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Undergraduate researcher studies biomaterials

Sophomore Megan Schroeder works with Matthew Bernards as one of his undergraduate researchers.

Megan Schroeder took the initiative to introduce herself to Matthew Bernards, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, after he presented his research to her introductory chemical engineering class.

Hearing from Discovery Fellows program students about the undergraduate research they’d done had piqued her interest.

“I just walked right up to him after the class and introduced myself,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder, who is now a sophomore, worked in the Bernards’ lab as a volunteer in the second semester of her freshman year. Now she has a paid position as part of the College of Engineering’s undergraduate research program.

“I have a strong undergraduate research component to my lab,” Bernards said. “I try to take at least one freshman every year.”

In addition to research, Schroeder is involved in several student organizations. She was an officer for Mizzou’s student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers her freshman year. She’s also a member of Engineers without Borders and the Society of Women Engineers.

Schroeder said she spends about eight hours a week working in the lab on her experiment with hydrogels. Schroeder and the other undergraduate students working on the hydrogel team meet with Bernards every week.

“He’s more of our mentor,” Schroeder said. “If anything goes wrong in the lab, we’ll go to him and ask what we should do. He’s always happy to help.”

The goal of the hydrogel experiments is to find a biomaterial that can be implanted without causing excessive scarring or rejection by the body by limiting the amount of proteins that adsorb into the material. A nonfouling material that does not trigger the human body’s natural responses would have numerous biomedical applications.

Schroeder said her first day of the week in the lab is typically spent on mixing and setting the hydrogels, which are composed of two oppositely charged monomers. After the gel sets, Schroeder cuts the gel into small circular pieces using a biopsy punch. Next Schroeder spends six hours running the assay to determine the amount of protein on the surface of the gel.

“It can be kind of frustrating because you don’t always get all the results you want,” Schroeder said.

“Megan has grown by leaps and bounds based on what she’s learned,” Bernards said. “She picked up the experimental process very quickly and that has allowed her to make great progress.”

Bernards said he thinks doing research is beneficial for undergraduates. “It is a very good experience for undergraduates and I think it gives them a lot better idea of what they want to do with their career in the future,” he said.

There are 15 other students involved in undergraduate honors research with chemical engineering faculty. Bernards also supervises Noor Algutifan, Shane Adriano, Sean Dobbins and Daniel McGrath. Galen Suppes mentors Spencer Absher and Lida Zhu. Patrick Pinhero supervises Michelle Adkins, Ashley Leeker and Suzanne Shands. Sheila Baker mentors Nicholas Brownrigg and Xavier Wegmann. Baolin Deng mentors Shu Feng, Paul McCaughey and Yaya Lin.  Stephen Lombardo mentors George Terlep.

“I really like the hands on, applying the things you learn in class,” Schroeder said. “Seeing the connections is great.”