Undergraduate Research Symposium: Overview

Biomedical engineering seniors participated in the Undergraduate Research Symposium on Thursday, April 25, in which they presented their honors theses and fielded questions based on their research. Below is a list of students, their theses, and advisors.

  • Alaa Abdelgawad’s honors thesis was titled “Investigation of Acute Radiation-Induced Changes in Oxygenation in a Murine Beast Tumor Model.” She was advised by Narasimhan Rajaram.
  • Andre Figueroa’s honors thesis was titled “Design of Microporous Membranes for the Development of Brain-on-Chip Devices.” He was advised by Kartik Balachandran.
  • Baylor Bush’s Honors Thesis was titled “A Bioinstrumentation Active Learning Educational Module: The Design of a Working Temperature Sensor Using a NTC Thermistor,” advised by Michelle Kim.
  • Emma Sullivan’s honor thesis was titled “Generation of a CCL2 Knockout Using CRISPR/Cas9 and Lipid Mediated Transfection in CT-26 Murine Colon Carcinoma Cells,” advised by Timothy Muldoon.
  • Jackson Hedrick’s honors thesis was titled “Phenotypic Characterization of Differentiation of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Smooth Muscle Cells,” advised by Raj Rao.
  • Josh Fahy honors thesis was titled “Role of Angiotensin I and II on the Tissue Mechanics of the Aortic Heart Valve,” advised by Kartik Balachandran.
  • Katelyn Heath’s honor thesis was titled “Modeling and Validation of Tissue Optical Properties in the Photon Transport Regime,” advised by Timothy Muldoon.

Pictured: Alaa Abdelgawad

  • Katie Brandecker’s honor thesis was titled “Effect of Polymer Composition of Injectable Hydrogels on Cumulative Release of Methylene Blue,” advised by Ryan Tian.
  • Kristyn Robling’s honor thesis was titled “Characterization of Ocone Mediated TEMPO-Oxidized Nano Cellulose Mixed-Matrix Membranes During Ultrafiltration and Hemodialysis,” advised by Jamie Hestekin.
  • Lauren Buchele’s honor thesis was titled “How Infant Positioning Impacts Hip Motion and the Associated Implications for Babies with Hip Displasia,” advised by Erin Mannen.
  • Marinna Tadros’s honor thesis was titled “Designing In-Vitro Mitral Valve Mounting and Testing System for Micro CT.” She was advised by Morten Jensen.
  • Mason Belue’s honor thesis was titled “Vector Flor Imaging in Pediatric Cardiology—Extracting and Validating Data,” also advised by Morten Jensen.
  • Olga Brazhkina’s honor thesis was titled “Development of a Model for Accelerated Fatigue Testing in Venous Valves,” advised by Morten Jensen.
  • Tasha Repella’s honor thesis was titled “Comparing the Effects of Fibroblast Growth Factors on Growth Rate of Human Fibroblast Cell Lines,” advised by Raj Rao.
  • Wenbo Xu’s honor thesis was titled “Investigating Virus Clearance via pH Inactivation During Biomanufacturing,” advised by Xianghong Qian.

Two students also presented their independent research projects:

  • Shelby Bess’ project was titled “Diffuse reflectance spectroscopy quantifies functional tumor response in a murine subcutaneous model of colorectal cancer,” advised by Timothy Muldoon.
  • Shelby Johns also discussed her project, titled “Development of a C57BI6J Mouse Model for Calcific Aortic Valve Disease Progression,” advised by Kartik Balachandran.

Afterwards, students participated in the Poster Reception for Honors Research & Independent Study, in which members of the department and college could further explore and ask questions.

Congrats to the 2019 biomedical engineering seniors on their thesis completion!

After Graduation: Anne Preut on Now Diagnostics


Hogeye Marathon Relay Team from Now Diagnostics (Anne Preut second from right)

Anne Preut is a graduate of University of Arkansas’ Biomedical Engineering Department. Below, she describes her experience as a Product Development Scientist at Now Diagnostics and seeking employment post-graduation.

In November 2018, I started at Now Diagnostics (Springdale, AR) working as a Product Development Scientist. After graduation in May and a celebratory road-trip through the Southwest, I began the job hunt. Specifically, I was looking for a position that would challenge me, provide mentorship and positively impact healthcare through low-cost solutions and increased access for people. Now Diagnostics seemed to fit the description when a fellow graduate student at the University of Arkansas described the company to me. I reached out to see if and what positions were available. Cold-calling can be intimidating, but I would like to take a moment to encourage students to email or call the companies that they are truly passionate about. It only takes a moment and what’s the worst that can happen? The persistence paid off as I landed a phone interview with Vicki Thompson, who is my current boss. She then invited me to meet her Product Development Team as well as meet with the rest of the management team and CEO. After the interview, I knew this was a company where I could develop professionally and build a career (and thankfully they hired me!). Skills such as image analysis and 3D printing that I gained through the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Arkansas have been instrumental to growing in this new position. Most importantly, I have continued to grow as an independent researcher and build on my previous experiences as a graduate research student.

