Undergraduates interested in learning to design and develop new biosensing technologies to address open challenges in human health, agriculture and the environment may apply for the University of Nevada’s summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in biosensing. Applicants from all academic institutions are invited to apply for the program, offered through the College of Engineering’s Electrical & Biomedical Engineering Department. Eight participants will be selected and will receive a $6,000 stipend, on-campus housing and other benefits.
“This is an amazing opportunity for undergraduates to get involved in research projects that could set the trajectory of their academic and professional careers,” College of Engineering Dean Erick Jones said.
Electrical & Biomedical Engineering Department Chair Sami Fadali concurred: “This is a good opportunity to undergraduates if they want to gain research experience for job hunting or graduate school application. This program will also facilitate a collaborative faculty research community, which would involve more undergraduates in research in future.”
The REU biosensing program, which aligns with the College’s operational pillar of student success, is led by Electrical & Biomedical Associate Professor Xiaoshan “Sean” Zhu, includes eight projects from diverse fields of knowledge led by various faculty. Projects are as follows:
- Tissue Engineering for Biosensing; faculty advisor is Electrical & Biomedical Engineering Professor Bahram Parvin.
- Understanding of Mechanical Wound-triggered Calcium Signaling in Plants; faculty advisor is Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Associate Professor Won-Gyu Choi.
- Exfoliated Metal-Oxide/Metal Thin Films to Differentiate Emerging Molecules; faculty advisor is Chemical & Materials Engineering Assistant Professor Rashed Kahn.
- Optical Fiber-Based Biosensors; faculty advisor is Electrical & Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Jeongwon Park.
- Time-Resolved Luminescence Bioassays Using Long-lived Luminescence Nanocrystals; faculty advisor is Xiaoshan Zhu.
- Development of Sustainable Sensing Materials; faculty advisor is Chemistry Assistant Professor Ying Yang.
- In-situ Sensing of Molecular Diffusion Harnessing Soft Materials Derived from Neuroimages; faculty advisors are Psychology Associate Professor Lars Strother and Chemical & Materials Engineering Assistant Professor Rashed Kahn.
- Development of Metal Oxide-based sensors for Biochemical Applications; faculty advisor is Chemical & Materials Engineering Associate Professor Ravi Subramanian.
“We have a strong team,” Zhu said. “The research of each participating faculty is well supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NSF, Department of Energy (DOE) or other funding agencies, and the REU students in this program should have good opportunities to broaden their visions and gain insights into research.”
Education Professor Leping Liu will evaluate the progress of this program.
Growing the future biosensing workforce
Zhu secured a $374,197 grant through the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Education and Centers (EEC) program to offer the REU biosensing program. The program, Zhu says, is structured as follows:
- First, REU research projects converging new technologies and ideas from widely diverse fields of knowledge will be conducted to extend the frontiers of their research.
- Second, these projects will engage undergraduates in cutting-edge research, foster their ability to solve open challenges in human health, agriculture and the environment, and train them as part of the future biosensing workforce.
According to Zhu, biosensors acquiring information regarding a physiological change or the presence of various chemical or biological species in biological events are being developed at all physical scales from molecular levels to macro devices to networks. In its functionality, a biosensor is a collaboration of two indispensable components:
- a bioreceptor that recognizes target analytes,
- and a signal transducer that translates this recognition event into a measurable signal.
Generally, bioreceptors such as nucleic acids and antibodies govern the sensing specificity, while signal transducers determine the sensing sensitivity. They are important tools in addressing fundamental challenges related to human well-being. These challenges include:
- how to monitor harmful contaminants in environmental water and thus prevent their possible propagation to human through the food chain,
- how to understand plants’ responses to stresses in order to engineer plants that are resilient to harsh growth conditions and produce more foods and green energy,
- how to monitor long-term psychological/physiological parameters to manage chronic illnesses,
- how to achieve rapid and early diagnosis of infectious diseases,
- how to understand drug diffusion dynamics in the complex brain tissues and thus employ infusion-based drug delivery for precise brain-tumor treatment without causing significant cognitive impairments.