REU Profile: making connections in metastasis

Kelcee Everette was part of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology’s summer research experience for undergraduates. She blogged about her experience below:

My name is Kelcee Everette and I am a rising sophomore at Harvard University. During the summer, I worked in the Denis Wirtz Lab in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, where I characterized invasive breast cancer cell movement and compared those characterizations to the cell’s ability to metastasize in both 3D gels and on 2D substrates.

Kelcee Everette

Kelcee Everette

This project for me was especially exciting because I had never conducted research before. I learned a lot of skills that will be extremely valuable to me as I pursue my PhD.

The entire research experience was completely new to me, but my mentor, PI, and labmates were super helpful in teaching me the techniques I’d need to conduct my experiments.  Some of the skills I acquired included advanced microscopy, how to culture cells, and how create 3D collagen matrices, along with learning new programs like ImageJ and Metamorph.

I also learned a lot about the biological nature of cancer cells. The most interesting thing I learned, and the cornerstone of my project, was that cancer cells that are genetically identical can have vastly different motility profiles. The old saying “you learn something new every day” was a very applicable statement to my time in the lab.

Outside of the lab, my fellow interns and I had fun exploring the Inner Harbor, going to a food truck festival and a few other local and cultural festivals, and exploring local eateries and shopping centers. My experience this summer has been truly enjoyable both in and out of the lab, and I feel as if I have made great connections within the scientific community in just ten short weeks.

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

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


The Rosetta REU: software lets students collaborate at a distance

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) has launched a summer research undergraduate internship to train students to build new lifesaving drug molecules and create new biofuels, while testing the concept of a virtual research community. With the help of a $200,000, two-year grant to INBT from the National Science Foundation, Jeffrey Gray, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, spearheaded a first-of-its-kind training program where students collaborate with others from distant host university labs and use computer software to build vaccines, biofuels, and protein circuits in living cells.

Typical summer internships bring students together to one host university, but students in the Computational Biomolecular training program use an open-source software called Rosetta to work together on problems no matter where they are. Participants are mentored by members of a global collaborative team known as the Rossetta Commons, and users analyze massive amounts of data to predict the structure of real and imagined proteins, enzymes, and other molecules.

ChemBE professor Jeff Gray (standing) confers with Rosetta Commons undergradutate intern, Morgan Nance (seated left), and her mentor, Rebecca Alford (seated right), undergraduate research assistant, as they video conference with Mingzhao Liu, an undergraduate interning at Vanderbilt University.

ChemBE professor Jeff Gray (standing) confers with Rosetta Commons undergraduate intern, Morgan Nance (seated left), and her mentor, Rebecca Alford (seated right), undergraduate research assistant, as they video conference with Mingzhao Liu, an undergraduate interning at Vanderbilt University. Photo by Will Kirk/Homewood Photography

“Computational biologists study known macromolecules or design new ones and use computers to predict how these molecules will fold in 3D and interact with cells or other molecules,” said Gray. “For example, researchers create computational algorithms to design a new drug molecule or use the Rosetta software to predict how molecules might behave in a living organism. And because the work is done using a computer, researchers can easily collaborate at a distance.”

The students in the pilot program began with a week-long boot camp at the University of North Carolina at the end of May. Then, they traveled to host universities, which included Johns Hopkins; University of California, Davis; Scripps Research Institute; Stanford University; New York University; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Vanderbilt.

Morgan Nance, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from the University of California, Davis, worked in the Gray Lab. “I hope to become more familiar with Rosetta to the point that I am able to utilize it in my home lab,” Nance said. “I want to gain the technical skills of how to use this new software and the knowledge of how to develop it further. “

With the pilot program, students quickly expand their skill set. “Each lab has different expertise,” Gray said. “One lab might specialize in protein docking, another in RNA structure and design, another in vaccine design or protein function. When students cross train in these laboratories, they learn to recognize the common themes. “

Each week, Nance and her colleagues “met” via video chat to discuss current published papers and to present updates from host labs. At the end of 10 weeks, the Rosetta cohort convened at the annual RosettaCON in Leavenworth, Washington. Though Nance was on her own at Hopkins, INBT staff included her in activities organized for their other summer research interns.

