Ujas Shah
Honors College, Class of '08,
Major: Biomedical Engineering;
URECA & Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Programs

Research Mentor:
Prof. Emilia Entcheva, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering

The good thing about presentations is the deadlines. .. it really helps you focus in on your immediate goals. And it gives you a deadline to work to, so you're not running a thousand different experiments. ... it helps you understand the logic behind your project. It teaches you how to talk persuasively. You have to really know your project really well, and be prepared to answer any question thrown at you. You're kind of on your toes the whole entire time.

Interview:

Researchers of the Month: past features

Researcher of the Month

About Ujas
UjasShaResearch can be a powerful draw. Ujas Shah discovered this when he was 17, shortly after being selected for the Simons Summer Research Program and placed in Dr. Emilia Entcheva's cardiac engineering lab. Long after the program ended (mid-August 2004), Ujas could be found in the lab volunteering hours of time to doing research — first as a senior year in high school; then during the summer following graduation from Commack High School; and finally, as an SBU undergraduate (fall 2005 to the present) , happily majoring in Biomedical Engineering. "Why Stony Brook?", some might ask. "I wanted to continue to work in my lab. It's such a great lab!"

Ujas belongs to the Honors College, and is also one of a handful admitted to the highly competitive 8-year Scholars for Medicine program which reserves him a seat in Stony Brook's School of Medicine following completion of undergraduate studies. Ujas plans to apply for the combined M.D./Ph.D. degree program. He serves as president of the Biomedical Engineering Society club on campus, and as part-time webmaster for the BME department.

BMES06The initial Simons project, "Mending a broken heart: a natural acellular matrix for cardiac tissue repair," has continued to be a productive topic to direct his energy, curiosity and problem-solving skills.Ujas presented the most recent developments this past fall at the national BMES 2006 conference in Chicago, work for which he was honored with one of four national "BMES Undergraduate Student Design and Research" awards.

This work will also be submitted shortly for publication. Earlier in August, Ujas also presented another project focusing on temperature dependence in cardiac contraction at the 2006 Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) International Conference in New York City, with URECA Travel grant support. Prior to these conferences, he gained some research presentation experience by giving a poster at the on-campus URECA Celebration (April 2006). As a freshman, Ujas received the URECA 2006 summer program award, and was awarded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute academic year fellowship for 2006-2007. Below are some excerpts of his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

The Interview

Karen: Tell me how you first got involved in lab work.
Ujas:I've always been interested in how things work. All my science teachers [in high school] said I 'd be good at research. We had a research class in my high school in which I enrolled in 9th grade. I liked it. Later, I got into Dr. Entcheva's lab when I applied for the Simons program, a high school research program which I started at the end of junior year, beginning of senior year. I did a project using naturally-occurring natural scaffolding to grow cardiac cells. I came back the following summer to take on a new project. And I've been there ever since.

I'm between 3 or 4 projects now — taking the high school stuff to another direction, finishing up a paper on temperature and cardiac contraction. I'm also working on a new project with the Howard Hughes foundation on micropatterning, which is basically creating fine 3-D structures for cardiac cells to grow.

How do you like being at SBU so far?
I love it! There are a lot of opportunities here that most people don't realize are available. I think it's a really good setting to do whatever you want to do. Everything is available. And people are here to help you get it if you work for it.

It was a big plus already having a research placement coming in, too. I didn't have to spend time trying to find a lab. I had a place to go from day one. That was a lot of help. That was kind of the reason why I came to Stony Brook. I wanted to continue to work in my lab. It's such a good lab.

Tell me more about your lab, and your research mentor.
The thing about the lab. . . . they're extremely enthusiastic about their work and it's kind of contagious. The kids in lab are regular there for 10-12 hours a day. They want to be there. We talk, have random discussions about stuff. Overall, it's a really great environment, because you're always really thinking and everyone is always there to help you. And my research mentor, Dr. Emilia Entcheva, is very supportive and encouraging. She won't give you a project and say you have to do this or that. She'll let you pick a project that you're really interested in. Because it's your project, you're more inclined to put more hours into lab, and you're more inclined to enjoy working on it.

How do you find it balancing research and class work?
I think research actually helps me understand my class work better. Because I actually see the applications. And if you can actually utilize what you use in class, you'll understand it so much better. I'd say it helps me do better in my classes. And vice versa. Especially with the math, I was able to use the stuff I learned in Calc 4 to write computer programs to analyze my data which was very helpful. If I didn't take Calc 4, I would never have been able to do that.

So both the classes help the research and the research helps the classes?
Yeah, it's symbiotic. . .They both take a lot of time. But if you're able to balance the two, you'll get a lot out of it. And you'll see the applications of what you learned.

