Thirteen UF BME students selected as University Scholars for 2018-2019

Congratulations to Alexis Brake, Natalie Evelev, Anne Gormaley, Jessica Hornyak, Angela Jimenez, Juan Leon, Kevin Ling, Akash Mathavan, Akshay Mathavan, Danielle Miller, Matthew Molinaro, Christie Nguyen and Chandni Rana, who were recently selected as Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering University Scholars for 2018-2019!

The University Scholars Program introduces undergraduate students at the University of Florida to the exciting world of academic research. In the program, students work one-on-one with UF faculty on selected research projects. Through this initiative, students will take away an understanding of and appreciation for the scholarly method. A competition is held each spring at participating colleges for the University Scholars awards of a $1,750 stipend. The program will consist of undertaking a full research project during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year, under the guidance of a faculty member. The University Scholars Program serves as an exceptional capstone to the academic careers of UF students.

Alexis Brake
Mentor: Dr. Kevin Otto
Alexis’ project will be looking at the foreign body response elicited at the device-tissue interface of a neuroprosthetic device, which ultimately leads to scarring of the surrounding tissue and a loss of functionality at the interface post-implantation. This project investigates potential differences in the immune responses of two different mouse species: the African Spiny (AS) mouse and the common laboratory mouse (C57BL/6). Previous studies have found that the AS mouse exhibits unique regeneration compared to that of other mammals, so this study will serve to aid our understanding neuroregeneration in the context of neuroprostheses.

Natalie Evelev
Mentor: Dr. Parisa Rashidi
My research is focused on detecting patients and non-patients in the room to quantify disruptions on patients. Our goal is to use this data to analyze patients in the ICU. Using machine learning techniques, we are able to examine patient data and images to detect different aspects of interruptions during treatment.


Anne Gormaley
Mentor: Dr. Kevin Otto
Anne will be investigating a novel tissue-engineered electrical nerve interface (TEENI). The underlying principle of this device is based on the ability of an injured peripheral nerve to regenerate under certain conditions. During the implantation surgery, a rat sciatic nerve segment is extracted and replaced with our device and allowed to regenerate through a dense array of flexible electrical recording sites. During the following six weeks electrophysiology and impedance data is recorded from the implant. After the six week period the device is explanted for histological analysis.

Jessica Hornyak
Mentor: Dr. Blanka Sharma
Osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the joint, is one of the most common diseases worldwide and has numerous etiologies. Current treatment options in the clinic are limited to palliative drugs, and no cure exists. One limitation of drug development is our ability to study drugs in realistic, clinically relevant preclinical models. Jessica will continue the development of the NIKI (Non-Invasive Knee Injury) Device to create an in vivo model of a specific etiology osteoarthritis: anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture. This device will initiate the pathological cascades that occur after an ACL tear and will create a disease model in which osteoarthritis can be investigated. Accordingly, the NIKI Device will help further the study of the complex pathways of osteoarthritis and lead to new therapeutic strategies to treat the disease.

Angela Jimenez
Mentor: Dr. Carlos Rinaldi
Magnetic nanoparticles are of particular interest due to their ability to dissipate heat when exposed to an alternating magnetic field. Magnetic nanoparticles are effective carriers of hydrophobic chemotherapeutic drugs due to their ability to use heat as the principal mechanism for drug release. In this project, Angela will aim to encapsulate breast cancer chemotherapy drugs into magnetic composite nanocarriers composed of amphiphilic block copolymers and iron oxide nanoparticles. Magnetic composite nanocarriers will then be used to investigate targeted drug release upon exposure to a magnetic field.

Juan Leon
Mentor: Dr. Benjamin Keselowsky
Type-1 Diabetes is characterized by the autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic β-cells which in turn prevent standard glucose absorption by somatic cells. This project aims to reduce β-cell destruction by tolerizing antigen-presenting cells via in situ injection of Poly Lactic-co-glycolic Acid (PLGA) dual-sized microparticles. These particles have been loaded with several peptides produced by pancreatic β-cells in order to “tolerize” local immune cells and decrease activity at the site of injection. In vivo response to the microparticle injection will be conducted through an NOD (Non-Obese Diabetic) mouse model.

Kevin Ling
Mentor: Dr. Edward Phelps
The potential uses of nanoparticles for sustained drug delivery has been a hot topic in the scientific community in recent years. Kevin’s project will see him exploring a wide variety of drug encapsulation methods and materials to optimize GABA delivery to pancreatic beta cells. Among these include PLGA copolymers, mesoporous silica variants, and ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymers. He aims to discover the ideal way to deliver drugs and improve modern methods of treating Type 1 Diabetes.


Akash Mathavan
Mentor: Dr. Ruogu Fang
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease characterized by the degeneration and eventual death of neurons controlling voluntary motor muscles. This motor neuron disease is fatal, and the cause is not known in the majority of cases. Machine learning is a field of computer science in which algorithms are developed to learn from and create predictions without explicit programming. Akash will work with Dr. Ruogu Fang to acquire ALS records from various databases, compile information on environmental risk factors from the available data, and implement machine learning algorithms (i.e., Random Forest, Bayesian Trees) to find those environmental factors that are potentially significant in the onset of ALS.

Akshay Mathavan
Mentor: Dr. Ruogu Fang
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease characterized by the death of motor neurons. No cure of ALS has been produced, with medications only available to alleviate specific symptoms of the disease. Studies have proposed that environmental conditions, genetics, and the fitness of the individual all impact ALS onset. In this project, Akshay will aim to use machine learning algorithms, such as the Random Forest Model and Bayesian Trees, to determine environmental risk factors that significantly impact ALS incidence. Characterization of important environmental conditions related to ALS onset could potentially direct the emphasis in future experimental studies.

Danielle Miller
Mentor: Dr. Cherie Stabler
Type one diabetes is a chronic condition in which the islet cells within the pancreas produce little to no insulin and it affects over 200,000 people in the US every year. It is Danielle’s goal to study the most effective way to encapsulate islet cells with functionalized IL-10 and RGD to mitigate macrophage activation and stress-induced apoptosis, respectively. She expects this immune-isolating encapsulation platform to attenuate the foreign body response and improve islet function, thus improving transplanted islet survival.


Matthew Molinaro
Mentor: Dr. Gregory Hudalla
Galectins are carbohydrate binding proteins that serve a variety of purposes such as regulating immune and inflammatory responses. There are 15 mammalian galectins, 10 of which have been found in humans. Current efforts in determining which glycans mediate specific galectin activity utilize natural extracellular matrix (ECM) environments. However, it is nearly impossible to know explicitly which type of glycan is facilitating the response due to a large number of different glycoconjugates. In this project, Matthew will look to create a synthetic ECM environment comprised of hydrogels infused with glycosylated peptide nanofibers. Ultimately, this new system aims to serve as a tool for studying specific glycan-galectin interactions and subsequent cellular responses.

Christie Nguyen
Mentor: Dr. Parisa Rashidi
Christie’s project utilizes Faster R-CNN to detect anesthesia equipment. In this project, she will be working on improving the accuracy of the system to detect surgical instruments in the operating room. The goal of this project is to reduce the amount of time it takes to check if all surgical instruments are present before surgery. This process will improve efficiency and reduce the rate of complications in the operating room.


Chandni Rana
Mentor: Dr. Mingzhou Ding
My research project investigates the effects of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) on cognitive performance. EEG data is obtained and analyzed from patients undergoing tACS while performing a visual working memory task to determine what effects tACS has on working memory capacity, ERP modulation, and other cognitive measurements.