BioDot RR120 Web Handling System

 Vision System 

Image analysis was instrumental in my thesis work as well as one of the most challenging and rewarding classes I took during graduate school. Understanding the basic principles of image analysis has been helpful as I work to scale-up the production of our hCG test. The equipment that I use includes a vision system to ensure that coating each membrane occurs in the programmed location. Additionally, understanding these principles has enabled me to effectively communicate with the manufacturer of the equipment.

Another core component to my thesis work was 3D printing in order to develop a neurovascular model. Using this knowledge, I initiated a unique solution to an issue on our scale-up equipment. We run multiple sizes of membrane on the equipment, which requires readjusting the dispense reels that hold the membrane rolls. Through the NWA Fab Lab in Fayetteville, AR I 3D printed components that appropriately space each membrane to be perfectly centered, which ensures coating in the desired locations. Although a simple solution, this minimizes setup time and ensures proper alignment of the membrane for every use.

3D printing at the Fab Lab

 Finished product on scale-up equipment 

As an undergraduate, I worked in three labs, yet graduate school gave me the opportunity to work independently driving my own research ideas through the guidance of my advisors, initiated through classes and collaboration with fellow graduate students. This has been the most instrumental in preparing me for my current position. Every day requires new iterations to my research as I work to scale-up our hCG test and prepare for the tech transfer for our Strep test.

This is the challenging environment that I envisioned when I began my job hunt, but even more so I am thankful for the supportive, encouraging and friendly atmosphere that Now Diagnostics embodies. In February, a coworker initiated a fitness challenge for everyone to walk one-mile per day. This resulted in almost half of the company completing the challenge as well as three coworkers and myself completing the Hogeye Marathon Relay. I know that the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program has been foundational to building my skill set and I look forward building these friendships as well as my career at Now Diagnostics.

Track and Biomed: 8 Questions for Katrina Robinson, Student Athlete

Katrina Robinson is an undergraduate student of biomedical engineering and also a track-and-field athlete. Below she discusses cross-country success, academic drive, and shares advice for similarly ambitious students.

BME: When did you first become interested in biomedical engineering?

Robinson: To be completely honest, not until September last year. I came into college unsure about what exactly I wanted to study, but I knew that I really enjoyed science classes and that my strongest classes were ones involving critical thinking. After settling in during the fall and thinking a lot about what was right for me, I decided that biomedical engineering would be perfect. It was the perfect blend of science and math and becoming an engineer really excited me. It also opens up doors into the health field which I have always been very interested in.

BME: Why the University of Arkansas?

Robinson: Growing up as a track runner in Australia, I always knew that I wanted to pursue my passion for running at an American college. The sport is so much bigger here than at home and the opportunity to run on scholarship was also one that I couldn’t pass up. The University of Arkansas has such a renowned track program and when I took a visit here during my senior year I fell in love with the campus and fit right in with the team.

BME: What classes or labs have you enjoyed most? 

Robinson: I have really enjoyed taking University Physics 1 this semester because I find physics to be such a fascinating subject. I like how tangible the science is and the fact that you are learning about concepts that you encounter in everyday life. I also loved taking the Principles of Biology class last semester because I find it interesting learning about the inner workings of the body.

BME: How do you balance being a student athlete and a biomedical engineering student?

Robinson: I developed a lot of good habits in high school which I have been able to carry with me into college. It can definitely be tough trying to balance a full course load while also fitting in hours of practice each day and having to miss a lot of school days travelling to meets, but I always try to plan out my week in advance to figure out the best times to study. I try to set aside small but consistent study sessions throughout the week instead of trying to cram it all in at one time, because I find this helps eliminate stress and gives me time each day to do other things I enjoy.

BME: Any advice for other student athletes who are studying biomedical engineering at the U of A? 

Robinson: Classes can get stressful at times, so my advice is to remember why you are studying biomedical engineering in the first place. It is such a fascinating program that can lead to so many exciting careers, and reminding myself of this always helps motivate me when I feel weighed down with exams and homework. My other piece of advice (which is easier said than done) is to complete homework and start studying for tests as early as possible. This will make every course seem a lot more manageable and will eliminate a lot of stress.

BME: Do you feel that your success as an athlete and a biomedical engineering student complement each other? Where do you think this ambition comes from?

