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SCU Engineering News

Bioengineering student studies cells at the nano level

Prof. Kim and Sandeep Kaur ’11 at work with the Atomic Force Microscope.

With the goal of learning how to regenerate the cells found in our muscles, bioengineering senior Sandeep Kaur has been spending a lot of time with the Center for Nanostructures’ (CNS) Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), a very high-resolution type of scanning probe.

“I wanted to find out what conditions are necessary to allow cells to differentiate and proliferate. How do the mechanical properties on cell culture substrate come into play? What chemical components are needed in the microenvironment? Exactly what conditions will allow cells from adult mice to proliferate into a particular type,” Sandeep wondered. So she set out to answer the question with the help of her advisor, bioengineering professor Unyoung (Ashley) Kim, electrical engineering professor and CNS director Cary Yang, and biology professor James Grainger.

Together, they developed a method of probing the flexibility of soft culture substrates using atomic force microscopy. Sandeep was well-prepared for this type of research. Three years earlier she had contacted Yang looking for a project. "Sandeep expressed her interest in working on something with a mix of nanoscience and life sciences,” he said. “I introduced her to a research project examining the elastic properties of carbon nanostructures the summer after her sophomore year.” Teaming up with other CNS researchers, she carried out the experiments and their results were presented at the Materials Research Society Meeting in San Francisco in April 2010.

Once Sandeep was proficient with the AFM, she was ready to take on a new challenge. “This is the exact project I should be working on as it encompasses both biology and engineering,” said Sandeep. “Applying engineering and physics, especially in my senior year, is great because everything comes together.” Prof. Kim concurs, “With her biology background, she understands cells and chemistry. Her physics background makes her skilled in taking measurements, and she has a solid grounding in engineering principles that gives her the ability to provide a solution.”

Sandeep recently presented her work at a poster session held at NASA. “I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Santa Clara is that people think students don’t get involved in research the way they would at a bigger school in the UC system,” said Sandeep, “but I’ve found the opposite to be true. It’s so exciting for me as an undergraduate to be able to guide my own research with the help of great professors from three different departments.”

Read more about SCU Bioengineering.