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The Art of Design: Engineering Intricacies & Efficiencies Motivates Visiting ME Undergraduate Researcher

The SENIC Undergraduate Internship in Nanotechnology (SUIN) program is a major component of the Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor (SENIC), at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology at Georgia Tech, which focuses on providing undergraduates in engineering the chance to spend a summer conducting research in a world-class collaborative lab with prominent Georgia Tech researchers. GT-IEN hosted 4 undergraduates from various U.S. colleges over the summer that engaged in hands-on research in a number of fields of nanotechnology.

This is our fourth installment of interviews with the students who spent their summer conducting research at Georgia Tech. Matthew Johnson, a student at the Freed-Hardman University during the program period, worked with mentor Srinivas Kumar in the laboratory of Professor Todd Sulchek (ME).

1. What sparked your interest in engineering and what problems are you hoping to help solve as an engineer?

My interest in engineering stems from a love for science, mathematics and creativity. The art of design is something that can go unnoticed by many people, but once you realize the engineered intricacies in the objects around you, it can’t be unseen. I hope to have a career in which I design mechanical devices with improved quality and efficiency.    

2. What research are you conducting at GT and what applications do you feel this research may have?

My research is focused on the fabrication and optimization of microfluidic devices. These devices assist in research across a wide range of disciplines. Some of the devices use microfluidic channels and ridges to induce the adsorption of macromolecules by cells, indicating the potential for new ways of delivering medicine. Another device in the lab’s research is designed to sort cells into reservoirs based on their stiffness. The elastic properties of the cells corresponds to drug-resistance in certain types of cancer cells. One of my target assignments involves the design of a ‘chip holder’ to conduct more effective experimentation.

3. What has been your favorite lab activity/ tool training/ etc. thus far and why?

My favorite tool on which I’ve been trained thus far is the Nanoscribe 3D Lithography machine. Comparing the lengthy and complicated process of photolithography, with spin-coater and mask-development stages, to the relative simple utility of the Nanoscribe machine makes me appreciate what research toolmakers are capable of. After one session with the tool, the potential for nanotechnology research was clear, and I fully expect other lithography and microfabrication tool manufacturers will also adopt the efficient processing flow that combines the deposition and etch functions.

4. Do you feel this REU experience has helped prepare you for working in a collaborative laboratory environment and furthered your education goals?

Absolutely. I appreciate the opportunities the REU has afforded me to learn advanced, useful information, and to be exposed to realistic and applicable in-lab experience. Although the program is not even at the halfway point, I already feel that my understanding and ability to perform in a laboratory setting has developed tremendously. Being able to involve myself in engineering practices and training beyond the classroom has equipped me to pursue undergraduate and graduate level engineering studies with increased direction.

5. What are your plans post-undergraduate?

Before I complete my undergraduate studies in engineering, I will need to transfer from Freed-Hardman University. My experience at FHU has been phenomenal and integral to my overall academic progress, especially in the fields of Biblical Studies and English. However, FHU does not offer the kind of intensive and complete engineering coursework to satisfy my final undergraduate needs. Part of my goal this summer has been to explore the possibility of Georgia Tech as my next home after my FHU coursework is complete. Beyond my undergraduate work, I do hope to continue to attain engineering degrees at the M.S. and Ph.D. levels and perhaps a career in instruction or academic research.

6. What is your favorite thing about/impression of GA Tech and ATL?

 My favorite thing about my time at Georgia Tech has been the efforts made by the faculty, staff, and fellow student researchers to involve me in the scientific process as closely as possible. It is easy to feel actually included in cutting-edge research projects, which is my favorite way to learn. The campus facilities and research equipment are very impressive, and I also enjoy Georgia Tech’s ability to combine the bustling excitement of the downtown Atlanta location with the homey, green campus of the main University area.

The SENIC REU program is funded by NSF award EEC-1757579.