“If this distributed model works just as well as the traditional one, we would then be able to accept this kind of model and access the best labs in the country for doing research,” said Sally O’Connor, the NSF program director.

Story by Mary Spiro

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

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Applications accepted for INBT IRES until Feb 14

If you have been curious to discover what laboratory work is like in another country, now is your chance to apply for one of INBT’s coveted positions as an international undergraduate researcher. Applications are now being accepted for our National Science Foundation funded International Research Experience for Undergraduates in Leuven, Belgium with IMEC.  The deadline for applications is February 14, 2014. The opportunities are for Johns Hopkins University students.

IMEC clean roomIMEC boasts world-class micro- and nano-fabrication facilities and a campus with more than 1,000 researchers from around the globe who are collaborating on leading-edge projects. Belgium boasts waffles, beer and chocolate. Really, you can’t go wrong here.

INBT international research internships focus on a project of mutual interest to Johns Hopkins faculty and to IMEC investigators. INBT has a long-standing research collaboration agreement with IMEC, one of the world’s leading research organizations focusing on silicon nanotechnology headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. Since 2009, students, both undergraduates and postgraduates, from INBT labs have had the opportunity to participate in internships at IMEC’s state-of-the-art research facility. These internships have the dual purpose of providing international research experience for students as well as furthering the research interests of both Hopkins and IMEC.

To read about some of the previous experiences of our IRES participates, visit INBT’s Summer at IMEC blog here.

To apply, send the following items to Tom Fekete, INBT’s director of corporate partnerships, before Feb. 1:

  • CV/Resume
  • Research Statement
  • Letter of Recommendation

If you are not sure what you would like to work on, Tom has a list of possible research areas that you can inquire about as well. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Tom.  If he is unavailable, please contact Ashanti Edwards, INBT’s Academic Program Administrator at

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 for more information.

Vrendenburg Scholarship offers international research experience to engineering undergrads

SykesTeamDue to a rigid Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering curriculum, I never had the opportunity to study abroad during the normal academic year. I always felt left out, because many of my friends and peers had left school to spend their semesters in fabulous places like Amsterdam and London. Even worse, I studied French for many years in middle and high school and always longed to spend a semester in France.



One day, however, I happened to stumble across the Vredenburg Scholarship, the solution to all my woes.



Each summer, the Vredenburg Scholarship funds 13 undergraduates to apply their engineering skills and training in international research, internships and service projects. I was fortunate enough to use my Vredenburg Scholarship to fulfill my dreams and spend this past summer researching in Paris.

I conducted researched at the historic Institut Curie, which is located in the beautiful fifth arrondissement of Paris. I was paired with a postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Kévin Carvalho, in the Sykes Lab. My project focused on the physics of myosin 1c, a molecular motor that plays important roles in endocytosis, membrane trafficking and transcription of DNA in the nucleus. Rather than working with complex systems like cells, I reconstituted actin gels in a controlled system on the exterior of liposomes. Then, in order to characterize myosin 1c, I would add the molecular motor and quantify the effects on the gel.



Having been a part-time undergraduate researcher in the Denis Wirtz Lab at Hopkins over the past few years, it was so nice to have a full-time research position. With no classes taking up my time, I was finally able to immerse myself in research. I participated in a weekly journal club, attend seminars and listened to PhD Defenses (sometimes in French!).

When not researching in the lab, I spent my free time falling in love with Paris. The city is so alive during the summer, and there were always fun things to do. Whether walking through the Versailles Gardens or spending hours in Louvre, I was able to immerse myself in the French culture. One of my favorite days was when I rollerbladed with my friend Jane and thousands of other Parisians on a 12 mile course through Paris.

My summer was a truly incredibly experience. I was able to follow my passion of research to a wonderful, foreign city. How else would anyone want to spend their summer?

Learn more about the Vredenburg Scholarship.

Shaun McGovern, a senior in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, researches the viscoelastic properties of pancreatic cancer in the Wirtz Lab.

