of luck. I was sitting at home the summer after my first year and I got an email from the biology listserv talking about two lab assistant positions in the department of Genome Sciences. I immediately applied to both, got an interview at one and while I didn’t get the lab assistant job, they offered me a research position instead. I got involved, because there is no reason not to. Also read below.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
I honestly don’t have any other advice other than to just do it (or at least try). UW is a phenomenal research institute with an unbelievably supportive undergraduate research staff to help you find your path to getting involved.

Ariana Samuelson - Biochemistry

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Mentor: Daniel Promislow

Contact: samuea2@uw.edu

Current research project: Metabolomic Correlates Associated with Aging across the Drosophila Phylogeny

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
My work involves studying aging using fruit flies as a model organism. The majority of my lab experience has involved discovering how metabolism changes with age in eleven different fruit fly species. We are seeking to determine the molecular mechanisms that explain these species’ differences in lifespan to learn more about the aging process. We have found small molecules whose concentration is related to longevity, and are now running protein and glucose assays on our flies. I have also worked on a more independent project looking at flies’ genetic variation in response to a potential life-extending drug called rapamycin.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
My favorite aspect of research has been working on a unique project that nobody else has worked on. It is so exciting to be doing something new in science that has potential for having a significant impact on the field and people’s lives. I really like thinking about the implications of my work and why it is important and exciting.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Consider how your interests fit a potential lab as well as whether you will enjoy working with a potential mentor. Also, don’t get discouraged! You might not get the first research position you apply for.

Jennifer Smith - History, Comparative History of Ideas

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Mentor: Maria-Elena Garcia

Contact: jms89@uw.edu

Current research project: Where the Wild Horses Roam: The Cross-Cultural Debate Over the Fate of Wild Horses on Yakama Tribal Lands

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
My research is centered on the ongoing debate between representatives of the Yakama nation and specific non-Native animal advocacy groups in regard to the growing population of wild horses on Yakama tribal lands. As heavily polarized debates over the methods proposed to manage herd size have erupted in the public eye, I examine how the horse has become a terrain of struggle as non-Native groups use the horse symbolically as a representation of American nationalism. Further, this debate, born from feelings of imperialist nostalgia, engenders the use of repressive authenticity, and becomes grounded in the larger frontier narrative; which, in turn, allows non-Natives to imagine themselves the protagonists of the battle of the “Civilized” vs. the “Savage” Indian. Because the debate has morphed into something larger than the welfare of wild horses on Yakama lands, my research proposes that we take seriously the agency of the horse and how we relate to our non-human others.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
Find something you’re passionate about, and then find a mentor who shares that passion. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. The Undergraduate Research Program is there to support you and help you succeed.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I became involved in undergraduate research as a participant in the 2014 Summer Institute of Arts and Humanities. I had seen the call for applications in several emails and around campus and the theme of Native modernities is something I am really passionate about. I applied, and much to my surprise was selected! It was an amazing experience, especially for an older student like myself who was also new to the University of Washington, as it really made me feel like I belonged.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Although I am a mother and full-time student, I have found my involvement in undergraduate research has ignited such a passion in me to further my work that I have become a pro at time management. When I first began, I lacked confidence in my own abilities and was concerned that with all my other obligations, I would not be able to manage my project. But with the aid of my faculty mentor, the Undergraduate Research Program, and the support of my family, I have learned that I am fully capable of more than I ever imagined. Undergraduate research has truly been one of the best things I have been involved in during my time at UW, and I would encourage everyone to check it out and get involved!

Yesim Tuncay - Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

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Minor: Chemistry
Mentors: Jia Wei, Michael Jensen

Contact: yesimt@uw.edu

Current research project: Engineering CAR T Cells to Express IL12: New Possibilities for Cancer Immunotherapy

 
Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
In the Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell immunotherapy, T cells are genetically engineered to recognize and attack tumor cells. While traditional therapies like radiation or chemotherapy harm healthy cells, CAR T cell immunotherapy can be tumor specific. Engineered CAR T cells recognize tumor cells, though in some cases, tumor cells can escape from them. In this project, we propose that by inserting Interleukin-12 gene under the control of T cell activation via the inducible NFAT promoter, the T cells’ anti-tumor activity will be enhanced.

Do you have an interesting story to share about your research experience?
One time, friends from lab and I decided to go on a mushroom hunting. We had already known that it wasn’t really a great time of the year for mushrooms, and not surprisingly we couldn’t find many, but we had such a great time hiking and spending time together. After that I realized it is actually very important to get along with the people in your lab!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Learn to fail! Yes, it is an important part of research, failing. It actually helps you not only keep asking more questions about your research and find a way to troubleshoot, but also develop your character and be more persistent in life.

