Hydrogel Research and the Learning Process

Dr. Melissa Krebs, Assistant Professor in the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering department, runs a research lab that specializes in tissue engineering and biological projects. Lyndsey Babcock, a junior in biochemistry, has been working in the lab since her senior year of high school in 2012.

Babcock started out her research working with a graduate student. As she learned and gained experience, she started a project with another Mines undergrad. Like many other projects in the Krebs Lab, Babcock’s current research involves the use of hydrogels.

“The project I’m working on is to make a microfluidic device out of alginate hydrogels. The purpose of that is to form microchannels that can act as artificial blood vessels. The device can then be used for 3D tissue engineering or drug studies,” Babcock explained.

Other projects in the lab also use hydrogel or seek to solve medical issues.

Babcock stated, “There are other projects in our lab that do stuff for glaucoma, orthopedic replacement engineering, and drug delivery systems. There’s also a hydrogel that releases an antibody for cancer treatment.” For her specific research, Babcock focuses on three main areas.

“We work on building the device, culturing the cells, and testing,” Babcock stated. They use a quantitative system to test if the device is working. “We first put the device together and check for leakage. Right now, we’re doing a live/dead stain. It quantifies the percentage of cells that are alive to see if the cells can survive in our device,” Babcock detailed.

This project has proved to be a unique learning experience, like many other research projects done at Mines.

“It has been a great opportunity to apply what I learn in the classroom. You get to see what you’re learning in action,” Babcock said.

Working in on-campus research can also provide students with other unique learning opportunities. Last year, Babcock became an author on a published paper titled, “Controlled Delivery of Antibodies from Injectable Hydrogels.” This experience included a whole new set of challenges and rewards.

“I learned that it’s a very long process to get things published and to go through the review process,” Babcock stated. Despite the challenges, Babcock was able to become a published author as an undergraduate student.

Another benefit of working in on-campus research is the collaborative efforts of the different labs.

“Our lab often works with other labs on campus and even with Anschutz [Medical Campus],” Babcock explained. Working with other research groups is another way that undergraduates can gain diverse experience. For any undergraduate students interested in on-campus research, Babcock suggests talking to professors who are working on topics that interest you.

“Research is good because it’s not like a traditional lab class. You actually get to see how what you’ve spent time learning can be used to solve real life problems,” Babcock concluded.

I'm a Colorado native and a sophomore in mechanical engineering. I love math and science, but also enjoy to read and write. Some of my favorite activities include being outside on warm days and getting overly-attached to fictional characters. I'm a total nerd, but consider that to be an achievement. I'll be focusing on writing about science news for the Oredigger, so if you're working on something awesome or know someone who is, just let me know! Feel free to shoot me an email at abzimmer@mymail.mines.edu

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