By: Kasey Woo
Nicole Repina is a recent Ph.D. graduate from UC Berkeley bioengineering. She is originally from Boston and earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Boston University. She relates how her doctoral project introduced her to the CITRIS Invention Lab.
“When I started my Ph.D., one of my projects was to build illumination devices to illuminate mammalian cells – light-responsive proteins in the cells activate certain signaling pathways we want. Previous graduate students had started building these devices, but theirs were fairly primitive and difficult to use, so one of my first goals in the David Schaffer Lab was to make them better. And that’s when I found out about the CITRIS Invention Lab, back in 2013-2014 when I first met Chris Myers. He was super helpful about teaching me how to do very basic rapid prototyping.
“When I first came to the CITRIS Invention Lab, I didn’t know anything – I barely knew what 3D printing or laser cutting was. Chris was incredibly helpful in pointing out the things that I should be thinking about. It’s not that he really told me how to do things, but that’s what makes him a really good mentor. He points you in the correct direction so that you figure it out yourself. And I think that’s really critical in the learning process.
“I really liked the big Trotec laser cutter. It was such a big improvement on the previous one – faster, with bigger parts, really a pleasure to use. But a machine that holds a special place in my heart is the vinyl cutter. I feel like no one uses it. I’ve used it to print some of my designs for the illumination devices.
“As a bioengineer, I do a lot of microscopy and imaging for my research. For developing these optical tools, it really helps to have a practical understanding of electronics and hardware design, because whenever you’re developing a complicated machine, rapid-prototyping techniques always come in handy. There’s always some mirror mount that you might need to design, or you need some creative way to trigger the camera to take an exposure when something else activates, so you might want to use an Arduino. Knowing good rapid prototyping techniques is really helpful for microscopy and imaging and for these optogenetic studies that I’m doing. Understanding design principles and being able to communicate with the engineers that work at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research is really important, because if you don’t know what you want, they can’t tell you what you want. Even if right now I’m not the one who’s machining these parts, being able to communicate with engineers in an intelligent and productive way is really important.”
Photo Credit: Kuan-Ju Wu
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
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