REU Profile: Microfluidics internship teaches patience, perseverance

Alex Chavez is a rising sophomore at University of Central Florida where he is studying Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Bio-Engineering and Mathematics. He spent the summer in the Materials Science and Engineering laboratories of Kalina Hristova and Peter C. Searson as part of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology Research Experience for Undergraduates program (INBT REU). His mentor was Alex Komin, a PhD candidate in the Searson group.

Alex wanted to write about his experience at Johns Hopkins in the INBT REU program in a blog post as follows:

This summer at the INBT REU has been a challenging and rewarding experience that has allowed me to investigate interesting topics at the interface of microfluidics, biological cells, and drug delivery. My research is focused on fabricating microfluidic devices, which allow to easily introduce the fluorescent molecules of interest to the cells and wash them out while doing live-cell fluorescence imaging.

Alex Chavez

Alex Chavez

While the main purpose of the device is to measure the rates at which fluorescent molecules can enter and exit cells, the applications of this microfluidic device may extend to the measurements of inhibition and cell viability without taking the cells out of the microscope. One of my research goals was to optimize the microfluidic device, such as the tube connection and battling with the bubbles that could ultimately stop the flow of the fluid in the microfluidic vessel. I have enjoyed learning how to fabricate microfluidic devices, work in the cleanroom, culture cells, seed cells, and to work with a confocal microscope.

This experience has given me the chance to learn from an expert in cell culture and learn more about the JHU community. Being mentored by an expert that can guide me and give me hints on what to do next, as well as to let me explore my own potential, has given me an incredible insight into the life of a graduate student. It has taught me the patience, diligence, and passion, to name a few skills, which a researcher should possess to perform their best in the laboratory. It has also showed me that sometimes experiments planned for a specific day may be delayed due to troubleshooting the device. It has also made me realize that if you keep on working and putting 100 percent of yourself, one day when you least expect it, you might be able to attain publishable results. This experience has ultimately taught me to keep on working and fighting for the love and advancement of science and drug delivery.

My experience at INBT has guided me and confirmed my thirst to pursue an advanced degree in biomedical engineering. My peers in the INBT REU program have inspired me to push myself to the limits and continue to work hard in order to know as much as them. I have visited Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and have had dinners with my peers. I’m blessed and truly privileged to have had this experience, including talking with my Puerto Rican roommate, Jean Rodriguez, about future goals and aspirations.

My mentor, Alexander Komin, has taught me invaluable skills that I will cherish and continue to further develop in the future. Thank you very much INBT for allowing me to further my research experience.

All press inquiries about this program or about INBT in general should be directed to Mary Spiro, INBT’s science writer and media relations director at


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