Biotronic Engineering Research Laboratory Experience

Nick Chehade

STEP Research Experience


My STEP project was part of a bigger research project being preformed in Dr. Guo’s Laboratory for Biotronic Engineering. The formal title of the project is The Functional Wiring of Cardiomyocytes and Motor Neurons through Gap Junctions for in vitro Engineering of a Biological Neural Pacemaker. The project is working on developing an immunocytochemistry protocol to identify structural components involved in the formation of a gap junction between motor neurons and cardiomyoctyes. Gap junction protein, Connexin43, is largely found in cardiomyoctyes, and a lentiviral vector will be used in the motor neurons to over-express the protein in motor neurons. Specifically, I worked with Jordan Prox, a graduate student in the lab. I practiced HL-1 Cardiomyocyte cell culturing and staining actin, HL-1 cells, and connexin proteins.

My STEP experience gave me insight into an interdisciplinary lab. I learned how the hierarchy of labs work and what some of the work in an artificial intelligence related field is like. There were obviously specific technical skills that I learned in lab, but I also gained a lot of insight into how a graduate student typically conducts research. There was a lot more independence in graduate school than I thought. The experience helped affirm that I want to pursue graduate school.

I learned a lot during my STEP experience. Technically, I gained a lot of pipette skills, staining skills, and cell harvesting protocols. I have been in different research labs before (cognitive neuroscience, computer engineering, microbiology), but I had never been exposed to a lab as interdisciplinary as the Biotronic Engineering Lab. I was exposed to a neurobiological environment that allowed me to synthesize a lot of the knowledge I had gained from my previous labs, and from my neuroscience major. Bridging the gap between microbiology and neuroscience was a very rewarding process for me.

Working with my graduate student, Jordan, was a very rewarding experience. I primarily communicated with him about the work I would be conducting for the week. He often set dates for me to come in and practice a technique in order to expose me to work that they were conducting in lab. I often talked to him about his life as a graduate student and I appreciate all that I learned from him. I learned about the typical schedule of a graduate student, which consisted of a lot less class than I anticipated, and the framework of writing a thesis. While daunting, Jordan’s insight affirmed my decision to apply to graduate school.

The general independence and self-management required was definitely an eye opening part of my semester. I did not interact much with the lab advisor, mostly just Jordan. Additionally, Jordan seemed to work primarily individually, save the weekly lab meetings. The discipline and motivation required to conduct a four yearlong research project is vast. I was lucky to have a graduate student who possessed that motivation and diligence and consequently, I gained some myself.

My research experience provided me with the opportunity to gain an understanding of a research lab that is practical to my future plans. I am applying to graduate school next year in an artificial intelligence related field. The time I spent in the lab provided me with exposure to real work being done and verified that I want to be doing this type of work in the future. Additionally, the time I spent in the lab will aid in graduate school admissions considering I now have practical experience in an AI related lab. I also gained personal skills that will help me in the future. Academically, the past semester was heavy so I had to learn how to manage my time more wisely and find a balance between work, school, lab, and my personal life. The past semester was invaluable for my personal development as a student.



Cancer Research – STEP

The main activities that my STEP Project entailed were data collection from study participants. Following this I would enter the collected information into our database where it would later be analyzed.

When doing my STEP Project, I allowed myself to be open to the different situations that my patients we dealing with. I was able to see that cancer is more than just a condition that people have, it is a journey. It is something that changes their life and perspective on everything and person that they encounter. Despite many of them being in literal life or death situations, they managed to find the good in everything. Likewise, seeing this attitude in my patients gave me different outlook on my own experiences with life. I was already a fairly positive person but because of this project I have learned to mix both realism and optimism to achieve happiness and enlightenment.

During my project, there were a number of moments that made me want to continue on my path to the medical field. Whether they were wake up calls or just moments that fueled my passion, every second spent doing research has made me hungry to make a career out of this in the near future.