Jiwei Wang - Electrical Engineering

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Mentor: Howard Chizeck

Contact: jiweiw@uw.edu

Current research project: Haptic Password

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
The security of interactions between human users and cyber systems is becoming more and more important in many areas. The traditional way of identifying a user is to utilize the alphanumerical passwords, which is easy to realize but hard to memorize and vulnerable to various kinds of attack. To enhance the security performance of corresponding systems, we take advantage of the haptic interaction technique and apply it to the mobile app development. Previous studies have shown that how a person interacts with haptic interface is unique and can be used as identification and authentication purpose.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience? What did you learn from it?
As an undergraduate, it can be really challenging if your group partners are all Ph.D. students. Undergraduates have taken very limited courses compared to Ph.D. students, and what we took might not be helpful to our project, which requires us to quickly learn lots of new knowledge/skills. Fortunately, URP staff, mentors, and other team members are always willing to help. Research is a quick progress of learning. Stay hungry, stay foolish!

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Figure out your intended major or interests by taking necessary courses and make sure you work hard and let your professors know you. Take actions to find possible opportunities by sending email to your professors and those who you don’t know!

Maresa Woodfield - Public Health

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Mentor: Steven Pergam

Contact: maresacw@uw.edu

Current research project: Evaluation of Marijuana Use among Cancer Patients: Current Trends in Use and the Need for Infection Prevention

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
My research is largely epidemiologic and focuses on infection prevention. Cancer patients often lack robust immune systems and are thus more vulnerable to infection. We identify exposures that may present an infectious risk to patients, and then evaluate how we can reduce such risks. My first project explored whether probiotic organisms normally found in the gut (such as those found in yogurt) are dangerous when they infect the bloodstream. We are also currently evaluating how cancer patients use marijuana. Mold spores may grow on marijuana leaves which can be inhaled into the lungs and cause dangerous pneumonia. We hope to learn how our patients use marijuana so we can better provide infection control guidelines.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
I had the opportunity to present my work at a professional conference. I was incredibly nervous to be surrounded by so many professionals, but I ultimately had fun and built a tremendous amount of confidence. I was the expert on my research, not the people around me. They were respectful, complimentary, and genuinely wanted to talk to me about my work despite my lack of a professional degree. My continued interaction with professionals who value my input has shown me the value of my own voice.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Research will benefit you in some way, even if it teaches you that you don’t want to do research. You will learn from your colleagues, your PI, reading primary literature, and carrying out tasks relate to your research.

Wenbi Wu - Biochemistry, Chemistry

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Minor: Mathematics
Mentors: David Ginger, Adam Colbert

Contact: wenbiw@uw.edu

Current research project: The Impact of Quantum Dot Surface Ligands on the Operation of Hybrid Polymer/Quantum Dot Solar Cells

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Solar technology is a potential source to help meet the growing demand for clean, renewable energy. We are currently trying to improve the efficiency of hybrid polymer/quantum dot solar cells by studying how the different ligands on the quantum dots influence the system.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
Science research could sometimes be very frustrating and unexpected things happen all the time; however, keep trying and do not give up. When you get to the end, outcomes can be very exciting and every failure will be worthy.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got to know Professor Ginger in my general chemistry series. I found his research interesting so I simply emailed him. The reason why I got involved is that I want to do “actual science” by applying what we learn in class to something useful.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most exciting part is to give a presentation to introduce my work to others. At that moment, I feel so professional. All the hard work just gets paid off. The biggest challenge is time management. Research is very time-consuming, and it is hard to balance research, schoolwork and other commitments.

Jingwen Xiao - Bioengineering

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Mentor: Jonathan Liu

Contact: jingwx2@uw.edu

Current research project: Development of a Widefield Imaging System to Accelerate Screening of Cancer Biopsies

 

 

 

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
To diagnose cancer, the conventional way of examining tissue biopsies is very tedious and can take days. In addition, the majority of results turn out to be benign, which does not only waste valuable healthcare resources, but also causes immense distress to the patients and their families. My research project is to accelerate the conventional screening process of cancer biopsies. I am building a simple and inexpensive imaging system to rapidly triage the specimens, so that the ones without traces of tumor are not unnecessarily examined. In this way, the workload is significantly reduced, and physicians can make much faster diagnoses.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The best part of undergraduate research is that it helps me answer the most daunting question for a college student: what do you want to do in the future? It was because of research that I found out what I am truly interested in, as well as my strengths and weaknesses. Now I have a clear career path in mind and the key steps to achieve it. Knowing what I want to do in the future is simply the most invaluable lesson I learned in college.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
My advice is to start doing research early. I started as a freshman and it gave me time and an opportunity to explore different fields. If you don’t quite know what you want to do, just start somewhere, and your heart will definitely let you know.