Robinson: I think they definitely complement each other because both require a lot of hard work and commitment. Just like studying, running each day can be tough and there are definitely days when a hard workout is the last thing I feel like doing. However, learning to put in the hard work consistently each day is what has helped me achieve my best results both on the track and in the classroom. I also find that running is a great way to destress when school feels overwhelming and it always helps me clear my mind. I have always been very ambitious which I have been able to apply to all aspects of my life.

BME: Any plans after graduation?

Robinson: After graduating, I plan to keep running and to hopefully be competitive at an Olympic Games. I don’t have any specific academic plans yet, but as I continue with my degree and explore the different aspects of biomedical engineering, I hope this will become clearer.

BME: What has been your proudest moment thus far in college? 

Robinson: My proudest moment was being named SEC Freshmen of the Year during cross country season and also placing second at the cross-country Pre-Nationals in Wisconsin in a strong field.




State and National Awards Reception: Biomedical Engineering Recipients

Pictured above: Department Head, Raj Rao, with Biomedical Engineering students and mentors.

University of Arkansas’ State and National Awards Reception is held yearly at the end of the spring semester and commemorates the academic achievements of students in various departments. The Biomedical Engineering Department claimed several notable awards for both students and the department overall. Below is a list of the recipients and their mentors.

  • The Biomedical Engineering Department won the 2019 Departmental Gold Medal, received by Department Head, Raj Rao.
  • Harrison Dean won the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Heart Association, mentored by Heather Walker.
  • Alaa Abdelgawad was recognized for her Student Travel Award from the Biomedical Engineering Society, mentored by Narasimhan Rajaram.
  • Smit Patel was awarded the Hagan Scholarship, mentored by Kartik Balachandran and Charles Robinson.
  • Mason Buele was recognized as an Outstanding Chapter officer by the National Biomedical Honor Society, mentored by Michelle Kim.
  • Various students won the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, including Olga Brazhkina, Jarrod Eisma, Jessica Orton, Jack West, and Lucy Woodbury. They were mentored by Morten Jensen, Connie Lamm, Jamie Hestekin, Bryan Hill, and Kyle Quinn, respectively.

  • Jessica Orton was also awarded the Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), mentored by Jamie Hestekin.
  • Harrison Dean was also recognized for his acceptance into Texas A&M College of Medicine Summer Research Program, mentored by Heather Walker.
  • Samia Ismail was awarded the Truman Scholarship, mentored by Nicole Clowney.
  • Smit Patel was also recognized for his acceptance into the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program, mentored by Kartik Balachandran.
  • Andre Figueroa won the Upstate Medical University Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, also mentored by Kartik Balachandran.
  • Alaa Abdelgawad was also awarded the UT Health San Antonio Summer Research Fellowship, mentored by Narasimhan Rajaram.
  • Gianna Busch was recognized for her acceptance at Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center Summer Research Program, mentored by Kyle Quinn.


Alexandra Gutierrez Reports: Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Conference

Engineering competition at the RLDC 2019. The winners were University of Arkansas, University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at Arlington.

Alexandra Gutierrez is an undergraduate studying biomedical engineering. Below, she recounts her experiences at the Regional Leadership Development Conference held by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

My name is Alexandra Gutierrez, I am a senior biomedical engineering student and it was not until my junior year that I realized the importance of being involved with the different RSO on campus. I am currently part of the Panamanian Student Organization (PSO), American Indian Society of Sciences and Engineering (AISES), and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).

 In particular, I would like to share my experience at Regional Leadership Development Conference (RLDC) 2019, organized by SHPE and held at St. Mary’s University, University of Texas in San Antonio, TX. Soaring for success was the Conference’s main theme. At this conference, not only was I exposed to meeting new people, participating in an engineering competition, a protagonist of the multiple workshops held by SHPE to develop leadership skills, and part of a career fair for networking opportunities, but also RLDC participants were fully inspired to impact the community through STEM as well as guided by experienced leaders. At this conference, there were many interesting workshops, but the most relevant workshop sessions for me were:  “SHPEOLOGY” and “Hacking Your Professional Brand While Being Authentic”. “SHPEOLOGY” was conducted by Monique Herrera, the corporate director of relations and marketing of SHPE. In SHPEOLOGY, she explained that the Hispanic community in the workplace is reduced because there is a lack of knowledge from Hispanic people about the professional and leadership opportunities that are offered for Hispanics every year. Thus, it is important for more Hispanics to join this “Familia”, as she called it. Here, they can access these opportunities more easily. Raising awareness about the values and diversity Latinos to bring to places, such as the workplace and academia, might be an effective solution to diverse problems this society faces. With this solution, she invites every Hispanic to strive for the best and never give up while joining this organization to spread the word.


The University of Arkansas chapter was recognized as the most improved chapter in the region.


