We're teaming up to advance bioengineering

Advance bioengineering.

The Oregon Bioengineering Symposium — jointly organized by Oregon State, Oregon Health & Science University, and the University of Oregon — was established in 2019 to promote collaboration and exchange of ideas between students, researchers and practitioners in Oregon and the surrounding region. This year the meeting will take place on Oct. 6 at the LaSells Stewart Center at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. There will also be a virtual poster session on Oct. 5. The meeting will cover all areas of biomedical engineering, highlighting innovations in methods, materials and models.

Visit the official site for the 2022 Oregon Bioengineering Symposium for more information about how to submit an abstract and register for the meeting.

The Oregon Bioengineering Symposium builds on the combined strengths within the region in biomedical engineering research and technology development. The meeting typically draws hundreds of participants from universities and industry, providing a forum for exchange of ideas and establishment of new collaborations. Previous meetings: 2019 Oregon Bioengineering Symposium, 2021 Oregon Bioengineering Symposium.

The symposium also provides an opportunity for prospective students and post-docs to learn about research opportunities in Oregon. Oregon State University and University of Oregon offer joint MS and PhD degrees in bioengineering. Oregon Health and Science University offers graduate degrees in Biomedical Engineering.

Aug. 8, 2022

Student thrives at nexus of art and engineering

A picture of Paris Myers.

Paris Myers’ time at Oregon State University took the shape of a collage with a bit of everything in the mix.

An Honors College student graduating this spring with bachelor’s degrees in bioengineering and fine arts and minors in art history and popular music, Myers has been, among other things, an undergraduate researcher at Oregon State’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems  Institute, a visiting research intern at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, an intern for, and co-leader of Oregon State’s 2021 Marine Energy Collegiate Competition team that placed in a national competition.

It’s no wonder, then, that she was recently awarded the Joe Hendricks Scholarship for Academic Excellence and will be honored with a video highlighting her accomplishments at Oregon State’s 2022 Commencement.

“I’m extremely grateful to be awarded the Joe Hendricks scholarship,” Myers said. “There are hundreds of excellent graduating students at OSU, including 36 other nominees for this honor. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Myers was nominated by her Honors thesis co-chair, Skip Rochefort, associate professor of chemical engineering, who describes her as a thinker, learner, and maker to the highest degree.

“Paris will change the world, sooner rather than later,” Rochefort said.

Myers was shown the value in blending art and science via hands-on learning early on by her parents. Once she started Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, she took a course called Introduction to Art and Engineering taught by Adam Kirsch. 

“In that class, I realized combining art and engineering empowered me to engineer in a way that put humanity first and created scalable impact,” Myers said. “I had an intrinsic curiosity.”

Paris Myers
Graduating from high school at 16, Myers committed to cultivating her dual art and engineering interests. Trusting her intuition about where she would best thrive, she contacted both Oregon State and the University of Oregon. Immediately and enthusiastically, Toni Doolen, dean of the Honors College and professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, responded to her.

“It was just a match,” explained Myers. “A special shoutout to Dean Toni Doolen. I did things differently, and the Honors College supported me and stood behind my interdisciplinary approach to my education and research.”

While at Oregon State, Myers has engaged in research, internships, and other professional and charitable opportunities. Last summer, she received funding from Doolen and the Honors College and Larry Rodgers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, to intern with the Harvard Biorobotics Laboratory. There, she co-created a study that combined haptics and soft robotics, visual art, and curatorial studies. Myers’ own curatorial experience began while interning with Oregon State’s Kirsi Peltomäki, professor of art and contemporary art historian.

“Dr. Peltomäki was my main advisor for my art history minor. I loved every second of it, and I’m honored to have her on Honors thesis committee” Myers said. “I also loved my experience doing a minor in popular music. I’m thankful and lucky to have earned the graduating senior music award.”

Inspired by Solomon Yim, professor of coastal and ocean engineering and structural engineering, who serves at her other Honors thesis co-chair, Myers will continue her passion for sustainable engineering by collaborating with interdisciplinary teams to promote renewable, innovative solutions.

Myers also serves her community through her art. When the pandemic struck in 2020, she launched her fundraising campaign, Paintings for Produce, working with Gathering Together Farm in Philomath to raise $10,000 for food donations to Benton County families through the commission of custom paintings. She also advocates for accessible education; in 2021, she interned for, a startup from the co-founder of Master Class that designs courses filling baccalaureate core credit requirements for all learners at a low cost.

