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.