Tech Student Wins First Place for Research Poster

SOCORRO, N.M. November 11, 2015 – Senior chemical engineering student Kevin Reed recently won first place for his research poster at the INBRE Symposium in Albuquerque.

Reed, who is also a current Macey Scholar, spent his summer working with Tech professors Dr. Menake Piyasena of the Chemistry Department and Dr. Michaelann Tartis of the Chemical Engineering Department.

"Kevin is a great student," Dr. Piyasena said. "He's a natural, so I wasn't surprised that he won first place."

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Kevin Reed talks about his poster at the INBRE Conference.



"I think Kevin did a great job," Dr. Tartis said. "He worked on two projects this summer and he did great to make headway on each one."

Reed completed a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates at Duke University in 2014. He won an award for his summer research at Duke as well.

Tartis' research involves directed drug delivery – using microbubbles to encase anti-cancer agents (or other therapeutics) and send them to certain places within the body using ultrasound. Piyasena's research involves using microfluidics to diagnosis disease and detect pathogens. One such diagnostic technique involves separating diseased cells from healthy cells based upon their different properties using ultrasound waves.

"We are trying to focus or move different particles with ultrasound by modifying their compressibility and density when conjugating them to other particles so we can separate them," Tartis said. "Kevin laid the groundwork to figure out which frequencies and amplitudes will work most effectively on microbubbles and which will work on rigid particles."

Reed's summer project combined those two research areas by investigating the potential of employing microbubbles to change the acoustic properties of specific cells within a microchannel. He started by characterizing the microbubbles in a standing wave.

"We ran a solution of microbubbles through a capillary and used different frequencies to alter what happens with the microbubbles," Reed said. "What we found that was so phenomenal is that the microbubbles do different things at different frequencies due to their high acoustic activity."

Reed found that he could send microbubbles to the middle of the channel (or capillary) with one frequency, but a different frequency would send the microbubbles to the side of the channel.

"People have shown before that you can separate cells with microbubbles using flotation," Reed said. "But with acoustic focusing, we may be able to focus cells to whatever part of the capillary we choose. That gives us more control over the cell separation capabilities and better results in the end. These results haven't been seen before."

Piyasena said acoustic focusing has several potential applications in diagnostic medicine, pathogen detection and treatment. He said Reed's project findings are promising and that more research will be conducted to further advance the concepts.

The long-term aim of this research is to develop a low-tech medical diagnostic device that is cheap and portable for use in the developing world.

– NMT –