Students bring biomedical conference to the west

The first Biomedical Engineering West Conference took place at Brigham Young University January 19-20. Sponsored by the BYU Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology, Oregon State University’s College of Engineering, and University of Portland, this conference is the first of its kind to come to the west.

BYU chemical engineering student and conference chair, Tanner Ravsten wanted to bring together the biomedical community, so he has been working since April 2016 to make this conference happen. The conference was run  by students with Professor Anton Bowden helping out as the program chair.

“I found out that there really weren’t any big events in the west for biomedical engineering,” Ravsten said “There were pockets in California or Washington or even in Utah, but nothing that involved multiple states, so I saw an opportunity to bring a community together to innovate and I decided to take it on."

The conference gave students an opportunity to share their biomedical engineering research. Each student submitted an abstract of his or her research in order to participate in an oral and/or poster presentation during the conference. The 100+ students who presented received feedback from industry professionals, and discussed their research.

Students presented on subjects in the fields of biomaterials, devices and sensors, imaging and optics, biomaterials and tissue engineering, systems and modeling, biomechanics and tissue engineering, and biomechanics and transport. 

Clara Buchanan, a BYU junior studying chemical engineering, gave an oral presentation Thursday morning.

“It’s really rewarding to finally have all our hard work pay off,” Buchanan said after presenting on the separation of bacteria from blood in low concentrations. After about a year and a half of research, Buchanan was happy to share her findings and get feedback.

The conference highlighted work from both graduate and undergraduate students. Mahsa Alizadeh, a BYU graduate student studying chemical engineering, was impressed to see so many undergraduate students doing in-depth research.

“It is an interesting situation when you can see how undergraduate students also contribute to research that is done at universities,” Alizadeh said.

Students and professors 10 other universities including University of Utah, Oregon State University, and University of California at San Diego attended the conference.

The dean of BYU’s Ira A. Fulton College, Michael Jensen, opened the conference by highlighting how this conference is a good chance for students to recalibrate and realign.

“It’s a nice opportunity to interact with people and see what’s going on and it’s a nice time to get away from the mundane details of your day-to-day jobs and labs and classes,” Jensen said.  “It’s a time to think big thoughts as you get away from the details.”

Keynote speakers included:

  • Buddy Ratner, professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering at University of Washington
  • Shankar Subramaniam, chair of the Bioengineering Department and the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Endowed Chair in Bioengineering and Systems Biology at UC San Diego
  • Ken Monson, associate professor in mechanical engineering and an adjunct assistant professor in bioengineering at the University of Utah
  • Ben Noe, a certified project management professional (PMP) who currently works as an R&D project manager/team leader in Medtronic's MITG, Advanced Energy business in Boulder, CO.

Ratner spoke during the opening ceremonies about his work in biomedical engineering over the years, and how being a part of this inaugural conference was an honor.

“The fact that this was a student led meeting, it raises consciousness of biomedical engineering on the western part of the United States and that’s very valuable,” Ratner said.

Overall, Ravsten thought the conference was a success. He was happy to see fellow students reaping the benefits of an experience like this.

“A lot of people I talked to came away energized and excited to get back into doing their research,” Ravsten said. “They had new ideas and they walked away with a different perspective and an insider look into their future careers, both in academia and industry.”

The conference is set to continue every year, rotating from university to university. Rumor has it that the University of Utah will host next year and Oregon State and University of Washington have talked about hosting it in the future, too. 

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