Undergraduate Research Program

Rachel Shi

Major: Bioengineering
Mentor: Buddy Ratner (Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering), Runbang Tang (Bioengineering)

Contact: rxshi@uw.edu

Current research projects: Urea-Permeable Polymeric Membrane for Selective Nanofiltration in Hemodialysis


Rachel is a senior (c/o 2022) majoring in Bioengineering with an option in Nanoscience and Molecular Engineering. After becoming interested in applying engineering techniques in medical contexts in her first two years, she began working with Dr. Ratner in his Biomaterials lab. Her work in his lab has been centered on developing membranes for nanofiltration in dialysis using a variety of synthesis methods. She is also involved with student groups that develop diagnostic devices and hopes to see her projects to commercialization.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
In the U.S., 750,000 people are affected by end-stage renal disease, the final stage of chronic kidney disease. These individuals require treatment via dialysis or kidney replacement for survival, with the former being significantly more widespread. My work aims to address the inconveniences and shortcomings of hemodialysis; in particular, I am developing thin films capable of filtering toxins such as urea with high specificity. This would also facilitate the creation of a portable hemodialysis device that would resolve many of the limitations posed to dialysis patients currently.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
Before university, I had a biology instructor (Dr. Emily Jacobs-Palmer) who was passionate about making science more accessible and digestible for everyone. Under her guidance, I conducted my first (admittedly very low-budget) independent research project, using DNA detection techniques to determine the spread of invasive species around the Puget Sound. This experience was my first introduction to research and I began emailing PIs the summer before freshman year despite my inexperience. I joined a psychiatry and neuroscience lab where I was able to develop and hone many of the core research skills that I carried over to my current bioengineering lab.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Don’t be afraid to reach out and learn more about a lab’s research! This can be asking other students, TAs, and professors or browsing departmental websites and skimming papers. Know that research can take many different forms: it can be with a PI, mostly student-led, part of a larger initiative, independent, etc. Research can also take place in many disciplines; you don’t have to confine yourself to a lab in your major! There are many interdisciplinary projects out there that may align with your skills and interests.