IBBME welcomes record number of summer research students

USRP 2017 students Jessica Trac and Alex Toulany

Jessica Trac and Alexander Toulany are among the largest cohort of students who will be conducting biomedical engineering research in IBBME’s Undergraduate Summer Research Program (USRP) this year. (Photo: Luke Ng / University of Toronto).

May 3, 2017 | By Luke Ng

Jessica Trac can’t wait to start her summer research program at U of T. From May to August, she will be among the largest cohort of students taking part in the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering’s (IBBME) Undergraduate Summer Research Program (USRP).

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to learn from faculty and students from another university,” said Trac, who is a third-year undergraduate student studying electrical and biomedical engineering at McMaster University. “My current program has a really balanced integration of various engineering aspects and I’m eager to apply this learning to conduct hands-on research at U of T.”

Established in 2002, the IBBME USRP has provided summer research opportunities in biomedical engineering to more than 300 students to date. The fully-comprehensive program offers regularly-scheduled research seminars, tours of local labs, professional development workshops and career talks for a well-rounded learning experience.

But what makes the USRP a truly unique experience is the ability to conduct research in a hands-on environment either on campus or at one of U of T’s 10 partner hospitals.

“Many of our faculty members hold scientist appointments at research hospitals in Toronto,” said Professor Dawn Kilkenny, IBBME’s associate director of undergraduate programs. “These unique appointments, our association with Canada’s largest health-care network and our tri-Faculty affiliation to Engineering, Medicine and Dentistry are reasons why IBBME consistently attracts the best and brightest trainees to our world-class programs in biomedical engineering research.”

Trac got a sense of this cutting-edge environment while looking for research opportunities for the summer.

“I applied for the IBBME program because of a keen interest in neuro-rehabilitation,” said Trac who will be working with Professor José Zariffa on an analysis tool to better understand functional movements of children with cerebral palsy. “When I discovered Dr. Zariffa’s research and read more about his work at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, I knew it was an area I could learn and grow a lot from.”

Alexander Toulany was also thinking about how he could make a positive impact for others when he came across the USRP.

“It hit me in third year that I wanted to contribute more meaningfully to help people,” said Toulany, a civil engineering student from Queen’s University who will be working with Professor Tom Chau at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. “My current program helped me gain universal engineering skills such as problem solving and inquisitiveness, and I’m excited for the chance to use this expertise to help improve the quality of life for children with disabilities.”

For Julia Servidio, the opportunity to conduct biomedical engineering research hits close to home.

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was in high school. The ability to participate in something that might one day help her and others is really important to me,” said Servidio, a student from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, who will be working with Dr. Gang Zheng at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “I know U of T has a great biomedical engineering program and I’m looking forward to contributing to this area of research in whatever way I can.”

“IBBME is internationally known for its highly collaborative, interdisciplinary and inter-institutional programs,” said Professor Christopher Yip, director of IBBME. “The growth of the USRP over the past five years has been incredible. It is always amazing to see the impact that these keen, inquisitive and creative young minds make on our faculty and students.”

IBBME provides funding to USRP students through the Director’s Summer Research Opportunities (DSRO) program. In 2016, the DSRO helped leverage more than $300,000 in additional support for USRP students through matched funding from research supervisors, U of T’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), and NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA).