Student engineers solve village problems through Global Engineering Innovation Program

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology hosts teams of students to travel to foreign countries to apply their engineering skills to solve local problems through a program called Global Engineering Innovation. This story, featured in the Johns Hopkins Gazette, describes one of those projects in Nazaçu, along the Amazon River in Brazil: the design and production of a safer cassava mill that reduces the risk of injury. INBT has also hosted teams in Tanzania and India.

GEU design team with the finalized pedal power grain mill in Tanzania (from left to right) Kristen Kosielski, Jeannine Coburn, Iwen Wu and local resident Jackson. (Photo courtesy Jeannine Coburn)

GEU design team with the finalized pedal power grain mill in Tanzania (from left to right) Kristen Kosielski, Jeannine Coburn, Iwen Wu and local resident Jackson. (Photo courtesy Jeannine Coburn)

Said program director Jennifer Elisseeff, the Jules Stein Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute: ”This program has enormous potential to have students visit various communities around the world to design and solve real problems that can help people in their daily lives.”

Read more from the Gazette article here.

Read more about the INBT GEI program here.

 

Interning in INBT’s animation studio

Students from the Maryland Institute College of Art, aka MICA, have been interning at the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanobioTechnology’s Animation Studios pretty much since the studio came into existence in 2007. Studio director and INBT web guru Martin Rietveld organizes the student internships each semester and every summer.

Anny Lai.

Anny Lai.

Most evenings, MICA graphic design major Anny Lai can be found in the INBT animation computer lab working on animating the process of stem cell based tissue regeneration. She has blogged about her experience here.

For more information about internships with INBT, which are open to JHU students, MICA students and others training in the arts, go to this link. Programs used in the animation studio include Cinema 4D, AfterEffects and Adobe Flash.

Even students without training or a background in the arts are welcome to take Martin’s independent study course in animation. Students in engineering and the basic sciences have created smaller animation projects that they use in academic presentations or have submitted to peer-reviewed journals for publication.

Contact Martin at rietveld@jhu.edu for more information.

What is INBT?

At Johns Hopkins University, the Institute for NanoBioTechnology is sort of a strange hybrid animal— a unique entity in academia. Founded in 2006, we are a virtual center that draws faculty membership from four divisions – the medical school, engineering school, school of arts and sciences and from public health.

Four different divisions comprise INBT.

Four different divisions comprise INBT.

Two faculty members, Peter Searson, the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Denis Wirtz, the Theophilus H. Smoot Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, started INBT. They thought it made sense to combine the efforts of people in engineering with people working in the medical and basic sciences as well as in public health to better solve problems in health care. We have more than 220 affiliated faculty members. There are no other centers or institutes at Hopkins with as many participants from as many different disciplines.

Any faculty member can become a member of INBT; they just have to have an interest in incorporating nanobiotechnology—or science at the scale of just a few atoms—into their research. Researchers at INBT are working on everything from drug delivery systems to solving problems in basic science and engineering using nanobiotechnology.

Physically, INBT is located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Suite 100 of Croft Hall. That’s where our administrative offices are and some of our faculty members have laboratories in this building. But our research occurs wherever our faculty members are working, and much of that is at the School of Medicine. In fact, nearly half of our members come from the medical school. Faculty members in other divisions are mostly likely collaborating with people at the School of Medicine.

At INBT, we search for funding opportunities for our members and offer small seed grants that help collaborators launch projects. Sometimes these projects are later funded and sustained by larger federal grants. We feel good about helping new ideas find “legs”.

In addition, we train up-and-coming scientists and engineers from high school through the postdoctoral level in our affiliated labs. These include short-term summer programs as well as highly competitive government funded research experiences and fellowships that last several years. INBT is educating the next generation of researchers who will solve problems at the interface of science, engineering and medicine. Our graduate students who fulfill specific requirements are awarded a Certificate of Advanced Study in NanoBioTechnology.

We have global outreach programs as well. INBT has funded research teams to India and Tanzania to solve engineering problems in local communities. Sometimes the challenges are medical, and sometimes they are purely engineering, but the teams much use local materials and resources to accomplish their goals.

Finally, we have industry affiliations. By working with companies in the U.S. and worldwide, we are developing training opportunities for our students that result in the development of new knowledge and hopefully new patented and marketable products. We don’t want to keep our innovations in the lab; we want to bring them to people for the benefit of humankind.

So in a nutshell, that’s what INBT is all about. To learn more about some of our specific programs and about some of the other centers we have launched under the INBT “brand”, read the other articles in this series. You can also watch this video about INBT. 

