Undergraduate Research Program

Brendan K Ball

Brendan Smiling Major: Chemical Engineering: Nanoscience and Molecular Engineering
Mentor: Mike McKenna, Chemical Engineering; Dr. Elizabeth Nance, Chemical Engineering

Contact: bbkazu@uw.edu

Current research project: A Fluorescence-Based Approach for Characterizing Changes in Perineuronal Net Morphology

Brendan Ball is a senior in the Chemical Engineering department at the University of Washington. Brendan is inspired to apply his knowledge learned from the classroom towards impactful research discoveries. Since June of 2019, he has been researching in the Nance Research Lab to help create a Python package that can characterize and measure parts in the brain. He aspires to develop affordable medicine and treatments for those who need it. When he is not researching or studying, you will often see Brendan spending time with friends, family, and in the outdoors!


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
My research work involves Python to help measure and characterize parts of the brain. They are more specifically called perineuronal nets. Perineuronal nets, also abbreviated as PNNs, are important in the brain because they help protect our neurons, and form new neuron connections throughout our lives. As we age, the number of PNNs in our brain increases and forms new connections. My current work is to use a series of Python codes to help me accurately measure and predict the physical characteristics of the PNNs. If I can successfully develop this, the code can help us distinguish between healthy and unhealthy PNNs (healthy and unhealthy brains), which can lead to a doorway towards diagnosis tools and treatment for neurodegenerative diseases!


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I began my journey as an undergraduate researcher when I was a first year student at the UW. I got involved after listening to my FIG group presentation on research, and that idea really caught my attention. I then got involved in my first research group, and began exploring many interesting fields of study, until I found my place into the Nance Lab working on brain diseases. I wanted to get involved as an undergraduate researcher because I can directly impact the lives of others while using the knowledge that I learned from my coursework!


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
It is never too early to start! All you need is a passion for a subject, and a willingness to learn! Research is a great opportunity to learn what you enjoy doing! And who knows, it could be the determining factor that inspires you towards a different career path!