What have been your best and worst research experiences so far?
There are a lot of good days. I guess the worst days are debugging projects. You spend so much time setting up an experiment, but it is rare that you will be able to account for everything. Unexpected things happen. For example, some equipment might not work right. You'll have to sit down and debug the whole procedure again and again to make sure you're getting good data. But luckily, everyone in the lab comes together to help you figure it out. It takes a lot of time to get ir right. But once it works, it's a good day. You get reliable data out of it. And then you can see what's actually happening instead of trying to fix a protocol.

What kind of experiences have you had with presenting your research?
On campus, I did the URECA Celebration in April last year. The URECA celebration was really good. You really don't get an opportunity to see what other Stony Brook people are doing most of the time. When you go to conferences, it's people within your major, or somewhat related. Usually they're grad students presenting. So going to URECA—you get the chance to see what Stony Brook students are involved with. And in turn, you see what the other research opportunities at Stony Brook are. I really like URECA.

I've had two conferences since then. One in New York City for IEEE on my paper on temperature. One in Chicago for the BMES on the paper that I started in high school. The IEEE conference, it was a lot of fun . . .There were people from all different majors. You saw a lot of what was happening outside of BME. That was helpful. People from different fields and disciplines would give you their input on your project and suggest maybe computational stuff you could use, or different staining techniques. There was a lot of diversity. It was a lot of fun. They also had an undergraduate cruise dinner around the harbor. That was a lot of fun too. In Chicago, that was all BME. There were a lot of interesting lecturers there.You got a really good insight into what was available in your own field. I did a poster session there. And I got one of the undergraduate research awards, that was a really really big surprise.

Do you have a sense of what your post-bac plans are?
I'm definitely going to go for a PhD./MD. I've always liked biotechnology in particular. I love how machines can prolong people's lives. And how they're so essential to us today. I always wanted to be able to figure how they work and how to design them. So I chose BME as the undergrad major. I also wanted to have patient interaction. I like working with people.

Did you always know you wanted to be a BME major too?
That was kind of my way of not choosing . . . there's a little of everything in BME, it's so interdisciplinary. You learn a lot. . .at the same time, it's a lot of work, and you do get the hardest classes out of every major. But I love it! And the other kids in my major, they're really smart. It's a good network to work with.

You've become a kind of spokesperson for BME, I see!
I'm president of the Biomedical Engineering Society. Our job is to promote BME as a major and a career and we try to help the new incoming freshman figure out what classes to take, and teach everyone else about what opportunities are available. We have speakers from different companies come in. And we have people from colleges talk about their masters/PhD programs. The BME faculty also talk about their research. It helps BME students get an introduction to what is available. Dr. Entcheva, my mentor, is our faculty advisor.

I'm also the BME webmaster. The Chair, Dr. Clint Rubin, sends me emails constantly. He's a really nice guy, really approachable. It's a great department, it's really close-knit. We have student faculty lunches for BMES. That's another way for students to get involved in research. I know a couple of kids who found labs because of the lunches.

How did you get the job of being webmaster for BME?
Dr. Entcheva was looking for someone to do it. She put up signs. In 6 months, no one applied for the job. So I told her I'd do it cause they needed somebody. I learned computer programming when I was in high school. . . It's not too hard.

It's a great website.
Hopefully it'll stay that way! It's a lot of updating all the time, updating resumes for the professors, etc.

On the topic of visual presentation, have you learned a lot yourself from the process of presenting posters?
The good thing about presentations is the deadlines. You have to get your project in order by then. So you have to really sit down and figure out what direction you're heading for. So it really helps you focus in on your immediate goals. And it gives you a deadline to work to, so you're not running a thousand different experiments. That happens a lot if you don't have a deadline. You're so interested in this and that and you want to figure out why this, and you forget about something else and come back to it later. Through these experiences, I've learned a lot about how to present, I think. Also, it helps you understand the logic behind your project. It teaches you how to talk persuasively. You have to really know your project really well, and be prepared to answer any question thrown at you. You're kind of on your toes the whole entire time. That encourages you to read more about the literature available on your project so you don't look like you don't know what you're talking about.

You had mentioned that you're also working on a publication, soon to be submitted. What did you learn from this experience?
It was a lot more work than I expected. This paper on temperature and cardiac contraction will be my first paper. I'm excited about that. It's just in the final stage. We'll make some final changes. And then we'll submit it. Hopefully it'll go through. With the publication, there's no deadline. The sooner you get it out, the better, because other people are working on the same research area. A lot of it is making sure that the figures are exactly perfect, making sure everything looks really professional. Everything is there, but you have to re-do the same figures a lot. Change the axes, make the font bigger, etc. I use MatLab.

With such positive experiences in Dr. Entcheva's lab as a Simons Fellow doing high school research, and now as a BME undergraduate in the Honors College, it seems as if Stony Brook was the perfect choice for you!
When I first decided to come here, my whole high school, everyone I talked to, said "You're going to Stony Brook???. . . Why?" I got into a lot of colleges, and my teachers were encouraging me to go away from Long Island. But I chose Stony Brook because I liked my lab, and I don't regret that decision!