This article is part of a series of brief reports on INBT and its different components and programs. Together, we hope these articles will help readers inside and outside of the Johns Hopkins University community to understand what INBT is and what we do.

 

My life as an undergraduate researcher

I joined the Denis Wirtz Lab in the Institute for NanoBioTechnology the summer after my freshman year. I was nervous to start in a lab with such brilliant scientists, but everyone was really welcoming and friendly. After observing graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the lab, I was given my own project. I had free rein to design the protocol and figure out how to analyze the data.

Katherine Tschudi. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

Katherine Tschudi. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

At first, it was difficult, but working through this and the inevitable obstacles that came made me a better researcher and scientist. I am incredibly grateful for this experience as a senior as I look back and see how the Wirtz Lab has helped me grow professionally and academically.

As a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering major at Hopkins, we study how different physical, chemical, and biological processes work. In Wirtz Lab, I have had the opportunity to see this in action. Through my two years, I’ve looked at the differences in cell proliferation and motility for metastatic and primary cancer cells. I learned how to ask the right questions, how to think critically about data, and how to solve problems. Using the skills from Wirtz Lab, I also had the amazing opportunity to research abroad in Switzerland at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

In February 2014, I will be starting a job at Genentech, and I give a lot of credit to the great undergraduate research experience I’ve had in INBT. If you want to read more about my research experiences, I wrote a blog for Hopkins Admissions during my years at Hopkins and have around six posts detailing my experience.

Click here to read Kate’s six blog entires about working in the Wirtz Lab at Hopkins-Interactive.

Kate Tschudi earned her degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in December 2013. She is just one of the many undergraduate students who have benefitted by participating in undergraduate research in an INBT affiliated laboratory. Johns Hopkins University, founded as a research institute, emphasizes undergraduate research experiences, and more than half of the undergraduates participate in research projects at some point during their academic careers here.  Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology actively supports undergraduate research opportunities and in an informal way helps match students to projects in laboratories of affiliated faculty members. 

Related Links:

Wirtz Lab

 

Studying cells in 3D, the way it should be

When scientists experiment on cells in a flat Petri dish, it’s more been a matter of convenience than anything that recapitulates what that cell experiences in real life. Johns Hopkins professor Denis Wirtz for some time has been growing and studying cells three dimensions, rather than the traditional two dimensions. And pretty much, he’s discovered that a lot of what we think we know about cells is dead wrong.

cancer-in-3d-impact_0

Cell in 3D. Image by Anjil Giri/Wirtz Lab

In this recent article by Johns Hopkins writer Dale Keiger, you will discover what Wirtz has discovered through his investigations. Furthermore, you will find out about the man behind these revolutionary ideas that are turning basic cell biology upside-down, as well as challenge a lot of what we thought we understood about diseases like cancer.

Wirtz directs the Johns Hopkins Physical-Sciences Oncology Center and is associate director and co-founder of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. He recently launched the Center for Digital Pathology. He is a the Theophilus Halley Smoot professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

You can read the entire magazine article “Moving cancer research out of the Petri dish and into the third dimension” online here at the JHU Hub.

2013 Annual Meeting of American Institute of Chemical Engineers highlights NanoBio research

The 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) was held November 3-8 in San Francisco, CA. AIChE, the professional society for chemical engineers, hosted over 5,000 participants at the meeting, the largest AIChE conference yet. The conference offered great opportunities for learning about all aspects of chemical engineering and networking with movers and shakers from both academia and industry. I attended the conference and was one of several INBT-affiliated researchers to present my work, along with Kimberly Stroka (Konstantopoulos lab), Wei-Chiang Chen (Wirtz lab), and Pei-Hsun Wu (Wirtz lab). It was a great time to catch up with colleagues, and I met up with my undergraduate research advisor, friends from college, and past colleagues from Hopkins who have moved on to other institutions.

SanFrancisco-Annual2013-574-ssk_14602486The fascinating thing about the AIChE Annual Meeting is the wide variety of topics covered. The diversity of fields studied in chemical engineering has long been a source of pride for ChemE’s. I attended sessions covering topics as disparate as protein engineering, membrane separations, biosensors, industrial pharmaceuticals production, and cell migration, all while missing out on sessions about teaching, chemical engineering and the law, catalysis, and oil production. I was especially interested in research presented by industry professionals. These presentations gave me a new appreciation for the scope of industrial research projects, where changing one variable in a test tank can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

Overall, the large number of sessions held at the conference provides great opportunities for students to give oral presentations, and undergraduate and graduate poster sessions enable even more students to publicize their projects. I would highly recommend the Annual Meeting for graduate and undergraduate chemical engineering students.

