Student Solving Real World Problems
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Exciting Collaboration Between K-State Olathe and MNU Scientists
One of the advantages of attending a small university is the chance to do scientific research with one’s professor. Often something reserved for graduate students at larger institutions, MNU undergraduates actually get this opportunity frequently. Junior Timothy Myers is working with MNU Chemistry Professor Dr. Abby Hodges and Kansas State University Professor Dr. Mei He (pronounced hey) on an exciting project to help the medical field.
Dr. He directs a research group at K-State’s Olathe Campus, focused on translating bioengineering innovations into healthcare and diagnosis. Using 3-D printers the scientists are creating chips on which to run diagnostic tests for patients. The goal is to perfect a product that will allow point-of-care diagnostics for many conditions. Point-of-care testing allows healthcare workers to perform tests at the time and place of patient care, often saving time and money.
“These are small chips about the size of a microscope slide,” Myers says. “You can run diagnostic tests on them, the same as in a hospital, but without needing hospital facilities.”
Myers’ part of the project is to make the diagnostic chip more biocompatible with human or biological samples.
“Our challenge is to find some solution to treat the plastic surface by changing the surface chemistry of the chip,” Myers adds.
Hodges says the collaboration came about from her introduction to Dr. He.
“I have some expertise in organic chemistry and proteins and how they behave,” Hodges says. “Dr. He’s a bioengineer looking at making devices that are made of organic chemicals and do functional things with protein molecules. I had some expertise in things she wanted to use her product for.”
Hodges felt Myers was the logical choice to become a student researcher.
“Timothy’s very good at seeing a problem and solving it. He’s the departmental MacGyver,” she says, referring to MNU’s Department of Mathematics and Science where Myers has worked in the bio-chem lab and as a teaching assistant in undergraduate laboratories. “It’s important for undergraduate students to see that they bring something to the table that’s valuable. With Timothy, I’ve seen him be able to take that gift and apply it.”
Learning to Work Alongside Scientists
Hodges thinks the experience has been important to her student’s growth in a number of ways.
“He’s also learned how to operate in other people’s spaces,” Hodges says. “And that’s always the problem with collaboration. Timothy has been great about managing that. It’s important in research and in employability. It’s also been really fun to see his interest in this topic—the chemistry behind it—grow.”
Myers agrees that the experience has been helpful.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he says. “I’m really glad to have this research perspective—to see how science is done in real research [as opposed to purely academic]. Myers adds that this research and the scientific conferences at which he has presented his work, have helped him mature. “This type of interaction goes on all the time and I need to know how to do it.”
So how is the research going? Myers and Hodges say they have had some success and some setbacks.
“Engineering projects start with a proof of concept,” Hodges says. “You start on a small scale to see if your idea will work, but often when you scale it up, you run into complications. That’s where we are now. We’ve had some initial success with the data and we think we’re onto something, but now we need to work out some not-insignificant hurdles.”
Myers will continue to perform the research for Dr. He under Hodges’ supervision for the foreseeable future. Hodges is delighted to collaborate with K-State’s scientists and through the experience has invited Dr. Sara Gragg to present a microbiology seminar to MNU science students. Another MNU student, Stephanie Schultz, secured a position working in Dr. Gragg’s K-State lab recently.
In addition to potential future collaboration, Hodges says an aspect of the project that dovetails well with the values at MNU is the use for which Dr. He is developing her product.
“One of the cool things about this project is that Dr. He is making these devices that could be used in places in the world that are underserved,” Hodges says. “Ideally, the devices could be sent to islands or communities without medical facilities and then the diagnostic data could be sent back to a central hospital facility. It’s a way our students can help others using their love of science. At MNU we like to show our students how they can be involved in ministry, and it doesn’t have to missions, it can be making things that help people.”