Innovation Symposium showcases student research, life of David Hellums

Keynote speakers Larry McIntire and Todd Giorgio presented Rice bioengineering milestones

By Shawn Hutchins

The Bioengineering Graduate Student Association kicked off a yearlong celebration of the 20th anniversary of Rice University’s Department of Bioengineering Sept. 9 with a symposium that drew more than 170 students, staff, alumni and current and former faculty to the BioScience Research Collaborative.

Rice President David Leebron opened the 2016 Innovation Symposium by thanking the graduate students for presenting and organizing the event and reflecting on the department’s birth and growth through the leadership of the late David Hellums, who died June 26 at age 86.

Hellums, Rice’s A.J. Hartsook Professor Emeritus in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and of Bioengineering, was a pioneer in developing cardiac assist devices and in investigating the effects of shear forces on human red blood cells and platelets. He also served as dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering from 1980 to 1988 and was a founding member of the Department of Bioengineering in 1997.

“David was one of the first people I interacted with when I came to Rice,” Leebron said. “Bioengineering was at an important decision point as we were recruiting new faculty and deciding whether to build what became the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC). The vision and success of the department convinced us to make these additional investments, continuing to build on the strong foundations that David had laid. Bioengineering has become a leading edge of the university and is one of our highest-ranked departments. Rice would not enjoy the reputation it has today without the success of bioengineering.”

BIOE Symposium event winners

Symposium event winners: (back row, from left) Jason George, Dan Sazer, Ian Kintslinger; (front row, from left) Eric Yang, Meaghan Bond, Samantha Paulsen and Emily Reiser Evans. Eric Gomez and Alex Tatara are not pictured.  (Photo by Jason Guo)

To showcase student research, the Innovation Symposium agenda included an “Ideas That Go Viral” session featuring six five-minute presentations by graduate students who represented various departments at the BRC and were nominated by their peers. Bioengineering students also told the audience about their research and its significance during a 90-second pitch competition and an hourlong poster competition. A panel of alumni and faculty judges rated each participant.

Postdoctoral fellow Meaghan Bond was awarded $1,000 for the Best Pitch on diagnosing anemia in the developing world. Graduate student Eric Yang was awarded $1,000 for the Most Impactful Research toward seeing oral cancer in a new light. In the poster competition, two students were recognized with $500 prizes: Graduate student Dan Sazer won Best Poster for spatially controlled photo-patterning of multimaterial bioactive hydrogels, and Samantha Paulsen won the Audience Choice Award for her poster on in-vivo implantation and perfusion of a gel containing 3-D printed internal microvascular networks.

Two keynote speakers, Larry McIntire and Todd Giorgio, presented Rice bioengineering milestones.

Marilyn Hellums, Larry McIntire and Suzanne Eskin

(From left) Marilyn Hellums with keynote speaker Larry McIntire, the Wallace H. Coulter Chair Emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founding chair of Rice’s Department of Bioengineering, and Research Scientist Suzanne Eskin. (Photo by Jason Guo)

McIntire, the Wallace H. Coulter Chair Emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the founding chair of Rice’s Department of Bioengineering, told of Hellums’ collaborative research legacy with Baylor College of Medicine and how Hellums and other faculty of the young department helped establish bioengineering as a major engineering discipline capable of solving complex problems in biology, medicine and health care.

Giorgio ’87, was one of Hellums’ early graduate students. Giorgio described his mentor as a “‘triple-threat man’ who possessed tremendous skill in cutting-edge research, professional service and compelling dedication to teaching.”

Giorgio, former chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department at Vanderbilt University and professor of biomedical engineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and cancer biology, said, “I am honored to speak today on behalf of all of David’s students. Many of us, since his passing, have talked of his generous teaching style. We could not help but to be intrigued and inspired. In working through tough problems, it was easy to see how mathematical tools can be used to solve biomedical problems.”

“The Bioengineering Department is proud to honor the contributions of our founders,” said Michael Deem, Rice’s John W. Cox Professor of Biochemical and Genetic Engineering, professor of physics and astronomy and chair of the Department of Bioengineering. He noted that two of the 13 guest lecturers for the fall 2016 colloquia — Pratap Nair ’88 and Byung‐Geon Rhee ’86 — are Rice bioengineering alumni.

“To further enhance our research and education in David’s name, we are also actively raising funds to establish the David Hellums Memorial Fund in Bioengineering,” Deem said.

Additional bioengineering graduate students who received awards at the Innovation Symposium dinner included Eric Gomez and Alex Tatara for Outstanding Research Accomplishment; Jason George, Ian Kintslinger and Eric Yang for Outstanding Achievement Award/Teaching Assistant; and Emily Reiser Evans for Excellence in Leadership.

The 2016 Innovation Symposium was sponsored by the Department of Bioengineering, GPS Gradstarter, the Graduate Student Association and the Rice Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering. Associate Professor Junghae Suh, Bioengineering Graduate Student Association President Annicka Evans and graduate students Satya Bellamkonda and Gisele Calderon received special thanks for coordinating the event.

A playlist of this year’s presentations will be posted on the Rice Bioengineering Channel. Subscribe on YouTube for video updates. See the Bioengineering Facebook page for event pictures.

–Shawn Hutchins is a science writer and web specialist for the Department of Bioengineering.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.