Wangari Mbuthia, Penn Bioengineering Class of 2025, shares her experience in Singapore while studying abroad with the Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) at Penn. GRIP provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce.
Engineering Research in Singapore
If someone would have told me this time last year that I would be doing an engineering research program in Singapore, I wouldn’t have believed it. But rest assured here I am, two weeks in, and it has been an incredible experience.
Admittedly before coming to Singapore, basically everything I knew about this country could somewhat be summarized in that it was hot, beautiful and diverse. Before this I had never traveled to an Asian country and I was both excited and nervous about taking this trip. I was excited for food, sights and new experiences but I was also particularly nervous about being in a country where almost no one looks like me. Nevertheless, I decided to travel with an open mind, letting myself wander and wonder as I went and I thought I’d share some of my initial discoveries here.
Walking around Singapore it is clear that it is a place where many cultures have come together – Chinese, Malay, Indian and more – but I could probably count the number of Black people I saw on my two hands. This cultural landscape left me feeling very visible everywhere I went. But at the same time also somewhat invisible because for the most part, no one really made me feel like the odd one out. Rather, my presence only seemed to spark harmless (and sometimes comical) curiosity about where I was from or how I do my braids.
To my delight, the cultural diversity of Singapore is equally reflected in the food options. I can easily have access to almost any type of Asian cuisine at any given time and even quite a lot Western varieties too. I have eagerly been documenting the foods I try and rating them. One of my favorites has been a kaya (a type of sweet coconut spread) toast breakfast with soft-boiled eggs and teh-c (tea with evaporated milk). I also still need to try the unique, smelly fruit (so smelly it is not allowed on public transport), durian.
Another wonderful discovery was to see how Singapore lives up to its name, “garden city”. Not only is the city filled with beautiful buildings each with their own personality, but the city landscape is so artfully integrated with nature inside and out. I have seen indoor gardens and waterfalls but also gorgeous waterfront and outdoor spaces that I could sit in for hours.
It’s hard to believe how a country with such little land area and no natural resources has grown to be one of the richest cities in the world. Singapore truly feels like a place where so much is possible and that has been really special to see.
They will conduct research, pursue graduate degrees, or teach English in Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Israel, Latvia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, the West Bank-Palestine territories, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Thailand.
The Fulbright Program is the United States government’s flagship international educational exchange program, awarding grants to fund as long as 12 months of international experience.
Among the Penn Fulbright grant recipients for 2023-24 is Ella Atsavapranee, from Cabin John, Maryland, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Science and a minor in chemistry from the College. She was offered a Fulbright to conduct research at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.
At Penn, Atsavapranee worked with Michael Mitchell, J. Peter and Geri Skirkanich Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, engineering lipid nanoparticles to deliver proteases that inhibit cancer cell proliferation. She has also worked with Shan Wang, Leland T. Edwards Professor in the School of Engineering and Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, using bioinformatics to discover blood biomarkers for cancer detection. To achieve more equitable health care, she worked with Lisa Shieh, Clinical Professor in Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, to evaluate an AI model that predicts risk of hospital readmission and study how room placement affects patient experience.
Outside of research, Atsavapranee spread awareness of ethical issues in health care and technology as editor-in-chief of the Penn Bioethics Journaland a teaching assistant for Engineering Ethics (EAS 2030). She was also a Research Peer Advisor for the Penn Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships (CURF), a student ambassador for the Office of Admissions, and a volunteer for Service Link, Puentes de Salud, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She plans to pursue a career as a physician-scientist to develop and translate technologies that are more affordable and accessible to underserved populations.
Read the full list of Penn Fulbright grant recipients for 2023-24 in Penn Today.
The program’s core curriculum focuses on leadership, China, and global affairs, according to the Schwarzman program. The academic program is updated each year to align with current and future geopolitical priorities. The coursework, cultural immersion, and personal and professional development opportunities are designed to equip students with an understanding of China’s changing role in the world.
This year, approximately 151 Schwarzman Scholars were selected from a pool of 3,000 applicants from 36 countries and 121 universities.
