By John Clampitt
While one Trine University biomedical engineering senior wondered if he would meet
the bar for an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at Indiana University
Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), he said participating increased his confidence
in the skills he can bring to graduate school.
Nicholas Gasbarro heard of the IUPUI REU experience through the NSF (National Science
Foundation) website. He applied because of IUPUI’s proximity to his home in Indianapolis,
but also because of the opportunity he had to work with biomaterial applications and
He had gained previous experience with both in his Research Techniques class during
his junior year at Trine. His experience with gold nanoparticles in Research Techniques
class was centered around testing the viability of cell lines in the presence of gold
nanoparticles of varied sizes and concentrations.
Nick worked with the Lin Research Group, which focuses on researching biomaterials
associated with hydrogels, three-dimensional networks of hydrophilic polymers that
swell and hold substantial amounts of water. They maintain the structure due to physical
or chemical cross-linking of individual polymer chains.
Nick specifically worked on a project testing the stiffening capabilities of hydrogels,
to find a good mimic for tumor microenvironments to host cancer cell cultures.
“I specifically tested hyaluronic acid forms affecting the click chemistry of hydrogels
to form more bonds and stiffen the gels as a result,” he explained.
His daily tasks involved synthesizing the hydrogels or synthesizing the stiffening
solutions of hyaluronic acids. He also combined the hydrogels and stiffening solutions,
and after specific time intervals of swelling within the solution, he used a rheometer
to measure the stiffness of the hydrogels.
His findings were not conclusive, but they did clue him in to some further potential
“Varying concentrations and weight percentages of my stiffening solutions were used,”
he explained. “The best option I found was with oxidized hyaluronic acid (oHA) and
that we should do further testing specifically with oHA stiffening. Once I find an
adequate solution, I could also test stiffening gradients.”
His experience was enlightening, as he gained a grasp of what graduate school could
look like. He said this could help him in his future because it built upon his experience
with lab work and communication.
“I was tasked with researching and processing data for understanding. There were times,
though, I could ask for help or communicate to aid in progress toward my end goal,”
Nick encourages people to apply and advises them to apply early on.
“I didn’t apply to very many due to feeling like I didn’t meet the expectations, but
the replies might surprise you,” he said.
He also said he would like to thank the Lin Research Lab.
“It was fun meeting and working alongside them,” he said.