Seizing serendipity during a European internship

Studying abroad is a popular experience for undergraduates and many students try to take advantage of this opportunity. Being an international student at heart, I was also interested in exploring the world; however, my coursework made it practically impossible to go abroad with the study programs that my college offered. I did not just want to go traveling though, I wanted to invest my time while creating new experiences for myself, and so it occurred to me to independently seek an international research internship abroad. I started searching for the opportunities and with some luck involved I discovered the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The institute actually consists of a large number of member states in Europe including Germany, France, UK, and even, somehow, Australia.

We were completely soaked, but we had to get back. Much to our surprise we got a ride back up to the castle.

We were completely soaked, but we had to get back. Much to our surprise we got a ride back up to the castle.

After a series of e-mails and a phone interview I ended up joining the group of Dr. Christian Haering whose lab is studying the condensin protein complex in yeast. Condensin protein complex does pretty much what you would expect; it condenses and organizes chromosomes together but also has other roles, like regulating gene expression. The project seemed exciting to me, and it also meant that I would be able to spend my summer in Heidelberg, Germany, while learning something new. One of my best college friends also applied to the institute and ended up being accepted to a different lab.

The campus was located in a serene location on top of the hill, which required a healthy hike through the forest in the morning. A lot of things about this place were special: there was a building with two floors spiraling upwards in a double helix, a cafeteria chef with a mustache in a style of a Prussian soldier singing and greeting with “Bonjour!” beer Fridays organized by different labs, journal clubs and coffee breaks with a beautiful spectrum of accents discussing science.

In my research, I worked with fission yeast and tried to isolate condensin and other proteins that might interact with it on some level. I learned new techniques of growing yeast, isolating protein with magnetic nanobeads, and performing Western blots to mention a few. Although I did end up working very long hours during the week, Friday nights meant one thing: my friend and I were literally running to catch a train. We would come to work with packed backpacks and a vague idea of where we wanted to go. Very often we were in the hands of serendipity, which provided opportunities that would be difficult to plan out.

IMG_3695_stitch cc sat60 us. Hohenzollern in thunderstormTo give an overview of one weekend, we were able to visit Frankfurt, Cologne, Bonn, and a tiny city St. Goar on the Rhine River. Almost nearly missing a series of trains but always making it with half-a-minute to spare, we finally missed the connecting train in Frankfurt by 20 seconds and got stuck there. As a result, we arrived in Cologne at 6 a.m., with a stunning view of Cologne’s gothic cathedral filling most of the huge window of the train station. By midday we moved on to Bonn because it was a birthplace of Beethoven. If you ask me how we ended up in the tiny city of St. Goar, I do not know. In St. Goar, by chance we learned that they had closed the road along the Rhine to give bicycles free reign, and so we rented bikes to participate in the procession with other bicyclists. On the way, we climbed up to three castles overlooking the Rhine, and arrived back to our town late at night to get some sleep before work. In a similar manner, we traveled to Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and various cities in Germany.

The experience in Europe was rich with emotions and stories: from the Foreigner performance in Mannheim to the Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in St. Chapelle in Paris, from sleeping at the train station to being soaked under rain in the attempt to climb a mountain with a castle on top.

I advise undergraduates to actively seek such research and travel opportunities because very few things make you feel so alive like learning and traveling.

Alex Komin, a first-year PhD student in Kalina Hristova’s lab in Materials Science and Engineering Department, is working on new methods to deliver drugs to the brain.

My summer internship at Novozymes

Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to complete a 3-month internship with a biotechnology company near Raleigh, North Carolina. Novozymes, headquartered in Denmark, produces some microorganisms and biopharmaceutical ingredients, but their main focus is the production of enzymes for industrial use. These enzymes go to customers in the household care, food and beverage, and bioenergy industries, to name a few. Some of Novozymes’ customers you may be familiar with include Procter & Gamble (Tide laundry detergent), Nabisco (Ritz crackers), and Anheuser Busch. My summer was spent in the Research & Development department working with enzymes for biofuel production.

The corn-to-ethanol process consists of two main stages. Briefly, corn is ground, and an alpha-amylase enzyme is added to solubilize and start to break down the starch. This stage, called liquefaction, takes approximately two hours. Next, in the fermentation stage, starch is broken down further with a glucoamylase enzyme and is fermented into ethanol using yeast over the course of two to three days. Ethanol is then used as a gasoline supplement; it can increase octane rating and improve vehicle emissions.