Originally, there were two branches to the study that was being conducted. One branch was the breast cancer population and the other was the leukemia population. The leukemia population was my main focus and after the graduation of our lead research assistant, I was put in charge of it. This was a great opportunity for me to develop organizational and leadership skills. Little did I know, this opportunity would help me develop emotional maturity too.

Specifically, there were a number of patients that I grew close to in my time working on the leukemia study. When I first started, I was nervous and wanted to do everything right when it came to informing the patients on what they needed to know to participate in the research study. As I grew more comfortable, interactions became more fluid. I found myself having very casual conversations with the patients and eventually talking with them became second nature. Some patients even began to have deep personal conversations with me, often venting about anything from their medical status to family issues. But in the midst of these fulfilling situations, the patients were still very sick. Over time, more and more patients were in critical condition and ended up in hospice. Some of them even died before going to hospice. As a result, we had to end the leukemia study due to the lack of participant continuation.

For the sake of being concise, I only spoke of the ending of the leukemia study as being transformational for me. Since then, I have began working on the breast cancer study and that too has given me both challenges and rewards. Nevertheless, all of these situations have better prepared me for my future as a physician. I will need to have the knowledge, but above all it will be the experience and intangible “people skills” that will allow me to give my future patients the best quality of care possible. The diverse populations I have worked with and each of their individual situations have proven to be extremely valuable to me. They have taught me so many things to excel in my career and in life in general. With that being said, I am very grateful for the STEP Program as it has allowed me to make the most of my research experience.

Due to the nature of my project, I could not take pictures while at work due to confidentiality clauses/HIPAA. However, a colleague of mine was able to get a candid picture of me during some down time

Due to the nature of my project, I could not take pictures while at work due to confidentiality clauses/HIPAA. However, a colleague of mine was able to get a candid picture of me during some down time.



Clean Coal Research

Name: Bryan Gemler

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

My STEP project was undergraduate research in Dr. Fan’s lab at Ohio State. In Dr. Fan’s lab, I improved carbon dioxide removal in coal waste streams by optimizing the injection of Calcium into the process. Calcium acts as a Carbon Dioxide capture agent and purifies the stream in an economically and environmentally friendly way.

I learned that I want to go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering from this experience. This is because my view on the engineering industry changed — the professional connections I learned during my time in research interacting with partner companies revealed to me that in order to pursue an upper level position at an engineering firm I have to have a doctorate degree. Additionally, going into research I was dreading the prospect of spending 4-5 years of my life in an academic lab. Through the mentorship of my graduate student, I learned that there is a lot to learn in crafting and pursuing a thesis and developing experimental design work.

During the STEP project, I had several experiences that added to my change in future plans. Conducting experiments taught me about carrying out pilot scale experiments that are used in industry. It was an unbelievable experience to work with large columns that are taller than me. Further, learning how to set up the columns and gather the output data results was an awesome experience and gave me a passion for working with my hands/being active in whatever future job I hold.

I think that the biggest growth area during my time in research as when my graduate student gave me the opportunity to design and execute my own small-scale experiment. There was a need to determine the efficiency of our carbon dioxide capture on different types of coal — there are as many different types of coal just as there are types of ice cream. With coal, however, those types could be grouped and characterized into different groups depending on similar water content properties. The small scale experiment was to conduct all of the tests that we had formulated/run for the main type of coal on two different types – one with a higher water content, one with a lower. When I conducted these experiments with minimal supervision I had full autonomy to interpret the results and send my graduate student a report summary of what the conclusions were.

One skill that I picked up during my time in the STEP undergraduate research was data analysis. Statistics was one of my favorite classes during high school, but since graduating I haven’t been able to practice it. One of the biggest aspects of my research was converting all of the output data points into a usable. The statistical analysis skills that I learned translated towards all of my other school work and company work as well as made me excited to pursue future research.

This opportunity from STEP directly impacted me as a college student. For one, I am now motivated to pursue graduate school, something that I had previously dismissed. I think that my outlook on the rest of my college classes has also changed – learning for the sake of learning actually means something now. I think that this change in future plans regarding graduate school will change the rest of my career.