2020 Awards Season for Bioengineering Students

Each spring, the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania gives out awards of special recognition to honor exceptional work by undergraduate and graduate students. The Department of Bioengineering is proud to announce the following awards given to students in the Class of 2020.

Bioengineering Professor and Chair Ravi Radhakrishnan says, “Congratulations to all the winners! I am so incredibly proud of your accomplishments and I thank you for enriching the Bioengineering environment with your invaluable contributions.” Keep reading below for a list of 2020 award recipients.

UNDERGRADUATE AWARDS:

Katharine Cocherl (BAS 2020), who completed a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Bioengineering along with a second major in Cinema and Media Studies, was awarded the Ben and Bertha Gomberg Kirsch Prize. This competitive award is decided by the SEAS faculty from among the Engineering undergraduate body and distinguishes a member of the B.A.S. senior class who “in applying the flexibility of the program, has created a personal academic experience involving the most creative use of the resources of the University.”

The Hugo Otto Wolf Memorial Prize, awarded to one or more members of each department’s senior class, distinguishes students who meet with great approval of the professors at large through “thoroughness and originality” in their work. This year, BE chose to share the award between Jacqueline Peng (BSE 2020) and Vera Lee (BSE 2020). In addition to their majors, Jacqueline also minored in Computer Science and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Data Science and Vera minored in the Engineering Entrepreneurship program and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Robotics.

The Herman P. Schwan Award is decided by the Bioengineering Department and honors a graduating senior who demonstrates the “highest standards of scholarship and academic achievement.” The 2020 recipient of the Schwan Award is Alexander Silva (BSE 2020) who is also graduating with a minor in Economics.

Every year, several BE students are recognized with Exceptional Service Awards for their outstanding service to the University and their larger communities. Our winners this year are Arielle Stern (BSE 2020 with a Math minor), Lauren McLeod (BSE 2020), and Evan Paregol (BSE 2020 with an Entrepreneurship minor). Arielle and Evan are also currently in the Accelerated Master’s program, in Data Science and Bioengineering, respectively.

The Student Leadership Award is given annually to a student in Bioengineering who has demonstrated, through a combination of academic performance, service, leadership, and personal qualities, that he or she will be a credit to the Department, the School, and the University. The 2020 recipient of this award is Katherine Simms (BSE 2020 with a minor in Chemistry).

BE also distinguishes a single lab group (four students) with the Albert Giandomenico Award which reflects their “teamwork, leadership, creativity, and knowledge applied to discovery-based learning in the laboratory.” This year’s group consists of Alisa Bhakta (2020 dual degree BSE in Bioengineering and BS in Economics from Wharton), Gabriel Desantis (BSE 2020 with a minor in Math), Lauren McLeod (BSE 2020), and Caroline Raquel (2020 dual degree BSE in Bioengineering and BS in Economics from Wharton).

Of this year’s Bioengineering Senior Design teams, three groups were chosen for special recognition:

  • RelieVR with Nicole Chiou (BSE 2020 with a minor in Computer Science), Gabe Desantis (BSE 2020 with a minor in Math), Ben Habermeyer BSE 2020 with a minor in Computer Science), and Vera Lee (BSE 2020 with an Engineering Entrepreneurship minor). RelieVR also won second place at the 2020 Johns Hopkins Healthcare Design Competition and took home the Berkman Prize this past fall semester.
  • Relila with Alisa Bhakta (dual degree BSE and BS 2020), Alexander Connor (BSE 2020), Lauren McLeod (BSE 2020), Alexa Murray (BSE 2020 in Systems Science and Engineering), and Caroline Raquel (dual degree BSE and BS 2020). Relila also won second place at the annual M&T Program Lab Integration Awards summit.
  • SchistoSpot with Alec Bayliff (dual degree BAS and BS in Economics 2020), Bram Bruno (BAS 2020), Justin Swirbul (BSE 2020 in Computer Science), and Vishal Tien (BSE 2020). SchistoSpot also won the Pioneer Award at the annual Rothberg Catalyzer Makerthon.

Research for these projects was conducted in the George H. Stephenson Foundation Education Laboratory & Bio-Maker Space. The abstracts and presentation videos for each of the 2020 Senior Design Competition winners can be viewed on the BE Labs website.

