Nov. 12, 2019

Biomedical engineering breakthroughs

Eureka moments becoming part of engineering student education as opportunities for undergraduate research are on the rise

Stem cells derived from human skin and reprogrammed back to an embryonic-state have huge potential for regenerative medicine.

Biomedical engineering researcher Dr. Michael Kallos, PhD, is leading a project to find a process to grow these cells on a large scale. His team includes undergraduate engineering students gaining their first taste of what it’s like working in a lab.

 “These students are some of the brightest, hardest working students in the program. They really bring a fresh set of ideas and new abilities to the lab,” explains Kallos, who also leads the University of Calgary’s biomedical engineering strategic research theme Engineering Solutions for Health.

 In her final year of chemical engineering, with a biomedical engineering specialization, Tiffany Dang is thrilled to be part of such significant research.

“With undergraduate research you are working alongside some of the best researchers in the world, and best innovators, and you get to apply what you are learning in class to real life problems in society,” said Dang.

“Not only are you contributing to the solution, you are also gaining experience in developing skills that can be very beneficial to your career later on,” she added.

Promoting undergraduate research opportunities through four-month summer work terms or other research programs is critical for practical engineering training, said Kallos. It’s a key hands-on learning opportunity, it exposes students to aspects of engineering they might not get in their classes, and it gives them practical understanding of what a career in research would actually be like.

“It’s great for students to get out of the classroom and out of the controlled lab experiments with their classes and get some real experiments, real data and real-world situations,” he said.

There are benefits to the research lab as well as the student. Kallos has had multiple undergraduate students continue on to earn a masters and a PhD while working with him.

Engineering real-world work experiences

As part of its strategy Catalyst for a Connected World, the Schulich School of Engineering is working to enrich student experience by amplifying hands-on learning and providing ways for students to gain meaningful Work Integrated Learning opportunities before graduation.

The school has been successful with its flagship engineering internship program, where students can apply to go on 12 to 16-month paid work experiences locally or globally. Other programs are also being developed including helping first and second year engineering students complete summer work terms early in their studies.

Dang spent a year in San Francisco on a paid engineering internship – working with a firm on ultra rare genetic disorders.

“One of the biggest challenges as a student is getting those real-world experiences. With internship, it really opens the door,” she said.

“Taking a year on internship has really prepared me, both for the soft skills and the technical skills for an industry like biotech.”