The other workshop was named: “Hacking Your Professional Brand While Being Authentic”, Rodney Tobares, the speaker from the Facebook Company. His message was based on building a community to bring more Latinos/Hispanics closer together through technology. During his years at the industry, he relied on the power of becoming his own brand, and he encourages everyone to do the same. Collectivism, sympathy, respect, cultural identity, fatalism, and paternalism have been the Latino cultural strips from which he has used to share his Hispanic heritage. He mentioned that we need to have defined steps in order to reach our goals. He suggested a platform called “Piazza”, which is designed to connect professionals and academia. The career fair was also an important component of this conference. Here, Hispanics were able to interact with professionals from a variety of companies, give their elevator pitch, and be led by professionals to their possible industry interests as well as academic paths.

Overall, these workshops brought more awareness to me and my desire to invite everyone to join this society while in college. I am thankful for having had the support from the BME department. Hispanics and any individual can benefit from events like this conference, and others such as the National conference coming in the fall of this year. Come and be part of our Familia!


Tori Marie Stover Attends Women in the Workforce Annual Conference

Pictured above: UAF engineering staff at Women in the Workforce Annual Conference on March 6, 2019 in Bentonville, AR

As part of Women’s History Month, Tori Marie Stover—Fiscal Support Analyst for the Biomedical Engineering Department—offers a summary of the Women in the Workforce Annual Conference held on March 6, 2019 and the various sessions that were presented.


The theme of this conference was Purpose, Performance, and Persuasion. Their description: “This one-day, interactive conference provides female professionals with an opportunity to enhance relevant workplace skills. Hear from industry veterans on topics that align with this year’s theme.” 

Keynote Speaker:

“This thought-provoking session on leadership style specifically is geared towards women, focused on 6 Key P’s: Performance, Persuasion, Purpose, Passion, Presence, and Perception.”

  • The first session was with Keynote Speaker Merrissa Pires, VP of Human Resources at Rickett Benckiser. We were asked to speak with another attendee about who we are at our best and worst, and how we remain our best during our worst times. This allowed us to reflect on who we really are, and made us think about our passions, and what makes us feel powerful. She asked us to think about how a child would perceive us; children tend to see greatness in everything, which was very thought provoking. Then she provided us with a quote, “Gallup analysis reveals that people who use their strengths (passions) every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.” This engrains that how we perceive ourselves, and the things we are passionate about, have a huge impact on us. With that said, she pointed out that women often tear themselves down, when they should be lifting themselves up. This is a great reminder for anyone; your quality of life matters, and you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.


  • We chose between two workshops: Discover Your Purpose: Emi Cardarelli, Director Club Sales and Sustainability at Unilever and Discover and the Impact of Storytelling in the Workplace: Shannon Petersen, Director of Human Resources at Hilti. I chose to attend the latter, since the former sounded similar to the keynote speaker, and I wanted to learn something different. This presentation’s purpose was to give us a deeper understanding of the power of storytelling and how to use it to connect with co-workers, customers, and supervisors. Shannon shared her story of a medical scare that forced her to spontaneously go on short-term disability leave, and how her supervisor was supportive and encouraged her to come back to work afterwards. By the end of the story, the whole audience felt a connection to Shannon and her experience. As an exercise, she had one half of the room ask each other a set of questions, then the other half answer a different set. The first half were simple questions about favorite actors, and pets, while the second half was about our goals and other personal questions. Her point was that the more complex and personal a question or story is, the more in-depth the answer or reaction will be. As a result, you will feel more connected to the other person. She uses this method to hire employees, or sell a product, but it can be used in any situation where you are interacting with another individual.

 Panel Discussion:

  • Silvia Siqueria, Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Hilti, brought a panel of presenters to discuss the importance of workplace diversity. At first, they began with gender diversity, but it quickly began to include age and race as well. They answered several questions from the audience about how to handle situations, ranging from what to do when someone is clearly excluding you for being different than them, to when someone is trying to make you comfortable, but ends up making you more uncomfortable. The example given for the latter was, an African American woman had started a position and had items removed from her list of duties, because her supervisor didn’t think she would be comfortable handing it. All of the responses were thoughtful, but the most helpful piece of advice, was to write it down and have a conversation about it later. Tell them how it made you feel and ask if this was their intention. Silvia said from her experience doing this, she usually gets the response, “Of course not, I didn’t even think about it that way”. This opens a dialogue about the issue, and allows the other person to understand how their words or actions can be misconstrued, so they can be more thoughtful about the way they behave in the future. I think this piece of advice can be helpful to anyone who is having a conflict with a co-worker or supervisor.

The day ended with a drawing for some goodies, and closing words by the MC, Kristy Meinzer, Senior Manager of Performance Content, and VMLY&R.