Jiaqi Liu earned his master’s degree in bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2021. After graduation, he returned to China and works in global early-stage Venture Capital. According to the Schwarzman Scholars program, Liu is passionate about promoting medical equality and affordable health care solutions and has experience in medtech startup, global pharmaceutical company, health care consulting, and health care venture capital.
This story is by Amanda Mott. Read more about the Schwarzman Scholars at Penn Today.
Konrad Kording, Nathan Francis Mossell University Professor in Bioengineering, Neuroscience, and Computer and Information Sciences, was appointed the Co-Director of the CIFAR Program in Learning in Machines & Brains. The appointment will start April 1, 2022.
CIFAR is a global research organization that convenes extraordinary minds to address the most important questions facing science and humanity. CIFAR was founded in 1982 and now includes over 400 interdisciplinary fellows and scholars, representing over 130 institutions and 22 countries. CIFAR supports research at all levels of development in areas ranging from Artificial Intelligence and child and brain development, to astrophysics and quantum computing. The program in Learning in Machines & Brains brings together international scientists to examine “how artificial neural networks could be inspired by the human brain, and developing the powerful technique of deep learning.” Scientists, industry experts, and policymakers in the program are working to understand the computational and mathematical principles behind learning, whether in brains or in machines, in order to understand human intelligence and improve the engineering of machine learning. As Co-Director, Kording will oversee the collective intellectual development of the LMB program which includes over 30 Fellows, Advisors, and Global Scholars. The program is also co-directed by Yoshua Benigo, the Canada CIFAR AI Chair and Professor in Computer Science and Operations Research at Université de Montréal.
Kording, a Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professor, was previously named an associate fellow of CIFAR in 2017. Kording’s groundbreaking interdisciplinary research uses data science to advance a broad range of topics that include understanding brain function, improving personalized medicine, collaborating with clinicians to diagnose diseases based on mobile phone data and even understanding the careers of professors. Across many areas of biomedical research, his group analyzes large datasets to test new models and thus get closer to an understanding of complex problems in bioengineering, neuroscience and beyond.
Congratulations to recent Penn Bioengineering graduate Gabriel DeSantis on being awarded a Fulbright grant for the 2021-22 academic year:
“The Fulbright Program is the United States government’s flagship international educational exchange program, awarding grants to fund as long as 12 months of international experience.
‘As an avenue for building cross-cultural understanding, the U.S. Student Fulbright Program is an unparalleled opportunity for American students to represent our country and our University across the world,’ says Jane Morris, executive director of Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which supports applicants. ‘We are so proud of all our Penn Fulbright students who will be contributing to this important mission through their study, research, and English teaching as Fulbrighters.’
A paper published this month in Scientific Reports announced a new a strategy for the treatment of segmental bone defects. The new technique, called Segmental Additive Tissue Engineering (or SATE) comes from a team of researchers with the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute (NYSCF). A press release from the NYSCF and an accompanying short video (below) describe the breakthrough technique, which will “[allow] researchers to combine segments of bone engineered from stem cells to create large scale, personalized grafts that will enhance treatment for those suffering from bone disease or injury through regenerative medicine.”
Ralph Lauren Senior Investigator Guiseppe Maria de Peppo, PhD, and first author Martina Sladkova, PhD, express their hope that this new procedure will help address some of the limitations of bone grafts, such as immune system rejection, the need for growing bones in pediatric patients, and the difficulty of creating larger bone grafts made from patient stem cells.
Elsewhere in stem cell research, the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices has given the company Viscofan BioEngineering approval to start clinical trials for stem cell therapy to treat heart failure. Already a world leader in the market for medical collagen, Viscofan is now turning its research toward using collagen (a protein found in the connective tissue of mammals) to strengthen the weakened heart muscle of those with ischemic cardiomyopathy, a type of heart failure and the leading cause of death in the world. This new “Cardiomesh” project includes collaborators from industry, academia, and hospitals to create this elastic and biodegradable product. Viscofan expects to start clinical trials after the summer of this year, and the full details can be found in Viscofan’s press release.
