STEP Reflection – Agarwal Lab

For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to conduct undergraduate research in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. I was fortunate to be selected to become a part of the research group under Dr. Gunjan Agarwal. During my project, I learned how to culture cells, conduct various assays of proteins, and analyze stress curves.

Before I started researching, I really had no idea what a research laboratory would look like, let alone what I would be doing. I have been a General Chemistry TA since sophomore year, so I have had some experience in a teaching lab context. To my surprise, I was able to carry over many of the concepts from my job to my research, such as how to use a spectrophotometer or how to properly deliver fluids using a pipet. This benefitted me in my research lab as I was able to immediately go to work and needed very little orientation for instruments. Additionally, I am able to bring this application of knowledge back to my job and be a better TA by giving my students context into how they can use laboratory techniques in a career.

Three key components of my research, as previously addressed, were working with cells, proteins, and analysis of data. I learned the basics of cell culture by working with another undergraduate, Nirvan Shanker. I learned how to handle biohazardous materials by not contaminating a work surface while also not destroying biological samples. By working with the cells, he taught me how to both culture cells and how to transfect them to synthesize proteins. Attached is a picture of cells we cultured and how they are differently expressed with collagen added.

These proteins were utilized in other assays that I was able to conduct with a graduate student, Arghavan Farzadi. Together, we conducted a number of assays using a spectrophotometer, of which I used a basic version in my General Chemistry laboratory. This was an interesting facet because I was able to use a much more advanced version of this apparatus with more accurate data. I now know how to collect protein concentration data using Lowry, UV280, and BCA analyses. In these tests, different concentrations of protein react with a solution, and light is beamed through the solution to measure adsorption of the protein based on color change. Further, I was also able to conduct thermogravimetric analyses of mineral samples where a small sample of mineral is heated gradually to analyze mass change over time.

In addition to these analyses in a wet lab, I was able to conduct dry lab analyses using atomic force microscopy software. One of the undergraduate researchers in our lab, Anna Debski, is conducting research on the aortas of mice. Small samples of the aorta have stress applied by cantilevers. I was able to take the data collected and determine its acceptability based on graphs produced. This analysis took place at Nationwide Children’s Hospital once or twice a week near the end of the semester. This facet of my research has been one of my favorites, because I was not only able to perform work that I enjoyed, but I also got to observe very advanced research facilities at Nationwide.

All the aforementioned experiences have developed my knowledge of laboratory methods as well as my interest in research. I believe that this experience can make me a more marketable candidate as I apply to internships. One possible career in which I’ve displayed interest has been in research, so this experience could be the stepping stone to career. I also believe that this experience can add more depth to my resume, as I am soon applying to graduate schools and may be conducting research with this education.

I will continue to be involved in research next semester. It is my hope that soon I will be able to start presenting some of my own ideas on topics to investigate or be able to lead some of the projects. I also am hopeful that I will be able to be mentioned in one of the publications produced by our laboratory, which would provide me with great exposure for my future career.

STEP Reflection

Name: Michael Heinz
Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project

My STEP Signature Project was conducting research in mathematical physics under Professor Ovidiu Costin. In this research, I analyzed methods of resummation of divergent series and applied a new method of resummation to the divergent asymptotic series of a particular differential equation, the Painlevé equation PII. I conducted a lot of numerical analysis of the accuracy and precision of our method and documented my results on Maple, a computing machine.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

First, I assumed that doing research while conducting coursework was much easier than it actually is. In all of my previous research endeavors, either I didn’t have much coursework or the research I did was not very time-consuming (requiring around three hours per week). This was completely blown out of the water in the research project. I started the project during the summer while taking courses to satisfy GE credits, and the coursework was much more time-consuming than I had expected. Because of this, the beginning of my research was extremely slow, and it took me about a month to really get into the swing of things. My course load this autumn semester was relatively light, and therefore research went much smoother, but I have definitely gained a lot more respect for how research is conducted in tandem with coursework and how you have to manage your time to do so properly.