My first task as a Novozymes intern consisted of an internal assay development project seeking to increase the throughput of corn fermentation enzyme screenings. Novozymes is planning to purchase a new liquid-handler robot to automate and quicken the lab-scale fermentation process as they test which enzyme blends can obtain the best ethanol yields. It was my job to optimize parameters such as mixing and venting within the new system and test if it could match results from conventional screening methods.

A separate project that I focused on during the second half of the summer involved a joint effort between the Research & Development and Technical Solutions departments to formulate new product blends for liquefaction and fermentation of milo, or sorghum, a grain similar to corn. Milo may provide an advantage over corn because it is not a main ingredient in food manufacturing and may help keep grocery prices down. Milo may provide an environmental advantage as well, as it is more tolerant of drought than corn crops and requires less water. This project was especially interesting in that I was able to experience some of the business applications side of research and development. In formulating new product blends, our team had to keep in mind what process conditions and enzyme prices potential customers would be willing to agree with.

Everyone at Novozymes was extremely friendly and willing to help. The internship program at the Franklinton, North Carolina location, which houses the company’s North American headquarters, is fairly large, so I was able to meet about 20 other interns at both the undergraduate and graduate school levels. The People & Organization department (a.k.a Human Resources) organized a networking lunch with site managers as well as a career prep workshop and resume review. We also attended a Carolina Mudcats baseball game, and an ice cream truck came around the work site to give out free ice cream every few weeks! Of course, there was always enough Carolina barbeque and sweet tea to go around.

Overall, my Novozymes internship was a well-rounded, enjoyable, and valuable experience. In addition to the Franklinton site, Novozymes operates in Virginia, California, Nebraska, and all over the world. The company offers internship and co-op positions at many of these locations. If you are interested, I highly recommended checking out their career site for available opportunities!

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.

Info sessions on international research internships

IMEC clean room

What’s better than working on a cool research project in your lab? Why it’s working on a cool research project in a fascinating European country, of course!

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology offers undergraduate and graduate research internships at IMEC’s world-class nanofabrication laboratory in Belgium. Internships last approximately 10 weeks and include housing and a stipend. Find out how to apply and what kinds of projects are being sought at one of our upcoming informational sessions. Two sessions will be held October 8, one at 1 p.m. with light refreshments and a second at 5 p.m. with pizza, both in Croft Hall, Room 170.

RSVP is required to Tom Fekete at

Five Hopkins students conduct nano research in Belgium

Each summer, Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) has funding to support several summer research internships abroad. The International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program, funded by the National Science Foundation, provides support for students to work with researchers at The Inter-University MircroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium. Students work at IMEC’s world-class microfabrication facility and learn to design, fabricate and test a wide range of biomedical devices.

Internships can last two to three months, although they can be much shorter depending on the project. They include travel expenses, accommodation and a stipend. The IRES program is open to Johns Hopkins undergraduate and graduate students.

Students are selected through discussions with and recommendation from their advisers. Interns selected must also have a research project that is mutually of interest to investigators at both Johns Hopkins and IMEC. Interested students should contact INBT’s Academic Program Administrator Ashanti Edwards ( to being the process of applying for upcoming internships.

During the summer of 2012 five students from Johns Hopkins conducted research at IMEC. They included the following:

Gregg Duncan is a doctoral student in the lab of Michael Bevan, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Duncan used dark field microscopy to quantify nanoparticle-cell interactions.

Colin Paul is a doctoral student in the lab of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Paul brought cell migration devices fabricated in the Konstantopoulos lab to IMEC to perform proof-of-concept experiments with Nicolas Barbera (see below).

Nicolas Barbera is a rising senior working in the Konstantopoulos lab. Barbera gained skills in fluorescence microscopy, dark field microscopy and hyperspectral imaging.

Sarah Friedrich is a doctoral student from the laboratory of Andre Levchenko, professor of biomedical engineering. Friedrich worked on a platform that could expose cells to both chemical and topographical stimulation at the same time.

Peter Nelson is a rising sophomore working in the lab of Jordan Green, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. Nelson worked developing on a polymer-nanoparticle with the ability to apply hyperthermia (heat) and chemotherapy treatments.

Story by Mary Spiro