Growth and evolution lead in a world that’s built on change. This is a guiding belief for Justin Yu, this year’s 1st place winner of the SB3C Student Paper Competition, and he practices what he preaches. “Leaders need to be tenacious with their ideas,” says the recent Master’s graduate, “they need to be accountable for both their accomplishments and failures, and be able to communicate their work to diverse audiences.”

Last month, Justin did just that when he virtually presented and answered judges’ questions to earn 1st place in the Master’s Student Paper Competition at the Summer Biomechanics, Bioengineering, and Biotransport Conference (SB3C). His research focused on the mechanical properties of spinal cord grey matter and white matter in confined compression. He had worked under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Oxland of the Orthopaedic and Injury Biomechanics Group (OIBG) to design a novel testing apparatus that collected and compressed spinal cord tissue to look at differences between each category of matter. 

This award reflects not only the culmination of Yu’s research but also the soft skills that he gained during his graduate program. “I effectively communicated a complex topic to a wide audience. These are skills that I will take with me as I begin my career in industry,” he says.

An abiding interest in improving healthcare led Justin to pursue the study of Biomedical Engineering. The field gives students the opportunity to solve problems in multidisciplinary and collaborative settings – from having conversations with healthcare professionals, patients, and end-users to working alongside engineers, lab technicians, neuroscientists, and surgeons, work like Justin’s is a direct result of this exposure to a broad range of new ideas.

His academic experience at UBC was also enriched by the Engineers in Scrubs program, where Yu’s team developed an orthopaedic traction device for low-and-middle income countries. They travelled to Uganda with a diverse group of clinicians, engineers, nurses, and physiotherapists to help implement the device in an operating room setting. Justin is proud of the fact that his team’s design is still used today at Mulago Hospital.

“I hope my work helps current researchers better understand the relationship between spinal cord injury and the resulting tissue damage,” Justin says. “The long-term goal of this work is to inspire future therapies as we don’t currently have an effective treatment for spinal cord injury. I have the privilege of doing such meaningful and rewarding work that has a tangible impact on human life and society.”

Congratulations to Justin Yu on this award, and we can’t wait to see what leadership and innovation he’ll bring to the future of health and healthcare.


This story is the first in the SBME’s Building Today, Leading Tomorrow series. Follow along as we Discover, Invent, and Translate for the future.