Colin Paul is a fourth-year PhD student in the laboratory of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

 

Biotech and pharma are possible jobs paths for chemical engineers

Upon graduation, one main avenue to pursue for a job is one within industry. As a chemical engineer whose research is focused on cancer cell biology and cell mechanics, I’ve found that there at least two major branches of industry that would suit me and others doing similar work. These are biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology companies include Novo Nordisk, Amgen and Genentech and many others. These companies aim to meet healthcare needs by providing medication for disease treatment or novel technology for diagnostics.

industryChemical engineers have the skills to work anywhere from research and development to product quality and production by utilizing skills we have attained from both the classroom and research environment to address the needs of the company. Biotech scientist jobs not only provide exciting research opportunities, but are ranked one the best jobs in America by CNN because of their high job security, future growth, flexibility and pay.

Another sector of industrial opportunities is within the pharmaceutical industry. Major pharma companies include Johnson and Johnson, Eli Lilly, Novartis and Sanofi Aventis. These companies meet healthcare needs through the design and development of medications and drugs for a wide variety of illness and diseases. Although imbued with exciting opportunities, recent jobs cuts have threatened the job security within the pharmaceutical industry, with thousands of jobs cuts in Merck, Novartis and others. This has mostly been due to consolidation and loss of patents.

Still, the pharmaceutical and biotech industry remain among the most desirable aspects of industrial work and are great places for job opportunities for those with engineering and science training.

Ivie Aifuwa is a third year Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering  in the Denis Wirtz Lab, studying the interplay between cancer and aging.

Epigenetics conference held in beautiful Grand Cayman

Here in the Wirtz lab, we are beginning to connect physical properties of cells with genetic expression. All cells in a Petri dish of the same cell type supposedly have identical DNA sequences. But what makes the cells appear to have different shapes and sizes, and why do some cells respond to stimuli differently from others?

Lectures by poolside are the way to go. Photo by Allison Chambliss.

Lectures by poolside are the way to go. Photo by Allison Chambliss.

These questions have led us to epigenetics, the study of inheritable changes in gene activity that do not involve any changes in the genetic code. These changes most often include the modification of DNA and histones, proteins found in nuclei that the DNA is wound around, by addition or subtraction of functional groups (acetylation, methylation, etc.).

The modifications affect how “open” or “closed” the DNA is and therefore define when and where transcription of DNA to make proteins can occur. I recently attended a fascinating conference on the subject which just so happened to be held on the gorgeous Grand Cayman Island. Here I summarized a few of the conference talks for Epigenie, a science news site focused on epigenetics research.

Story by Allison Chambliss, who is entering her fifth year as a PhD student in the laboratory of Denis Wirtz in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Beach breakfast. Photo by Allison Chambliss

Beach breakfast. Photo by Allison Chambliss

One REU’s experience at the Council on Undergraduate Research Conference

Over this past summer, I participated in the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at Johns Hopkins University Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). I was placed in Douglas Robinson’s laboratory under the mentorship of Vasudha Srivastava in the School of Medicine. I worked on the preliminary studies necessary to determine the molecular mechanisms of regulation within the cell’s mechanosensory system.

It was one of the best experiences of my life; I thoroughly enjoyed every day of it. Dr. Robinson and his lab members were extremely welcoming, supportive, and resourceful throughout the entire ten weeks and even after the program ended. I was able to gain substantial research experience and develop relationships with the people in the lab. At the end of the program, I was fortunate enough to be chosen to present the work I had done at the 2013 Council on Undergraduate Research Conference of Research Experiences for Undergraduates Student Scholarship (CUR CREUSS) in Arlington, VA.

Shantel Angstadt, a 2013 REU, during the INBT poster session. Photo by Mary Spiro.

The CUR CREUSS was another great experience. I was able to meet students who participated in REU programs at institutions from all across the country as well as the faculty members involved in the REU programs. Each student participated in three, 30-minute poster sessions, and we were asked questions about our work and overall experience during the summer.

