Monday, July 27, 2015 - 3:11pm

Later this month, a symposium will highlight the research of 10 undergraduate students from across the country who have been participating in a 10-week Research Experiences for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation. Boasting from programs as prestigious as MIT and University of California, Berkeley, the students will present their research in nanotechnology and biomedicine Friday, July 31 beginning at 8 a.m. at the Paul D. Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences.  

Approximately 200 students applied for the opportunity, but only 10 were selected.  Each student was paired with two mentors, including some of Franklin College's very own faculty, to help them along the way in their research endeavors.  

One of those students is Nneoma Okonkwo, a rising second-year student at MIT. Okonkwo is working with Mao and Carsten Schroeder of Georgia Regents University on a device that one day may allow physicians to diagnose lung cancer in patients without the need for painful and expensive tumor biopsies. The device, a cell enrichment microfluidic chip, would allow doctors to monitor a patient's blood for circulating tumor cells, or CTCs. The concentration of CTCs in the bloodstream is believed to be an important indicator of cancer progression and metastasis.

"I wanted to perform research as an undergraduate, but, in addition to my classes, I'm a member of MIT's varsity track team, which is a huge time commitment," Okonkwo said. "So I decided to do research this summer, and UGA's program was a good fit for my interests."

Like Okonkwo, University of Connecticut student Nicole Gay wanted an intensive research experience but wasn't sure time in the lab would fit into her busy class load. Gay is pursuing a combined bachelor's and master's degree in biomedical engineering and decided to devote her summer and winter breaks to research.

During her time at UGA, Gay has worked with Eric Freeman and Xianqiao Wang, both assistant professors in the College of Engineering. She's helping determine if nanoparticles can be beneficial as therapeutic agents in cancer treatment without disrupting healthy membrane function.

"Nanotechnology is an explosive field that has the potential to make a huge impact in medicine, but we first need to understand how nanoparticles interact with the body," Gay said. "We want to know if nanoparticles can penetrate individual cells without rupturing the cell membrane. There's a great potential for drug delivery and other treatment options."

Another REU student, Ishmael Rogers, wants to design more functional prosthetics that interface with the body's nervous system through artificial intelligence. He also wants to make the prosthetics lightweight, durable and more affordable than current options by creating them largely on 3-D printers. Rogers' mentors are Jason Locklin, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences' chemistry department and the College of Engineering, and Cheryl Gomillion, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering.

Rogers, who will graduate from Atlanta Metropolitan State College this year with degrees in chemistry, mathematics and pre-engineering, says he's still weighing options for the next step in his education, but his UGA experience has left a lasting impression.

"I love Athens, and everyone has been extremely helpful," Rogers said. "I'm new to research-based institutions, but I love the fast pace and the hands-on experience. I want more people to be a part of this next year."


What a great opportunity for undergraduate students from across the country to get experience in research, visit the University of Georgia campus and the town of Athens and collaborate with UGA's faculty and other students. Want to check out the research first-hand? The symposium is open to the public. Simply RSVP to Learn more about the symposium by visiting

**Photo retrieved from