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Engulfed by research opportunities

December 15, 2011


Joseph Simon.

Photo by David Mendolia.

U undergrad works to discover new medical technologies

By Bill Magdalene

Joseph Simon, honors senior in mechanical engineering, has had a busy undergraduate career. He did independent research to help develop biomaterial to create an artificial cornea. And now, while applying to Ph.D. programs across the country, he's working on creating a model bioreactor that would help medical scientists investigate blood vessel diseases.

Recently, Simon discussed why he loves doing research.

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Q&A with Joseph Simon

If you had one sentence to tell sixth graders what you do, what would you say?
In my research, I test and discover new technologies to improve the health and lives of people worldwide.

How did the idea for an artificial cornea come about?
The idea was actually a joint effort between Dr. Alptekin Aksan and Dr. Allison Hubel ... The hypothesis was that an artificial corneal substitute could be manufactured by [combining] a natural polymer with an inorganic ceramic to form a nano composite. ... The work was in conjunction with physicians at the Mayo Clinic. I hope that the project is successful and that current researchers are able to develop an artificial cornea implantable in a wide range of patients worldwide.

How did you first discover your academic path?
As a freshman in high school, I saw "cool" math derivations on the board from the previous period's calculus lecture. Seeing this cultivated an interest in me to pursue a career in science and mathematics. During my sophomore year at the U of M, I decided I wanted to delve into applicable, hands-on research. Within a few weeks in the lab, I was engulfed by the opportunities research had to offer me.

What do you love most about what you do?
The most fascinating part of research is the challenges it poses each and every day. To be honest, it's a love/hate relationship. At times, research can be frustrating, but the times when you succeed are so rewarding and gratifying, you just can't stop. Research has no bounds and it allows me to explore my own potential and challenge myself on a daily basis.

Why is what you do important?
What I do affects many people, in many different ways. Advances in medicine will facilitate longevity and an increased standard of living. My findings and work open up new possibilities and new avenues for other scholars.

What's your big dream?
To obtain a Ph.D in bioengineering and become a professor at a large research university. I hope to make significant advances in science that will positively affect the lives of people throughout the world.

What's been the biggest challenge in your work?
Working independently was really a challenge. Designing intelligent experiments and formulating hypotheses to test can be very challenging. Despite the challenge, independently working through issues has made me a much better researcher, by forcing me to think critically and apply what I've learned in the classroom.

What inspires you in a teacher?
A teacher that is willing to impart his or her knowledge on a student is something I admire and it inspires me to do the same to others. Professors that genuinely want to help students learn new material are truly inspirational.

What inspires you in a student?
A student that has an eagerness and willingness to learn. Whenever I see fellow students collaborating or working on challenging concepts or problems I feel inspired to do my best. Whenever you're surrounded by other students who are driven to learn and do the best they can, you start to rise to the level of those around you.

Why the University of Minnesota?
The U of M has top faculty in many different fields. ... I was attracted to the engineering program here at Minnesota because it has a reputation for being a top-notch program, both in the classroom and in the lab. We have state-of-the-art facilities and resources and our faculty members are working on cutting-edge research.

What's been the key to your U of M student experience?
Exploring the opportunities outside the classroom. ... The University has a lot of great opportunities, spanning many different interests, which allow students to immerse themselves in things they're really passionate about.

Advice for fellow searchers?
Find something you're truly passionate about and pursue it. Find your niche of interests and follow your dreams. The sky is the limit.

Tags: College of Science and Engineering

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