#PROFspective: Biomedical Engineering Major Kelsey DeFrates

engineering student wears lab coat

We are so #RowanPROUD to share that junior Kelsey DeFrates was named a 2017 Goldwater Scholar, which is widely considered the most prestigious award in the country for undergraduate students in STEM disciplines. Kelsey is just one of 240 sophomores or juniors across the country who won the award. Way to go, Kelsey! We are thrilled to share her #PROFspective from last semester about what it’s like to be a Rowan University student. 

Student in Lab Coat Poses for Portrait

Name: Kelsey DeFrates
Major: Biomedical Engineering within the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering
Year: Junior
Housing: On Campus Resident Whitney Center (Apartment-Style Residence Hall)

Minors or concentrations:
Mathematics, Honors Concentration, Biomaterials, Tissue Engineering, and Regenerative Medicine Focus

Hometown and County:
Audubon, Camden County

Academic clubs:
Society of Women Engineers, Engineers Without Borders, Biomedical Engineering Society, Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, Honors Student Organization Service and Event Coordinator and mentor.

Do you work on campus?

I have been doing research in the chemistry department for almost two years now. I am currently studying the effects of ionic liquids on proteins. Normally, proteins are all folded up because the residues that they are made of interact with each. This gives each protein a very unique shape, and therefore a very unique function. When we introduce them to some chemical, like ionic liquids, the structure of the protein can drastically change. Application of ionic liquids in the biomedical field is growing. Therefore, it is important that we understand how they affect biological molecules. 

Why did you choose your major?

I believe that engineering is a really unique field in that one project has the potential to impact millions of people. I do not think that this can be said for many other professions. The fact that a device I design may be used to save someone’s life one day absolutely terrifies me but also inspires me to dream big and work hard.  

One reason why you chose Rowan?

Rowan’s campus really felt like home! I came from a small high school in a small town where everyone knew each other. I think that Rowan has this same feel. We may have well over 10,000 students, but the sense of community here is unlike any I observed at other universities.

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Student in biochemical lab clinic

My Typical Day as a Rowan Student:

Thursdays are my favorite day of the week because I do not have class until 11:00 a.m. Every other day of the week I start at 9:30 a.m., but today I can go into lab early and get some research done. I am definitely not a morning person, so after hitting the snooze button three times, I am finally get out bed by 7:00 a.m. After getting ready and grabbing a granola bar for the road, I make my way over to Science Hall.

Science is usually empty in the mornings, which is great because I do not have compete for equipment. I am currently studying the effects of ionic liquids on the Student mixes protein substancesstructure and stability of different proteins. Ionic liquids are just ionic compounds, like table salt, that are liquid at room temperature rather than a solid. They are really useful because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to make and do not evaporate very easily. They can also be reused and recycled, so their use has been growing in a variety of fields like medicine. If ionic liquids are going to be used for drug delivery or biochemical reactions, it is important that we understand how they are going to affect molecules like proteins, which is where our research comes in.

img_5698I am very passionate and proud of my research. Science is really beautiful when you understand it, and even more mesmerizing when you don’t. When you can finally answer that question you’ve been working on for the past month, there’s no better feeling, except, maybe being able to move on to the next. That will have to wait for another day though, because I have a meeting with Dr. DiNovi from the Honors Concentration at 10:00 a.m. to discuss the upcoming honors events.

I completely lost track of time in lab so I am sprinting over to Whitney. I finally get there and sit down with my co-coordinator, Paige. We are responsible for planning all the service opportunities and events that Honors offers during the semester. Our big event this month is the semiformal on November 18. We have been stressing out all week because we could not find an affordable DJ, but just as I was about to trade in my lab coat for a mix table and some headphones, we find one. Being the Service and Events Coordinator for the group can be super stressful and time-consuming, but overall I really enjoy it. It is a nice break from the technicality and objectiveness of engineering, and I really love interacting with the other students in the concentration.

The meeting ran a little over so now I have 12 minutes to make it to the engineering building in time for physiological foundations in biomedical engineering. This is no problem though because my record is eight minutes. I finally get there, hand in the homework and settle in for a lecture on the auditory system.

Sound travels via vibrating air molecules that make their way to your ear. It’s amazing that the ear is the perfect shape and can capture and amplify this sound until the vibration reaches your ear drum. The vibration of the ear drum causes these three tiny bones called the ossicles to vibrate and hit another part of your ear called the cochlea. The cochlea is really awesome because it has these tiny hair cells, and when the vibration from the sound causes them to move they send a message to your brain that says “Hey brain, I hear something!”

This lecture reminds me how specialized and optimized the different parts of the body are. It makes me wonder, can we create these super specific outside of the body? Can we replace and repair pieces when things go wrong? These questions are what motivated me to pursue biomaterials research, which is where I’m going next.

In the physics department, I work with Dr. Hu to create protein based biomaterials. The Student works with protein based biomaterialgoal is to create a wide variety of samples with varying mechanical and physical characteristics that can one day be used in the body. Instead of replacing lost or damaged tissue or bone with foreign materials, it would be so much better to help the body regenerate by implanting a natural material that will support the diseased area, and then degrade once the tissue regrows. So far, our research has been slow, but engineering is not always easy. Each time we hit an obstacle we recognize our mistakes and come up with a new plan. I am confident that by the end of the year, we will have something great.

On Thursdays I also have my only night class: earth, people and the environment. I originally took it to fulfill a general education requirement, but it has become one of my most enjoyable classes. Once it ends, I am eager to meet up with Paige so we can go shopping for our next event. I gently rush her through Shoprite as we pick up supplies to make 250 PB&J sandwiches for Cathedral Kitchen, an emergency food provider in Camden, because Grey’s Anatomy is on at 8:00 p.m., and I have to see what happens to Karev.

After catching up with my favorite doctors from Grey-Sloan, I consult with my study group to see if we have any work that needs to get done. Hopefully, we have finished the design problem for mechanical foundations, and I am free to go to the gym.

I usually get back around 10:30 p.m. , and after taking a shower and making a cup of tea, I climb into bed with my laptop and work on homework or applications. My goal this summer is to get research experience for Undergrads to improve my resume for graduate school. My eyes become too tired to read my screen around 1:00 a.m., and I pack my bag for tomorrow and set three alarms so I do not oversleep my mechanical foundations double lecture in the morning. I also have all of my engineering society meetings tomorrow so I sleep peacefully, dreaming of all the free pizza that will be there.  

Story organized by: Jen Green and Natalia Panfilova

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