Second, and more importantly, I loved this research. It was extremely stimulating and interesting, and it made me want to go back and work on it over and over again. This was something I had not experienced with my previous research positions, so it was very refreshing to be working on something I actually love. It has definitely confirmed my desire to attend graduate school with a long term goal of becoming a professor, as both the research and teaching aspects appeal to me. I was hoping I would find an answer to the question,”Is graduate school the right thing for me?” and I believe I have.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

I think the largest cause of this transformation was my relationship with my research advisor, Professor Ovidiu Costin. He has been a great mentor throughout this whole process and has been very understanding concerning my workload throughout both the summer and autumn semesters. He has shown me a great deal about mathematical physics and asymptotics over the last seven months, but he also really helped me understand what it meant to do research in these areas. I am very grateful to have Professor Costin as my advisor, and I attribute some of the reason why I fell in love with this research to him.

Additionally, many of my friends in the math and physics programs who also do research have been a great help in finding my love for research in this project. I was very close to a friend over the summer who was also taking classes and doing research, and he really helped me figure out how to balance out these two aspects of my academic life. When I entered autumn semester, there were many of my other friends in the math program that I could talk to my research about. Simply being able to talk to others at a similar math level about some of the concepts really helps clarify them for myself, and that was very useful in making progress in my research.

Finally, I think one of the best experiences I have had throughout this STEP project has been presenting at the 2018 Autumn Research Festival. The presentation itself was not satisfying since there were no judges, and most of my friends/colleagues had classes. Hence, there was nobody really to present to at the festival. However, the preparation for the presentation was amazing. Not only did it really make me have to understand all the details to my research and how they build onto one another so that I could compile it into a poster, but being able to give mock presentations to my professors, friends, and family was extremely rewarding. Seeing how interested some of these people were in my research (although they knew very little about the field) made the work I did throughout the project so much more worthwhile. I think this rewarding experience really made me fall in love with this research and the idea of doing research in general, and I expect the Denman in Spring of 2019 to be a similarly positive experience.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

This transformation is very valuable to my life because it has helped me decide what I want to do in the future. I was debating between doing an REU or an internship over the next summer (the latter for more work experience), but due to this project I have little desire to gain an internship experience to be able to go into the industry as I would rather go to graduate school for math or physics to become a professor. This project has clarified a big question mark in my professional goals and future plans as I was very split between going to graduate school and going into the industry. I am very grateful that STEP gave me the opportunity and the funding to work on this extremely worthwhile project.


Biofilm Conference in Washington D.C.

Niki Grotewold’s Reflection:


For my STEP project I went to a research conference in Washington D.C. hosted by the American Society for Microbiology called the 8th Biofilm Conference. This was a five day conference where over 60 professors from around the world gave talks on biofilms and after the talks we were able to socialize and get to know about each other’s research. It also entailed me presenting a poster on one of the days and various graduate students, post-graduate students, and professors would ask me questions and give recommendations on how to proceed with my research.


Months ago, I was hesitant to embark on the journey to presenting at such a large conference due to the prestige of the people that would be there and the overwhelming amount of high-level science that would be involved in the everyday schedule. After much consideration I realized that I was ready to prepare a project that would be worthy of presenting at such an event. I spent a lot of time doing research in the lab to advance my research project and finalizing the poster so that it would look professional and be understood easily. I had much help from my two post-graduate mentors and from my professor.

Attending the conference taught me a lot about science and about wanting to pursue a PhD when I grow up. The constant discussions at the conference about various research projects going on throughout the world that all connect with each other to add information to databases that doctors can use to help cure patients gave the institution of research much meaning for me. I think that this experience helped to finalize my decision about pursuing a PhD and about doing research for the rest of my life. Being the first person to discover something significant and then relaying it to other scientists that are researching topics related that are then able to make discoveries off yours was seen at the conference in so many ways.


At the conference the day would start at 8 am and talks would be given for two hours until there was a 20 minute coffee break and then talks would be given another two hours until lunch. At these breaks, professors and students from across the world were able to mix at tables and talk to each other about their research. This had a major impact on my view of the field which has the rumor of being anti-social but in all reality is filled with interactions and collaborations that fuel scientific discovery. Talks would then resume until 4pm where we would then go to see poster boards of specific research projects. Being able to interact with researchers 1 on 1 about their project and their thinking of how to test certain parts of it to achieve a result were very rewarding. I felt like my brain was stimulated throughout the conference and that it was an irreplaceable experience in terms of learning what it’s like to be in the science research field. I greatly look forward to repeating this experience at other conferences.