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Engineering students present undergraduate research at State Capitol

Junior Biological Engineer Bryant Harris presents his research to attendees at the Undergraduate Research Day at the Jefferson City Capitol building on April 21.

For many engineering students, a critical component of their education is research. Most students begin research their junior year — but others get a head start, including Sophomore Devin McCormack and Junior Bryant Harris.

McCormack and Harris were among 26 students selected to present their undergraduate research at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City on April 21. The undergraduate researchers were selected from every school in the University of Missouri System — including UMKC, SLU, MS&T, and Mizzou.

McCormack, a biological engineering student mentored by John Viator, a biological engineering assistant professor, was selected to present his work on photoacoustic detection of cancer cells. Bryant Harris, a biological engineering student mentored by Shubhra Gangopadhyay, the C.W. LaPierre professor in electrical and computer engineering, was selected to present on nanostructure sensor platforms with potential use in a wide range of applications, including biomedical, radiation, and national security.

McCormack began his research while attending Columbia’s Rock Bridge High School. After volunteering for Viator during the summer of 2007, he was offered a position to assist the professor in his research of detecting melanoma. The process consists of shining light on colored lymph nodes that absorb energy and expand, causing vibrations that turn to light and sound, enabling detection.

“The current way that they detect melanoma involves removing the lymph node and manually examining slides with a microscope. It takes a lot of time,” McCormack said. “It’s fun to be on the cutting edge and do something that hasn’t been done before. To know that your work may help society or have an impact is really motivating.”

Harris began undergraduate research last year. His first research project involved using a three-point-cross technique to locate a gene, RSK-2, related to meiotic silencing.

“Our goal was to clone out the gene,” Harris said.

He then applied for a College of Engineering stipend and began working for Gangopadhyay. He also was accepted into MU’s McNair Scholars program that funded his research. The new project involved using high surface area nanoporous organosilicate (NPO) films as biosensor substrates to detect antigens and enzymes. He began this work by making thin films and measuring properties such as thickness and refractive index. Harris then made the films biocompatible and immobilized fluorescent materials on the surface to ultimately measure the intensity of the material.

“Doing research actually motivates me to accelerate in the classroom because I can see the results and it’s hands-on. The application process is very different than the classroom,” Harris said.

Harris was selected for an internship at Baylor University’s SMART program this summer, but will continue research on a new project when he returns in the fall.