We were also able to attend a faculty poster session during which each faculty member presented the work he or she is currently involved in. I loved having the opportunity to talk about my experience and to learn of others’ experiences doing research. There was a very diverse group of studies among the students and faculty in a variety of fields, such as: chemistry, engineering, life sciences, mathematical sciences, geosciences, psychology, social sciences, and materials research. The conference also provided “Breakout Sessions” in which National Science Foundation (NSF) members presented on the importance of research, good conduct, graduate school, careers, research funding, and a variety of other topics. These sessions were very informative and useful. I attended the “Applying for Graduate School Support from NSF” and “Incorporating Your Research Experiences into Applications for Post-Baccalaureate Fellowships and Nationally Competitive Awards” sessions. Overall, this experience allowed me to further develop my presentation skills, gain exposure to other fields of study, network, and learn of all the resources provided by the NSF.

One last piece of information from the CUR CREUSS that I feel the need to share with other undergraduate students is of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. It provides three years of financial support to graduate students and, if awarded, makes the student more competitive when applying to graduate programs. It is a great opportunity that I was not aware of until attending the conference.

My experiences from the INBT REU program and CREUSS have lead me to believe that it should be mandatory for students interested in research careers to participate in extracurricular research programs. I gained information and experience that are essential in choosing a career and developing as a scientist and as a person. I believe the most important aspects of each were the exposure to different fields of study and the information on the different resources and opportunities available to undergraduates. I will always be grateful for these opportunities provided by the INBT faculty and staff and Dr. Robinson’s lab.

Shantel Angstadt is in her senior year at Elizabethtown College studying biochemistry and was an REU intern at Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology for the summer of 2013.

 

Science and gender inequality still pressing issue

The issue about gender inequality in science has been an ongoing topic of discussion both in industry and academia. It seems ironic that this field, where objectivity is more often sought over subjectivity, apparently suffers from a gender-biased culture. In line with this, I recently read this blog that featured a number of female scientists and their stories behind how “being a woman” influenced their careers. It’s quite long, but I think the details are quite substantial so I’d say it is worth reading.

At the beginning of Pollack’s article, she mentioned a study conducted just this summer showing how there is still some preference for men (over women) in academic job offerings. I wish she could have included a reference to the paper so that people could see how this study was conducted or how reliable the results are. Overall, her article articulates how these collection of anecdotes from the female scientists she interviewed shows that there are still some stereotypes and social constructs that can potentially be hindrances to females pursuing this field. It’s quite bothering how, from Marie Curie’s time until now, we still haven’t achieved a gender balance—men still outnumbers women in this field.

curie

Marie Curie is in the bottom row, third from left. The only female who attended the Solvay Conference on Physics, 1927. Taken from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/magazine/why-are-there-still-so-few-women-in-science.html?_r=0.

I’d say that in this article, the most striking statement for me is: “And yet, as I listened to these four young women laugh at the stereotypes and fears that had discouraged so many others, I was heartened that even these few had made this far, that theirs will be the faces the next generation grows up imagining when they think of a female scientist.” I’m sure there’s more modern female scientists with interesting stories of success than the list that Pollack gave in her article; there should be.

Another interesting article, released earlier this year in Nature magazine, touched on some of the reasons behind this gender imbalance. To note, the article is entitled ‘Science for all’, which I think is more politically correct rather than specifically saying ‘women for science.’ Childcare, political influences and institutional support are some of the issues that the author touched upon.

In the end, the article boils down to showing how women themselves should find ways and implement things on how their ‘status and profile’ can be uplifted in this very competitive field. By looking at more articles/blogs regarding these topics, everything says the gender issue is definitely still present and that the biases still negatively affect females. Different point of views are given, I’d say my fellow female scientists should take some time to look at these and ponder on them.

At this point, I don’t think I am credible enough to throw in my insights about this topic. I haven’t arrived at that point yet in my career that I needed to apply and compete with a pool of male and female applicants for a real job. I guess I feel like I do not have enough experience yet to give a stand about this issue. However, I keep on seeing articles like this for almost a year and a half of my stay here in this institution and from a student’s point of view, I’d say it is somehow discouraging. I suspect other female graduate students feel the same way, at some point.

Having said that, I am writing this not to discourage further but rather to put up a challenge. Statistics are very clear in showing how females are a minority in the field of science. But, I think the initiative to promote balance should come from the female members of this field themselves. This should be the challenge—starting to uplift the status of women in science in an active way and not just passively waiting for opportunities or help to come. These are just some of my thoughts that I hope would be able to stimulate the thoughts of the readers to not just ponder on it, but to provide an action on this issue.

Herdeline Ann Ardoña is a second year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry under Professor J.D. Tovar, co-advised by Professor Hai-Quan Mao.