Additionally, two graduating BAS seniors were awarded prizes for Best Senior Thesis:

  • Katharine Cocherl (BAS 2020 in Bioengineering and Cinema and Media Studies) for her paper “Bioethical Assessments of Film Portrayals of the Opioid Epidemic and Its Relationship with Public Discourse and Policy from the 1990s to Present.” “Insightful, original, and wide-reaching, her study of films related to the opioid epidemic in the U.S. the past 25 years was one of the best senior theses I have advised at Penn the past 15 years, ” says Katharine’s advisor Lance Wahlert, Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics & Health Policy, Program Director of the Master of Bioethics
  • Gayatri Maria Schur (BAS 2020 with a minor in Music) for her paper titled “In Vivo Assessment of OXPHOS Capacity Using 3T CrCEST MRI in Adults and Children with Friedrich’s Ataxia.” Her advisor, Shana McCormack, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Perelman School of Medicine, says that Gayatri’s “work has required that she communicate with collaborators across a variety of disciplines, and has also included interaction with the community of patients we study, and she has excelled here.”

GRADUATE AWARDS:

Master’s student Kayla Prezelski was awarded an Outstanding Teaching Award for students. Kayla served as a TA for the Department of Bioengineering’s two-semester Senior Design courses (BE 495/496).

The following Master’s students were awarded recognition for their Outstanding Research:

  • Linghan Mei – advisor Andrew Tsourkas, Ph.D., Professor of Bioengineering
  • Ayush Aditya Pal – advisor Lukasz Bugaj, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Bioengineering
  • Robert Pierson – Independent Study advisor Brian Litt, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Bioengineering, and Thesis advisors Insup Lee, Ph.D., Cecilia Fitler Moore of Computer and Information Science and Electrical and Systems Engineering, and James Weimer, Ph.D. Research Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science
  • Tianjia Zhu – advisor Hao Huang, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor of Radiology in the Perelman School of Medicine

And finally, The Solomon R. Pollack Award for Excellence in Graduate Bioengineering is given annually to the most deserving Bioengineering graduate student who has successfully completed research that is original and recognized as being at the forefront of its field. This year, that award goes to Jonathan Beagan, Ph.D. who recently defended his thesis. Jon conducted his research in the 3D Epigenomics and Systems Neurobiology Lab overseen by Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Bioengineering. Research related to Jon’s award-winning doctoral thesis was recently published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. In addition to this prestigious award, Jon was also named a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow during his time at Penn. Jon’s collaborations with Dr. Cremins have been covered several times on the BE blog. “Jon is an excellent researcher — simultaneously rigorous and creative,” says Dr. Cremins. “He has been a force in the lab — reading the literature voraciously, teaching other students, and executing/designing experiments meticulously. Beyond his natural talent, it is Jon’s personal qualities that make him stand out. He is a true leader, a team player, and one of the rare people that raises the bar for everyone around him.”

A full list of SEAS award descriptions and recipients can be found here.

Congratulations once again to the award winners and to all graduating students on an outstanding year of scholarship and service!

A Record 15 BE Students Receive 2020 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

The Department of Bioengineering at Penn is incredibly proud of its fifteen current and future graduate student recipients of the 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). This total surpasses last year’s record of twelve students. In addition, one current student was selected for honorable mention and one additional incoming student has been named a Fullbright Scholar.

The prestigious NSF GRFP program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported fields. Further information about the program can be found on the NSF website. BE is thrilled to congratulate our excellent students on these well-deserved accolades! Continue reading below for a list of 2020 recipients and descriptions of their research.

Current Students:

William Benman

William Benman is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, Lukasz Bugaj. His work in the Bugaj lab focuses on developing novel optogenetic tools to control and study cell function.

Paul Gehret

Paul Gehret is a Ph.D. student and Ashton Fellow in the lab of Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine. Paul works on pediatric cartilage and airway tissue engineering for children with subglottic stenosis. He and his team apply classic tissue engineering principles to the airway.

Rebecca Haley

Rebecca Haley is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Michael J. Mitchell, Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in Bioengineering. Her current project aims to use polymer and/or lipid nanoparticles for the intracellular delivery of proteins. Successful delivery of proteins (such as antibodies) in this fashion may allow for targeting of previously undruggable intracellular targets.

