Congratulations to SBME student, Jack Plant, who is working in collaboration with TRIUMF, and the Laboratory of Microtechnologies for Quantitative Biomedicine under the supervision of Dr. Paul Schaffer and Dr. Govind Kaigala. Jack recently won third place on his poster at the Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference. We recently caught up with him to learn more about the research he is involved in and the design team he is a part of.

Tell us a bit about your research.

I’m currently working in collaboration with TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator, and the Laboratory of Microtechnologies for Quantitative Biomedicine under the supervision of Dr. Paul Schaffer and Dr. Govind Kaigala, respectively. For my project, the aim is to develop a microfluidic device for radiopharmaceutical synthesis. Radiopharmaceuticals can be used in cancer treatment to selectively deliver radiation to tumour cells. These drugs are created by linking a biomolecule to a radioisotope. The biomolecule seeks out tumour cells, while the radioisotope emits high-energy alpha particles, destroying the cells. Traditional methods for synthesizing radiopharmaceuticals are hindered by high infrastructure costs, large reagent volumes, and limited radioisotope flexibility. In response to these issues, my project focuses on generating a microfluidic platform to optimize and automate the synthesis process. Microfluidic technologies offer several potential benefits, including compact size, reduced reagent volumes, high surface-area-to-volume ratios, minimized losses of expensive reagents, and system flexibility. My work involves manufacturing PDMS-on-glass prototypes to test and characterize each stage of the synthesis. The goal is to optimize the design to increase product yield and reduce reaction times. This method for generating radiopharmaceuticals has great potential for revolutionizing patient-specific cancer treatment thanks to the improved efficiency and adaptability offered by a microfluidic platform.

Tell us a bit about your Design Team and why what you are working on is important.

MINT (Multifaceted Innovation in NeuroTechnology) is an undergraduate engineering design team at UBC. The team comprises several sub-teams that all focus on different aspects of neurotechnology, such as signal processing, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. I recently accepted the position of Mechanical Engineering Sub-Team Lead. Right now, our sub-team is working on creating a comfortable EEG headset capable of processing brain waves into practical commands for various household electronic devices. This could allow the user to turn on/off lights, open/close doors, and activate other electronic appliances using only their thoughts. Such a device would offer independence to individuals with limited motor control, helping them perform everyday tasks. Further, this device would not rely on voice commands, so it would be accessible to those with speech impairments.

What inspired you to study biomedical engineering?

When I was in high school, I volunteered at a long-term care community called the Views at St. Joseph’s. My supervisor at the time was getting ready to start his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, and introduced me to the field. I loved the idea of blending science, technology, and compassion to improve healthcare for individuals all around the world. This inspired me to follow in my supervisor’s footsteps and pursue an education in biomedical engineering.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Why was winning an award at the Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference so meaningful?

Winning 3rd place for my poster presentation at the CUPC meant a lot to me; to me, this moment highlighted the multidisciplinary character of biomedical engineering. My research lies at the intersection of radiochemistry and microfluidics – two very distinct fields. The fact that I was able to secure an award at a physics conference, even though my work isn’t solely physics-related, was truly meaningful. The interdisciplinary nature of my work was acknowledged and celebrated, and I got the opportunity to connect with incredible people from the physics community.

What are some highlights from your academic journey thus far?

At the beginning of my second year, I was awarded the School of Biomedical Engineering Scholarship, which is offered to outstanding students entering the BMEG program. As well, I was awarded the Trek Excellence Scholarship two years in a row; this scholarship is offered each year to students in the top 5% of their undergraduate year, faculty, and school. I also got to build a ping pong ball sorter in my second year, which was super cool.

What are your future goals?

In the near future, I would like to explore other facets of the biomedical engineering field, such as synthetic biology or genome informatics. After finishing my undergraduate degree, my goal is to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, potentially with a focus on computational biology. Ideally, I’ll explore a career in the biomedical industry after graduating, but I’ll need to gain more experience before I make any decisions regarding my career path. Apart from that, I’d like to travel, learn new languages, and own a home one day.