Days after she graduates, Myers will join the MIT Media Lab’s biomechatronics team as a full-time researcher working with famed scientist Hugh Herr

“I’m thrilled to combine art and engineering — function and form — to create solutions that integrate the human body, design, and robotic systems,” Myers said.

As she reflects on her undergraduate career, Myers wishes success to current and prospective Oregon State engineering and arts students. She suggests it is OK not to know what they want at first, but they should “never take themselves out of a room” and trust their capacity to learn, even if nontraditionally.

“There are many different ways to be excellent,” Myers said. “How you create artwork, engineer systems, or solve problems might differ from how your peers do it. And that’s absolutely OK.”

June 7, 2022

Oregon State Engineering students, alum earn NSF fellowships

Portraits of Ethan Copple, David Evitt, and Melanie Huynh.

Two engineering graduate students at Oregon State University and one recent alum have been selected as fellows in the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the institution. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. Only 10% of applicants receive fellowships.

Melanie Huynh, B.S. bioengineering ’21, will begin pursuing her doctorate in chemical engineering in the fall at the University of California, Berkeley. Working extensively with her mentor Cory Simon, assistant professor of chemical engineering, she has co-published three papers, including one as first author, on metal-organic frameworks for gas storage and separation. Huynh envisions using MOFs to deliver insulin to diabetics orally, like a vitamin, as an alternative to injections.

“Diabetes affects nearly 35 million Americans, with treatment costing over $9,500 in medical expenses per patient annually,” Huynh explained. “Daily insulin injection remains the most common treatment method, which many find painful and inconvenient. Drug-delivery MOFs may solve this.”

Huynh aims to use molecular simulations coupled with supervised machine learning techniques to create an efficient model that predicts insulin selectivity in biocompatible MOFs. The results will guide the design of successful insulin-storing materials, cutting down on time and cost.

Beyond contributing to research in chemical engineering and computer science, Huynh seeks to expand opportunities in STEM for students from minority communities, attributing her own undergraduate success to encouragement from mentors and networking with College of Engineering students and professionals.

“The NSF funding will help me further my career as an academic and allow me to provide exciting STEM opportunities to traditionally underrepresented communities,” she said.

Ethan Copple is pursuing dual master’s degrees, in industrial systems engineering and applied anthropology. In 2018, he researched health care access in Guatemala, blending systems engineering tools with ethnographic insights to discover hidden, yet crucial, complexities. This experience propelled him to seek NSF funding to support his career goal of systems consulting to identify and solve problems in health care and beyond in international development contexts. Copple says his motivation also stems from the Catholic social principle of aiding the poor and vulnerable, and from his father’s career as an engineer in the nonprofit sector.

“I’ve always been interested in humanitarian applications of systems engineering,” Copple explained. “One of my undergraduate mentors, Dr. Jessica Heier Stamm, has done much work with humanitarian and public health logistics systems, showing me how my technical skills could be applied outside of industry.”

Now that he has received NSF funding, Copple is considering his long-term options.

“The NSF award has reoriented a number of my future plans. I’m evaluating Ph.D. opportunities and looking at a few different future visions with my advisors to see what paths and timelines make most sense,” Copple said. 

David Evitt will soon earn his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, advised by Nordica MacCarty, associate professor of mechanical engineering. He will remain at Oregon State for his doctorate, starting in the fall with advisors MacCarty and David Blunck, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Evitt hopes to bridge “cutting-edge combustion science and practical implementation” by developing cleaner biomass-fueled cookstoves. Biomass is the primary energy source for an estimated 3 billion people around the world, concentrated mostly in rural areas in low- and middle-income countries.

“Affordable, high-performance appliances delivering robust emissions reductions are needed for biomass to take on an expanded role as a low-carbon fuel in the U.S. and in resource-constrained settings around the world,” Evitt said.

Evitt’s interest in humanitarian engineering started when he worked for a nonprofit organization in Guatemala following his undergraduate education, aiding rural families with technology solutions. Later, he co-founded a clean cookstove manufacturing business and helped finalize the Jet-Flame design at Aprovecho Research Center, where he has worked for three years. His NSF funding supports his ongoing mission to help build basic infrastructure for a sustainable world.

“My Ph.D. research will apply advanced combustion diagnostics, exploring how injected turbulent air jets interact with wood logs to influence the combustion process and emissions formation,” Evitt explained. “Assuring super-clean combustion with fuel of varying properties over different operating conditions is an exciting engineering challenge that can benefit many.”