Patrick John Mulcahey

Patrick John Mulcahey is a Research Assistant and Graduate Student in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Epilepsy Research Lab of Douglas A. Coulter, Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine. His work focuses on developing techniques that combine electrophysiology with two-photon excitation microscopy to study a potential biomarker of the seizure onset zone in models of drug-refractory epilepsy.

Catherine Porter

Catherine Porter is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Alex J. Hughes, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering. She is working on developing high-throughput methods to produce and characterize human-cell-derived kidney organoids for disease modeling and genetic screening. Currently, she is focused on engineering physicochemical control to improve organoid homogeneity.

Sarah Shepherd

Sarah Shepherd is a Ph.D. student who is co-advised in the Michael J. Mitchell lab and the lab of David Issadore, Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering (ESE). Her research aims to combine microfabrication with biomaterial design of lipid nanoparticles to address major shortcomings in the field of nanomedicine. Currently, she is prototyping a scale-up microfluidic device to produce lipid nanoparticles for gene therapy.

Michael Tobin

Michael Tobin is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Dennis E. Discher, Robert D. Bent Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE), Bioengineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM). His current research examines phenomena leading to mechano-induced genomic variation in multiple cell subtypes. Through better understanding of characteristic pathways and subsequent cell responses, he hopes to improve treatments for malignant solid tumors.

John Viola, a Ph.D. student in the Hughes lab, was listed as an honorable mention.

Incoming Students:

Additionally, eight NSF GRFP honorees from other institutions will be joining our department in the fall of 2020. We congratulate them as well and look forward to welcoming them to Penn:

Finally, incoming Ph.D. student Dora Racca was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship. Dora will will have rotations in the BIOLines Laboratory of Dongeun (Dan) Huh, Associate Professor of Bioengineering and the McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory of Robert Mauck, Mary Black Ralston Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Professor of Bioengineering.

We would like to send congratulations once again to all our current and future graduate students on another year of outstanding research!

Bomyi Lim Receives KIChE President Young Investigator

Bomyi Lim, Ph.D.

Bomyi Lim, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Biomolecular Engineering, has been selected by the U.S. Chapter of the Korean Institute of Chemical Engineers (KIChE) as the recipient of the KIChE President Young Investigator Award. As a recipient of this Award, Lim will be invited to present a research talk at the KIChE Open Forum during the AIChE Conference.

KIChE is an organization that aims “to promote constructive and mutually beneficial interactions among Korean Chemical Engineers in the U.S. and facilitate international collaboration between engineers in the U.S. and Korea.”

Read more on the Penn Engineering blog. Dr. Lim is a member of the Department of Bioengineering Graduate Group.

Victoria Muir Wins Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students

Victoria Muir, PhD Candidate in Bioengineering

The Office of the Provost awards the Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students in recognition of their profound impact on education across the University. Nominations come directly from undergraduate and graduate students in their courses and are narrowed down to ten awardees each year.

Victoria Muir, a graduate student in the Department of Bioengineering, is among this year’s class of recipients.

Muir has served as a teaching assistant for coursework in Biomaterials with Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation Michael Mitchell and Tissue Engineering with Robert D. Bent Professor Jason Burdick. She is conducting her thesis on granular hydrogels for musculoskeletal tissue repair under Burdick’s advisement. Muir has also received both NSF and Tau Beta Pi Fellowships for her graduate studies.

Originally posted on the Penn Engineering blog.

Penn Bioengineering Junior Shreya Parchure Named Goldwater Scholar

Shreya Parchure (BSE ’21)

Shreya Parchure is one of four juniors at the University of Pennsylvania who have been selected as Goldwater Scholars by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship & Excellence in Education Foundation, which provides scholarships of as much as $7,500 to undergraduate students interested in pursuing research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering. Each year Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) nominates four students for the award and provides advising.

Shreya Parchure, from Fremont, California, is a bioengineering major who has been working with Roy Hamilton, the director of the Laboratory for Cognition and Neural Stimulation in the Perelman School of Medicine, characterizing a form of non-invasive brain stimulation for use in neurorehabilitation after stroke. The work with Hamilton is through a Faculty Mentoring Undergraduate Research grant. She also is creating a cardiac surgical device with support from Penn Health-Tech. She is a Rachleff Scholar, and a recipient of a Vagelos Undergraduate Research Grant. As a United Nations Millennium Fellow, Parchure led a social-impact initiative expanding her work with Penn’s Intercultural Leadership Program. She serves as a CURF Research Peer Advisor and as co-editor-in-chief of the Penn Bioethics Journal. She intends to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in neuroengineering and conduct medical research.

