First Year UPLIFT Scholar’s Research Leads to Summer REU at Harvard University
During her first year as an UPLIFT Scholar, Kaitlyn Ramesh, E’25, bioengineering, conducted research under the mentorship of Mingyang Lu, assistant professor of bioengineering and researcher in the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics. She worked on developing a pseudotime algorithm that uses temporal single-cell RNA sequencing data. From this experience, Ramesh was selected for a Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program at Harvard University. She will work at a biophysics lab involved in the Harvard Quantitative Biology Initiative.
Kaitlyn Ramesh, E’25, has always been interested in studying biology and mathematics since enjoying the subjects in high school. That made it a no-brainer for her to pursue a degree in bioengineering. Furthermore, Northeastern’s emphasis on experiential learning and its proximity to the Longwood Medical Center were benefits Ramesh could not pass up when choosing a college.
Ramesh was selected for the Undergraduate Program for Leaders In Future Transformation (UPLIFT) program, an experience where first-year students in the College of Engineering are paired with a faculty mentor to work on research. The assigned research project related to the student’s major acts as an introductory research experience. The program is new, with Ramesh part of the second cohort. “Joining UPLIFT helped me start doing research early on in college,” she says. “As a bioengineering major, I knew it would be valuable to get involved in research as soon as possible.”
Under the mentorship of Mingyang Lu, assistant professor of bioengineering and researcher in the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, Ramesh is developing a pseudotime algorithm that uses temporal single-cell RNA sequencing data. “Cells are not stagnant; they can develop into different types of cells based on their gene expression,” Ramesh explains. “By analyzing gene expression data and the corresponding time information, we can determine how new cell types arise and infer the rates of these processes.”
Ramesh’s algorithm was programmed using the language R and has applications in cancer research, specifically metastasis. “Applying pseudotime algorithms to metastasis data can help us understand the kinetics of how cancer cells form and spread to other parts of the body,” Ramesh says. After the fall semester, Ramesh continued her research project as part of an Independent Study class. Reflecting on the personal and academic benefits of her research, Ramesh says, “It largely helped me figure out that within bioengineering, I want to concentrate in systems and computational biology. I am fascinated by how we can use mathematics and programming to understand the biological mechanisms that drive development and disease.”
Besides shaping her ambitions, Ramesh’s UPLIFT work helped land her an REU at Harvard. REU, or “Research Experience for Undergraduates” is a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored summer research program taking place at American universities and research institutions. In her REU, Ramesh will work at a biophysics lab involved in the Harvard Quantitative Biology Initiative. Her project is to start developing a microfluidic device that can facilitate the stimulation and time-resolved freezing of a biological sample. The resulting images of the sample, taken with a high-resolution microscope, will help map out the cellular processes involved in drug response.
Valuable research experience is not the REU’s only benefit, for the program also offers opportunities in scientific writing and communication. “I’m excited for the opportunity to present my work to others, as well as learn more about the field of biophysics” she says.
Looking ahead to her future at Northeastern and at COE, Ramesh is eager to get more involved in her major, whether it is through taking computational bioengineering courses, going on co-op, or pursuing additional research projects.