June 10, 2016 | UCLA undergraduates excel in engineering and translational biomedical research program

Meghan Steele Horan | June 10, 2016

Professor Aydogan Ozcan (far right) with the HHMI Undergraduate Research Group at the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI)

Will researchers and scientists be able to image DNA molecules or detect waterborne pathogens in the field without having to carry heavy and costly machinery? This is becoming possible through the use of devices such as smartphones and lens-free computational microscopy tools. 

Creating cost-effective, portable, mobile measurement devices formed a key theme among the projects that 40 UCLA undergraduate researchers presented in the second annual Presentation & Demo Day of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Research, Training and Innovation Program for Translational Biophotonics and Telemedicine Technologies.

The event, organized by the Ozcan Research Group of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as well as the California NanoSystems Institute, featured a vast array of translational biomedical and engineering research performed by the undergraduates. Students in the program conduct hands-on experimental work throughout the entire year, co-author publications, and present and demo their results in scientific meetings and conferences. Those from last year’s cohort co-authored 9 journal articles, 2 patent applications, and more than 30 conference publications. This year, these numbers are expected to increase.

“The most fun part is when I see students own their projects in front of the audience and present their results,” said HHMI Professor Aydogan Ozcan during his opening remarks. “This ownership and peer-to-peer learning and mentorship are very exciting to see from these young researchers.”

From left to right: Students Luiza Harutyunyan, Kira Hart, and Zhengxu Xia present their research during the poster session

Ozcan, who leads the HHMI Program, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering and the Associate Director of CNSI. Also in attendance were Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences Jayathi Murthy, CNSI Director Jeff Miller, graduate student mentors, program affiliated faculty, and researchers from industry. 

The event featured 10 oral presentations, 20 posters and 6 demos in the poster and demo viewing session, followed by an awards ceremony and banquet. The students were judged by a faculty panel as well as researchers from industry and attendees voted for recipients of awards in various categories.

During her oral and poster session, Yun Zhang described her project, “Wide-field lens-free polarized imaging of birefringent synovial fluid crystals for gout diagnosis.” This research focuses on a more efficient and accurate platform to see synovial fluid crystals without the use of a lens and to increase the field of view for health-care technicians and ease the diagnosis of gout disease. When asked what the most challenging part of her project was, Zhang said, “I think it was the starting part- the design. We want to adapt a lens-free on-chip microscope and that is really hard. We spent a lot time performing simulations to make sure this would work.”

Professor Aydogan Ozcan (far right) with the HHMI Undergraduate Research Group at the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI)

The Best Poster Presentation award went to first year undergrad students Michelle Luong and Alex Guziak for their project “Yeast viability analysis using on-chip imaging and machine learning.” A publication is soon to be in the works which will be Luong’s first article. When asked about the benefits about being in the program, Luong said, “The time in the lab- I was able to use the microscope; I handled the dyes and yeasts. There was a lot more opportunity to be in the lab than some of my other friends performing research who are not in the program.” 

Patrick Wolf and Kyrollos Yanny received the Best Oral Presentation for their project, “Real-time algae and waterborne pathogen monitoring using on-chip holographic flow cytometry.” “The traditional way of sampling involves on-site manual sampling where somebody has to go to every water source and get a sample to send back to the laboratory for further identification. This will require a lot of manpower that we might not always have access to,” Yanny said, further explaining that programs have to rely on volunteers to collect and return samples which may impede the integrity of the sample. “There is a need for an on-site, real-time monitoring system that can minimize the delay between the sampling and monitoring.”

The Best Demo Award went to Ashutosh Shiledar, Jeffrey Wong, Shuowen Shen, and Xuan Chen for “Rapid air quality measurement based on lens-free microscopy.” Their instrument consists of a micropump that drives air through an air-sampler where aerosols within the airflow are collected in a sticky coverslip. Three fiber-coupled light-emitting-diodes are then turned on, recording the scattering holograms of the collected aerosols on an image sensor chip. The captured images are transmitted to a remote server where they are reconstructed and analyzed in less than 30 seconds.

From left to right: Engineering Dean Jayathi Murthy, Best Project Award Winner Seungkyeum Kim, Project Mentor Qingshan Wei, CNSI Director Jeff Miller, and HHMI Professor Aydogan Ozcan

Seungkyeum Kim of the Chemical Engineering Department received the Best Project Award for his project “Single-molecule imaging on a mobile phone.” This award was determined by popular vote from both the judges and the attendees. 

This highly interdisciplinary program will continue annually, giving students from 10 different departments on campus, such as Electrical Engineering, Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics, and Biology, opportunities to conduct cutting-edge research with applications in mobile health, telemedicine and environmental monitoring.

This program was created by Ozcan and is funded by the HHMI Professors Program.

Photo credits: Tunde Akinloye, CNSI and Derek Tseng, Ozcan Research Lab