Originally posted on the Penn Engineering blog. Read about Penn’s other Goldwater Scholars at Penn Today.

The Optical Society Names Nader Engheta the 2020 Max Born Award Recipient

Nader Engheta, Ph.D.

The Optical Society (OSA) has named Nader Engheta, H. Nedwill Ramsey Professor in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, as the 2020 recipient of the Max Born Award.

Engheta, who also has appointments in the departments of Bioengineering and Materials Science and Engineering, is honored for pioneering contributions to optical metamaterials and nanoscale optics.

“The Born Award recognizes Nader Engheta’s exceptional contributions to the fields of metamaterials, transformation optics and nanophotonics,” said 2020 OSA President Stephen D. Fantone, founder and president of Optikos Corporation. “This honor is emblematic of the pioneering work he has done in near-zero index metamaterials.”

Read the full story on the Penn Engineering blog.

After President’s Innovation Prize, InstaHub has Even More Spark

This past spring, we congratulated the founders of InstaHub, one of the winners of the President’s Innovation Prize. The initial development work for InstaHub was also done in the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace here in Penn Bioengineering. Check out the article and video below to learn more about InstaHub’s efforts to fight climate change.

By Lauren Hertzler

As he processed down Locust Walk the day of Commencement, Michael Wong didn’t miss a beat. He took in with pride all his interactions with friends, every cheer from the crowd, and each step on his final day as an undergraduate at Penn.

The first in his family to go to college, Wong would not only graduate that day with a degree from the Wharton School. Thanks to a President’s Innovation Prize (PIP), he’d also graduate with a full-fledged startup and significant funding in hand, ready and willing to take on his next chapter.

“The whole day of graduation I was like ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” recalls Wong. “It’s one of my favorite moments.”

Wong, from Oakland, California, founded InstaHub in 2016. Working with Dayo Adewole, a doctoral candidate in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the pair designed a snap-on motion sensor device that attaches onto existing light switches. It is battery powered, with occupancy sensing capabilities, and is easy to install. With PIP, which awarded Wong $100,000 (plus $50,000 for living expenses), he says he’s been able to do rapid prototyping to move InstaHub forward.

Continue reading at Penn Today.

Strella Biotechnology tackles food waste by ‘hacking the fruit’

Last spring, we congratulated Penn Bioengineering graduating BE senior Malika Shukurova (BSE ’19) and her co-founder Katherine Sizov (Biology ’19) on their President’s Innovation Prize for their start-up Strella Biotechnology. Katherine began the work for what became Strella as a sophomore in the Penn Bioengineering George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace. For more info on their company, check out the article and video below.

by Eric K. Brockmeier

On the second floor of the Pennovation Center, Strella Biotechnology is hard at work turning their student-led startup into a full-fledged company that’s ready to make a major impact in the agricultural sector.

May graduates Katherine Sizov and Malika Shukurova, respectively the CEO and head of R&D at Strella, share a 2019 President’s Innovation Prize, which includes $100,000 of financial support, a $50,000 living stipend for both awardees, and a year of dedicated co-working and lab space at the Pennovation Center. The alumnae and their company are now poised to take on the challenge of $1 trillion worth of food waste.

Strella’s biosensors are designed to give packers real-time data on how ripe their fruits are while being stored between harvesting and selling. Using bio-inspired sensors that measure the ethylene gas produced by fruits as they ripen, Strella successfully “hacked the fruit” to create their patent-pending biosensors. Now, only six months after graduation, Strella has six paying customers and is aiming for $100,000 in sales by the end of the season.

Beyond the work needed to deploy their first paid product, Strella also has a clear view of what needs to be done for future progress of the company. This means running experiments in the lab to refine their current sensors while conducting other experiments that will help the company be able to monitor other types of fresh foods. It’s a job that Shukurova says involves a lot of multitasking and requires an “all-hands” approach to problem solving.

