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Bioengineering conference draws global research leaders

Curry Student Center buzzed with excitement on Friday as more than 700 researchers from around the world filed in for the 40th annual Northeast Bioengineering Conference, a three-day event on April 25-27 hosted by the College of Engineering.

“Bioengineers inherently are working to help people and it’s wonderful to work with such a great group of people who are motivated by such a noble thing,” said conference co-organizer Rebecca Carrier, an associate professor in Northeastern’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

In opening remarks on Friday, fellow co-organizer Anand Asthagiri noted that the event was held in conjunction with the Biomedical Engineering Society’s Career Connections conference, which drew biomedical engineers to campus to discuss their career paths with students in the field.

“Bioengineering is so intimately connected to improving human life and well being that trainees in this discipline find themselves drawn to a remarkable range of career opportunities in research, industry, medicine, law, business and many other arenas,” said Asthagiri, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern. “We wanted to give conference attendees a platform not only to share their scientific and engineering advances, but also to explore the many ways they can translate bioengineering advances to impact society.”

After a morning session devoted to career talks, more than 100 teams of undergraduate students participated in an engineering design poster competition, which kicked off the start of the NEBEC portion of the event. Ten Northeastern teams presented on topics ranging from designing new earring backs for people with essential tremor to developing better breast cancer detection methods.

“I like the effect that bioengineering has on human life,” said Maggie McGuire, E’14, who participated in the competition with her senior capstone teammates. “You can still use engineering and math to have an impact on wellness.”

Over the next two days, 65 researchers presented current work during 13 platform sessions, touching on aspects of bioengineering ranging from drug delivery to human dynamics.

In opening remarks on Friday, Northeastern professor of electrical and computer engineering Lee Makowski discussed the university’s recently formed bioengineering department. In five months, the program has amassed 80 affiliated faculty members representing every department in the College of Engineering, the College of Science, and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

When they were developing the program, Makowski and his colleagues probed other field leaders for their definitions of bioengineering. “Everyone gave a very firm and different answer,” he said. “What we decided was that for Northeastern, bioengineering was really engineering in the biological context.”

Engineering is a design discipline, he explained, and the way one designs is entirely dependent on the environment in question. “Depending on the environment that you’re designing for, you’re going to have different constraints, different tolerances, different material requirements,” Makowski said. “Those are very different constraints in the engineering process than if you were designing for an internal combustion engine, for instance.”

In platform sessions, researchers from five Northeastern labs discussed their approaches to designing for the biological environment. Another six Northeastern labs were represented during poster sessions on Saturday and Sunday, which drew more than 250 abstracts.

Stacey Markovic, a student who conducts research in electrical engineering assistant professor Mark Niedre’s lab, won a competition among graduate researchers for delivering the Most Outstanding Graduate Student Paper and Poster Presentation. Nil Tandogan, a student who works in chemical engineering assistant professor Ed Goluch’s lab, received an honorable mention.

“Bioengineering is a focus we’ve decided to emphasize here at Northeastern,” said Nadine Aubry, dean of the College of Engineering, in her opening remarks on Saturday. “Northeastern has made tremendous contributions to this field so far but it’s about to make even more.”