July 15, 2022
McCaig Institute summer student research feature
After a few years of virtual research due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health guidelines, the McCaig Institute is bustling again with undergraduate students conducting research both in the lab and virtually. This year the McCaig Institute has welcomed over fifty undergraduate students to help support ongoing research studies and to gain invaluable research experience.
Hear from three students about their experience in their summer research term and their interests in research.
Jenny Hua, a third-year biomedical engineering summer student in Dr. Brent Edwards’ lab, utilizes 3D printing to develop a new testing model for analyzing bone microarchitecture.
For Jenny’s summer student research project, she examines the potential of using 3D print models as bone samples for research studies. She plans to apply mechanical failure testing to the samples and trial the stress and strain relationship to validate if they mimic real-life bone. If the basic stress testing is consistently successful, the team will explore different testing methods and loading scenarios to determine if the samples could be an option for additional studies. The ability to use 3D print models instead of bone samples will significantly improve efficiency for testing for future research projects.
“I was very interested in the study because one of my hobbies is powerlifting, so I can apply my athletic experience to my research, which is neat. If I can learn about what happens when you apply 10,000 newtons of pressure on a bone sample, I can apply that knowledge to understand the impacts of pressure on my bones,” says Jenny.
One of the highlights of her summer research term so far is having the opportunity to build her research skills in a fun, educational, and supportive lab environment. “I think of my summer student research term as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I know I will look back at this time very fondly, it will be a highlight of my undergraduate degree,” says Jenny.
Yousif Al-Khoury, a third-year electrical engineering summer student, is working with Dr. Claire Barber, PhD, to optimize the summer student recruitment process at the McCaig Institute.
A primary focus of Yousif’s summer research project is identifying the existing barriers and accessibility of summer student research opportunities. The research team believes there are barriers in the process, including GPA and the informal process of contacting faculty directly to identify openings, that prevent students from participating or seeking out research terms. The McCaig Institute hopes this research will contribute to its commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of its operations.
For his project, Yousif is conducting literature reviews on the benefits of summer student opportunities and plans to expand his research to include interviews and focus groups with past and current undergraduate students and faculty. By understanding the recruitment process and accessibility, the team hopes to make the process more efficient, equitable, and fair for all students.
“With this research project, there is potential to do a lot of good. If we can improve the recruitment process, so many students will benefit,” explains Yousif.
In addition to understanding the summer student experience, he hopes to incorporate his computer engineering background to develop a web platform to increase student accessibility. “I would like to use my expertise and software knowledge to build a web platform to increase student access and help students boost their undergraduate experience and future career paths,” says Yousif.
Jaron Dominguez, a fourth-year biomedical sciences summer student in Dr. Benedikt Hallgrimsson’s lab, is helping to build an alternative model for studying developmental diseases, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
For Jaron’s research project, he uses optical projection tomography (OPT), a technique for 3D imaging and visualization of biological tissues to observe cartilage development, and light-sheet microscopy to identify structure variation, cartilage development and cellular behaviour using a zebrafish model, which allows for easier visualization of development and morphological changes. The research team hopes to generate a graded-severity model and characterize phenotypes to advance the knowledge of developmental diseases and the effects of teratogens on zebrafish embryos.
“One of the key parts of the research project is trying to see how we can identify and affect developmental tipping points and how ethanol concentrations affect craniofacial and brain development,” explains Jaron.
With an aspiration for a future career in dentistry, Jaron’s experience in the Hallgrimsson Lab and craniofacial research has provided him with invaluable experience for his career path. His summer research term has provided him with opportunities to be involved in focused research and create connections with other students.
“When I started my undergraduate degree, I had no idea what research entailed. But my experience in the biomedical sciences program and my summer research term, have demonstrated the potential and impact of research,” says Jaron.