Nordica MacCarty, who works with both Copple and Evitt, both of whom are Evans Fellows, knows their research fellowships will benefit society through engineering.

“The fact that two graduate students in Oregon State’s small humanitarian engineering program are NSF Fellows speaks to the caliber and commitment of the students we have been able to attract, as well as the relevance of engineering for social good in the eyes of NSF,” MacCarty said. “These students bring their rich experience and interdisciplinary approach to work on problems like burning wood more cleanly so that it remains a viable, affordable, and sustainable fuel; and applying a systems approach through a social science lens to bring health care access to underserved populations.”

April 25, 2022

Former classmates collaborate on cancer therapies

Brynn Olden and Anthony Amsberry next to eachother.

Brynn Olden, B.S. chemical engineering ’13, and Anthony Amsberry, B.S. bioengineering ’13, had big plans in high school. Olden, in Wilsonville, wrote them down for a Spanish class assignment. In translation, she said — I will be a scientist, cure cancer, and win a Nobel Prize. Just 15 miles away in Beaverton, Amsberry was aiming at medical school.

Their paths converged at Oregon State University, where they became classmates and friends, and where each tallied an impressive record of internships, research, scholarships, and service. Both graduated summa cum laude in 2013.

Olden set off to pursue a doctorate in bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her thesis research on cancer therapies that harness the immune system was personally motivated by her mother’s 2011 breast cancer diagnosis. (Olden’s mother recently celebrated 10 years cancer free.) But then, during graduate school, her father-in-law was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer for which there is no cure. (All things considered, he’s doing far better than expected.) The news further pushed her to achieve her high school ambitions.

Amsberry, instead of heading to medical school, went to work with a Seattle-based biopharmaceutical company. “I realized, through my coursework, there was an entirely different dimension of medicine that would allow me to combine my desire to help people with my passion for engineering,” he said.

Soon after arriving in Seattle, he learned about an opportunity he couldn’t pass up: working at Juno Therapeutics, a local start-up. Olden, who had recently begun a research collaboration with Juno, told Amsberry about the company’s interesting work in advanced, patient-focused immunotherapy that offered hope to cancer patients. He joined the company as a process engineer. A series of acquisitions brought Juno under the corporate wing of Bristol Myers Squibb. During the transition, Olden became a principal scientist in BMS’s viral vector process development department.

The two play intersecting roles in the development of chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, or CAR T cell therapy, intended for patients with certain blood cancers who haven’t responded to conventional treatments.

CAR T cell therapy involves drawing a sample of the patient’s white blood cells. T cells in the blood are then genetically engineered to recognize and bind to proteins found on the surface of certain cancer cells. The reprogrammed CAR T cells — which are multiplied to create the appropriate dose — are injected back into the patient, where they attack targeted cancer cells.

Two of the company’s therapies — Breyanzi, for patients with large B-cell lymphoma, and Abecma, for patients with multiple myeloma —  have received FDA approval. “One of the things I’m most proud of is being involved in the final prep work to file the FDA biological licensing application for Breyanzi,” Olden said. Other cell therapies are in the development pipeline, and applications of the technology beyond cancer treatment are under investigation.

“My department is responsible for what I call the ‘secret sauce’ — the viral vectors used to genetically modify a patient’s cells so they can recognize cancer cells once they’re infused back into the patient,” Olden said. “It’s highly personalized medicine. Every day I literally get to work on something that may become a treatment option down the road for my father-in-law. That’s a huge motivation.” She currently supports early clinical trials of CAR T cell therapy for multiple myeloma.

As a senior engineer in BMS’s cell therapy division, Amsberry supports the technology that influences how products are manufactured and controlled and get delivered to patients. “It’s exciting to work on a team that tackles problems that have never been solved, and potentially to have a profound impact on patients’ lives,” he said. “This is what motivates me every day.”

Looking back, they agree that the College of Engineering — particularly the truly dedicated faculty — set them up to succeed in their endeavors. “The hands-on research experience, for instance, was extremely valuable and solidified my decision to get a doctorate,” Olden said, adding that she felt a great deal of support as a woman in a field dominated by men. Now, at BMS, Olden strives to foster a diverse STEM workforce. 

Amsberry says he benefitted from the collaborative environment fostered by his teachers, but it took some adjusting for the highly competitive student to view his peers as teammates rather than rivals. “With the help of some of the faculty, my mindset shifted to an understanding that working as a team was often the best way to solve big problems,” he said. “That attitude has paid big dividends in my professional life. So has the ability to balance multiple projects at once, which is also something I first did at Oregon State.”