“We set up experiments that run for several days, and during that period we work on different tasks. I prepare for the next set of experiments, Jacob [Jordan] and Katherine travel to our customers to deploy sensors, and Zuyang [Liu]]works on IoT [Internet of Things]. At the end of the day we all come together to discuss results and future plans,” says Shukurova about their company’s work flow.

Continue reading at Penn Today.

Rebound Liberia Kicks Into a New Phase

Last spring, we congratulated Penn Bioengineering graduating senior Oladunni Alomaja (BSE ’19) and her partners at Rebound Liberia on their President’s Engagement Prize. Check out the article and video below on their exciting project.

By Brandon Baker

Fueled by the encouragement and support they received this spring and summer, the three Penn alumni behind Rebound Liberia are now laser-focused on carrying their mission of promoting education and empowerment straight to the basket.

The Rebound Liberia team is led by Princess Aghayere, Oladunni Alomaja, and Summer Kollie, all May Penn graduates who received the President’s Engagement Prize — a $100,000 project prize and $50,000 living stipend per team member, awarded for post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. The trio, each of whom has connections to West Africa and strives to give back, proposed an NGO that would bridge the literacy gap in post-conflict Liberia between male and female youth through workshops and a basketball program for women.

On Sept. 4, after months of preparation, the team relocated to Monrovia, Liberia, and is settling in.

“I think there’s some cultural shock,” says Aghayere, musing about the adjustment. “But Penn is a great place to travel and a lot of us took advantage of opportunities to travel. I’m not surprised, because this is not my first time on the continent, but there are things unique about Liberia. Getting used to the accents, the weather, the currency — but it’s fun.”

Aghayere and Alomaja were born in Nigeria, while Kollie is from Liberia.

Their days so far, they explain, have been consistently jam-packed with meetings. At present, they’re planning an inter-school basketball tournament to introduce their program to Liberia; in recent weeks, they’ve made connections with school administrators, found their footing in the community, and worked through the logistics of organizing a tournament — which, they note, they had some practice with in 2018, creating a summer basketball clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, for girls that was hosted twice a week.

The upcoming tournament, which will include 120 female players on Nov. 22–24, represents a first step toward their larger intention to build a basketball court and program, and marry that with literacy resources. They aim to serve approximately 60 girls in their program.

“We didn’t think it would be wise to move in September and not have an event until the next June or so, so we thought [of] the tournament,” says Aghayere, explaining the origins of the tournament. “At first, we were thinking we’d have a team and foster the game amongst girls here in Monrovia, and we wanted to include a lot more girls and create this sort of league of our own while introducing ourselves as this new social enterprise in Liberia. We thought a tournament would be a launch of Rebound Liberia and introduce us to the community here.”

Continue reading at Penn Today.

BE Senior Design Team Wins Berkman Prize

Senior Design Group MeVR

We would like to congratulate Penn Bioengineering Senior Design team MeVR on winning a Berkman Prize. MeVR consists of current BE seniors Nicole Chiou, Gabriel DeSantis, Ben Habermeyer, and Vera Lee. Awarded by the Penn Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, the Berkman Opportunity Fund provides grants to support students with innovative ideas that might turn into products and companies.

Bioengineering Seniors Ben Habermeyer (top left), Nicole Chiou (top right), Gabriel DeSantis (bottom right), and Vera Lee (bottom left)

MeVR is a bioresponsive virtual reality platform for administering biofeedback therapy. Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of involuntary physiological functions using sensors that provide information on the activity of those bodily systems, with the goal of gaining voluntary control over functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, and pain perception. This therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions such as chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and PTSD. These treatments cost on the order of hundreds to thousands of dollars, require the presence of a therapist to set up and deliver the therapy session, and are generally not interactive or immersive. MeVR is a platform to reduce these limitations of biofeedback therapy through an individualized, immersive, and portable device which guides users through biofeedback therapy using wearable sensors and a virtual reality environment which responds in real-time to biological feedback from the user’s body.

As part of the two-semester Senior Design course (BE 495 & BE 496), MeVR and the rest of the Bioengineering B.S.E. seniors will continue to develop their projects throughout the remainder of the academic year in George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace, culminating in their final presentations and the annual SEAS Senior Design Project Competition at the end of the spring 2020 semester.