Federal Grant Supports International Bioengineering Research
The Canadian government awarded a $1.65 million federal grant to two top Canadian universities to develop a center based on engineering RNA. The University of Lethbridge and the Université de Sherbrooke will team up with international collaborators from the United States, Germany, France, Australia, and more and to found and develop the Ribonucleic Acid Bioengineering and Innovation Network Collaborative Research and Training Experience over the next six years. This comes as part of the Canadian government’s CREATE initiative, which awards grants to research teams across the country to support research, innovation, and jobs-creation in the sciences. These two universities are national leaders in the field of RNA research, a diverse and interdisciplinary field. This new network will focus on training of both young academics transitioning to industry and entrepreneurs looking to develop new technologies. This project is led by Hans-Joachim Wieden, PhD, Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty at the University of Lethbridge and an Alberta Innovates Strategic Chair in RNA Bioengineering.
Lehigh University Awarded Grant in Ebola Research
Close to Philadelphia in Allentown, PA, researchers at Lehigh University received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support their research into one of the deadliest of modern diseases, the Ebola virus, which is highly infectious and currently without vaccine or cure. Entitled “TIM Protein-Mediated Ebola Virus-Host Cell Adhesion: Experiments and Models,” the goal of this research is to create a “predictive and quantitative model of the Ebola Virus (EBOV)-host cell interactions at the molecular through single-virus levels.” Building on past research, the investigators ultimately hope to provide the first quantitative study of this type of cell interaction. By studying how EBOV enters the body through healthy cells, the aim is to understand how it works and ultimately develop a technique to stop its entry. The lead investigator, Anand Jagota, PhD, is the current Professor and Founding Chair of Lehigh University’s Bioengineering program.
New Research in Brain Tumor Removal
The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) awarded a grant to Fake (Frank) Lu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton in support of his research to design more accurate techniques for the removal of brain tumors. His technique, called Stimulated Raman Scattering or SRS, is a mode of identifying molecules during surgery which can be used to create a highly detailed and accurate image. Dr. Lu’s SRS techniques will improve both the speed of the surgery and the accuracy of the tissue removal. With this grant support, Dr. Lu’s team will collaborate with local universities and hospitals on collecting more data as their next step before making the technology more widely available.
People and Places
Undergraduate students at our neighbor Drexel University received the Robert Noyce Scholarship, an NSF program that supports students seeking their teacher certification in science and math at the middle school level. The co-investigators and undergraduates are from a variety of disciplines and programs across the university, including co-investigator Donald L. McEachron, PhD, Teaching Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. The students’ curriculum in the DragonsTeach Middle Years program will combine rigorous preparation for teaching STEM subjects and the foundational knowledge to work with under-served schools.
Another group of students, this time from California State University, Long Beach, used their victory in the university’s annual Innovation Challenge as an opportunity to launch a startup called Artemus Labs. Their first product, “Python,” uses body heat other physical sensations to regulate a prosthetic liner, useful in making sure prosthetic limbs are comfortable for the wearer. The students explained that their idea was driven by need, as few prosthetic manufacturers prioritize such factors as temperature or sweat regulation in the creation of their products.
Finally, the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering has a new Chair of Biomedical Engineering: Professor K. Kirk Shung, PhD. Dr. Shung obtained his doctorate from the University of Washington and joined USC in 2002. With a background in electrical engineering, Dr. Shung’s research focuses on high frequency ultrasonic imaging and transducer development, and has been supported by a NIH grant as well as won multiple awards from the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), among others.
Professor Suhair Sunoqrot joins Sally and Kayla to discuss her experiences running her research lab at Al Zaytoonah University of Jordan and what she wishes international colleagues understood about the research climate in Jordan. Also on this episode, a listener is having a hard time fitting in while researching in another country, and Suhair’s experience finding belonging in research labs in the US and Europe is discussed. Suhair successfully balances her nanoparticle and drug delivery research with a heavy teaching load, and Sally and Kayla learn her secrets for making it work. Suhair is an outstanding researcher and mentor.