Amsberry and Olden remain close friends. “Our families are really close, and we get together a lot,” Olden said. Working together is a bonus they couldn’t have predicted. Twenty years from now, they hope to look back and see that they had a hand in creating effective and lasting treatments for the countless patients who were running out of time and options. “That,” Amsberry said, “is what I would consider true success.”

March 21, 2022

Heart of cold

Researcher in lab

Imagine someday you could have a backup copy of your heart or liver, grown from your own stem cells and ready to transplant, just waiting in cold storage should you ever need it. While that technology doesn’t yet exist, new research from the College of Engineering is paving the way toward a key prerequisite: The ability to preserve living tissues indefinitely.

Cryopreservation has long been used in simpler applications, such as the long-term storage of blood, reproductive cells, embryos, and plant seeds. But delicate tissues and the complex organs built from them can suffer critical damage when subjected to the deep freeze.

Thanks to work spearheaded by Adam Higgins, associate professor of bioengineering, medical science is a key step closer to the cryopreservation of brain slices, pancreatic cells — and, yes, even whole organs — courtesy of an innovative computer model.

“Cryopreservation of tissues would be useful for biomedical research and for transplantation medicine, but it’s difficult to cryopreserve tissues,” Higgins said. “One major reason is that ice crystals can break apart a tissue from the inside. Folks who cook are probably already familiar with this — a tomato that has been frozen and thawed becomes mushy.”

Vitrification, Higgins explains, is a cryopreservation strategy using compounds known as cryoprotectants, or CPAs, to prevent ice formation. One example is ethylene glycol, the same stuff used in automotive antifreeze. At sufficient concentrations, CPAs cause the water inside cells to solidify into a glassy state at liquid nitrogen temperatures (below -320 F), rather than form ice crystals. But vitrifying tissues isn’t as simple as just loading them up with antifreeze, Higgins says.

“The problem is that these chemicals can cause osmotic damage, due to water crossing cell membranes and causing the cells to burst,” Higgins said. “They can also kill cells due to toxicity. So, in designing the best vitrification method, the trick is choosing the best path between normal physiological conditions and a final vitrified state — that is, high CPA concentration and liquid nitrogen temperature.”

Hence the need for mathematical modeling. In earlier research involving a single layer of endothelial cells, which make up the lining of the circulatory system, Higgins and colleagues in the College of Engineering showed the value of a model that involved CPA toxicity, osmotic damage, and mass transfer. The modeling uncovered an unexpected approach for loading CPA: getting cells to swell.

The researchers found that if cells were initially exposed to a low CPA concentration and given time to swell, the sample could be vitrified after rapidly adding a high concentration. The upshot was much less overall toxicity, Higgins said. Healthy cell survival following vitrification rose to greater than 80%, up from about 10% with a conventional approach. The findings were published in Biophysical Journal.

“The biggest single problem and limiting factor in vitrification is CPA toxicity, and the swelling method was quite useful for addressing that,” he said. “Our new paper extends this line of research by presenting a new model of mass transfer in tissue. A key feature is that it allows for the prediction of tissue size changes.”

Two students in lab uniform.

Ross Warner, Ph.D. chemical engineering ’20, was a research associate in Adam Higgins’ lab.

Higgins notes that there have been observations of multiple types of tissues changing size after exposure to CPA solutions. Among them are cartilage, ovarian tissue, and groups of cells in the pancreas known as islets. Those size changes will likely be important considerations for the design of tissue vitrification methods, he said.

“The conventional mass transfer modeling approach, known as Fick’s law, assumes tissue size remains constant,” Higgins said. “Our new model, which we used for two very different types of tissues, articular cartilage and pancreatic islets, opens the door to extending our previous approach to the design of better methods for the cryopreservation of various tissue types.”

When vitrification of increasingly complex tissues is possible, new applications are likely to become feasible, Higgins said — especially as progress continues in the quickly advancing field of tissue regeneration, in which stem cells can be used to grow new tissues or even whole organs.

Conceivably, tissues could be made in small amounts and stored until needed for transplantation. Organs donated for transplants could be routinely preserved until a precise immunological match is found. It’s also not outside the realm of possibility, Higgins said, that people could one day have a second heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, or any other organ grown from their own stem cells and vitrified for future use.

Drug development is another area that would benefit from improved and expanded vitrification potential. Drug testing typically occurs within cell culture systems or in animal models, which often don’t accurately predict a drug’s effects in people. New “organ on a chip” devices — with microfluidic chambers containing cultured human cells to mimic tissues or organs — might be able to more accurately forecast drug responses in people, but their use necessitates long-term storage of cells.

Collaborating with Higgins were Ross Warner, a research associate at Oregon State, Ali Eroglu of Augusta University in Georgia, and Robyn Shuttleworth and James Benson of the University of Saskatchewan. The National Institutes of Health provided funding for the research.

March 21, 2022

Medicine and engineering: two sides of the same coin

Sept. 13, 2021
Helena Raposo
Helena Raposo

Helena Raposo
Photo by Johanna Carson

The National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program brings together engineers to solve some of the 21st century’s biggest societal problems. Through her involvement with COE’s Leadership Academy, Helena Raposo represented Oregon State at the GCSP global summit in London in 2019.

“I got to work on a project with students from universities around the world,” Raposo said. “In research, and really in anything that you do, getting different perspectives is crucial, because you never know who is going to come up with the best idea. Being open-minded is so important to meeting your goals.”

Raposo, who grew up in Brazil and moved to Portland during high school, says her main goal in engineering is improving people’s lives. Off campus, she worked as a caregiver for a local company. On campus, she was involved in research and worked with students through her position as program management intern for the Leadership Academy. Now that she’s recently graduated with a degree in bioengineering, she is taking a year off to continue research while preparing for her next step: applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs.

When Raposo first heard about M.D.-Ph.D. programs, she was working for Oregon Health and Sciences University during the summer of 2019.

“I got to talk to different admissions personnel and some M.D.-Ph.D. students,” she said. “I got to hear about what they do and the research they work on. So, that was, like, bam! I want to do this, too.”

Raposo likes the way the dual-degree program focuses on both patient care and research. She sees medicine and engineering as two sides of the same coin.

“For me, it’s really thinking about how I can understand problems to better solve them,” she said. “If you do research, you’re trying to understand the root of the problem; in medicine you’re trying to get to the root of the disease.”

Raposo’s first experience with research was during the summer of her second year. She sought out an opportunity to work at Oregon Health & Science University’s National Primate Research Center and landed a fellowship. She spent the summer studying neural stem cells, specifically how hyaluronic acid impacts the growth and development of neural stem cells in the presence of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“It was definitely a learning curve because it was my first time working in a lab,” Raposo said. “But understanding it was something that was, and still is, very important for me. I think anyone that knows someone with a disease like this would be more curious to learn about it and try to find a way to solve it.”

When she returned to campus that fall, she overheard her physics class teaching assistant talking about his research one day in a biophysics lab. Raposo asked if they could use a hand and ended up securing a volunteer position with Bo Sun, the lab’s principal investigator. Her focus was on running experiments with a collagen matrix that mimics the setting of a tumor surrounded by healthy cells. The experiments gave Raposo and other researchers the chance to study the mobility and behavior of cancer cells.

“Being able to do research has really opened my eyes to what I want to do in the future,” Raposo said. “Research and professional development like I had with the Leadership Academy are among the most important things you can be involved with before you graduate.”

Associated Researcher

We're teaming up to revolutionize bioengineering

Biomedical scholars and industry experts converged on Corvallis for the first-ever Oregon Bioengineering Symposium

Biomedical scholars and industry experts converged on Corvallis for the first-ever Oregon Bioengineering Symposium, hosted by Oregon State on Nov. 22.

The inaugural meeting drew students, faculty, and practitioners from across the state and surrounding region to examine and discuss a broad variety of bioengineering topics. The goal of the meeting was to promote collaboration and exchange of ideas among students, researchers, and practitioners in Oregon and the surrounding region. The symposium — jointly organized by Oregon State, Oregon Health & Science University, and the University of Oregon —was open to all areas of bioengineering, but special emphasis was given to technologies for precision health.

The one-day meeting was the latest in a series of collaborations undertaken by the three state universities as they seek to capitalize on Oregon's combined strengths in the area of biomedical technology. Graduate programs in bioengineering at Oregon State University and biomedical engineering at Oregon Health & Science University, combined with the University of Oregon’s Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, provide bioengineering scholars both breadth and depth in a range of topics, through training in measurement and approaches rooted in data science and computational biology to address unmet clinical needs.

More than 200 participants registered for the symposium.

“I’m very pleased with the turnout,” said Adam Higgins, associate professor of bioengineering in the College of Engineering, who headed up the Oregon State team that hosted the event. “There was great involvement from faculty, students, and industry from across the state and the surrounding region. Several people alerted me to opportunities for new collaborations that came out of this meeting. We hope to build on this success in future meetings.”  

Organizers plan to make the symposium an annual event, with the three Oregon universities taking turns hosting the meeting at their location. 

Elain Fu, associate professor of bioengineering in the College of Engineering, delivered one of the featured presentations, on “Porous Microfluidic Sensors for Field Use.” Faculty from UO and OHSU delivered additional featured presentations on a variety of biomedical topics.  

Industry panels included representatives from a dozen companies and organizations, including Genentech, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Micro Systems Engineering, Acumed, and Juno Therapeutics. 

A poster session drew more than 70 participants, including students from the three sponsoring universities, as well as the University of Idaho, the University of Portland and Willamette University. A team from Oregon State tied for first place with a team from Willamette for the best undergraduate poster. Top honors in the graduate division went to a student from the University of Oregon. 

Nov. 8, 2019

Our students chart their own course to success

Anthony Le

Anthony Le took a leap of faith when he came to Oregon State. 

He started working on his doctorate in bioengineering in the fall of 2016 — before the university had officially begun to offer that degree, while the bioengineering graduate program was in its final stages of approval. So, he entered as a chemical engineering major and transferred into the bioengineering program a year later, as one of the program’s first two students.

Le says his decision has paid off.

“I have been the guinea pig for everything so far,” Le said, laughing. “But it’s been great for me. There are a lot of opportunities for a self-directed student who knows what they want to do. It’s truly an interdisciplinary program, so there is a lot of freedom to create your own path.”

Le first became interested in bioengineering as an undergraduate at Wofford College, a small liberal arts college in South Carolina. Initially intending to go on to medical school, Le loaded up on science and math classes. But as his education progressed, he found himself leaning in a different direction.

“I decided I didn’t really want to go to medical school,” Le said. “But I was still very interested in the applied sciences — biomedical engineering in particular. So, I started looking at graduate programs in those areas.”

After wrapping up a bachelor of science in chemistry, Le headed out to California to work for six months as an analytical chemist at E. & J. Gallo Winery while he weighed options for his academic future. On a recruitment visit to Oregon State, he met Adam Higgins, associate professor of bioengineering, who told Le about the new interdisciplinary graduate program he was working to create.

A follow-up email from Higgins helped Le make up his mind to come to Oregon State, by tipping him off to an opportunity to work on a project with Ravi Balasubramanian, associate professor of mechanical engineering and robotics.

That project involves taking a piece of robotics technology — a mechanism that gives robot grippers the kind of adaptive grasp needed to securely hold onto curved or irregularly shaped objects, such as balls — and translating it into a surgical implant that could someday help patients who are undergoing tendon-transfer surgery to restore lost  grip function.

The implant project seemed like the perfect fit for Le. 

Le started working with Balasubramanian in September 2016. During his first year, the graduate core curriculum in bioengineering was still in development, so he augmented his schedule with elective courses in robotics. As a result, he will graduate with a graduate minor in robotics.

“The robotics coursework is very complementary to the work that I do in biomechanics,” Le said. “That speaks to the interdisciplinary aspect of this program. We also work closely with orthopedic surgeons in the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. For example, I’ve learned sterile technique and have gotten to scrub in on surgical procedures.”

Jim Sweeney, professor and director of the bioengineering graduate program, co-advises Le, along with Balasubramanian.

“It’s been such a pleasure to work with Tony and Ravi,” Sweeney said. “Tony has embraced being a pioneer in the new program. His research, combining theoretical and applied aspects of mechanical engineering, robotics, orthopedics, and muscle physiology, represents very well the kind of education and training that the degree is aimed at.”

Oregon State’s interdisciplinary graduate program in bioengineering offers master’s and doctoral degree paths, each centering on a highly individualized, focused research experience. Participating faculty from across the university serve as mentors and advisors. The program provides students with resources and faculty expertise to conduct specialized study in one of five core areas: biomaterials, biomedical devices and instrumentation, human performance engineering, medical imaging, and systems and computational biology.

Le is confident he’ll have a variety of career options open to him when he’s earned his doctorate.  He envisions working with surgeons and engineers in clinical settings, or with surgical implant manufacturers, or even with prosthetic and orthotic designers. He passed his qualifying examination last spring, and he’s on course to finish in early 2021.

“Coming from a chemistry background at a liberal arts college, with no engineering experience, it’s great to know that I can work hard enough to become an engineer,” he said.

Sept. 6, 2019
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