Hampton University Chemical Engineering Students Gain Research Experience at UVA

In addition to their main lab projects, the Hampton students are working with Taite and Dumas on a collaboration to make a polyurethane film using ultraviolet light to “cure” the base molecules to form the material, a process called photocrosslinking.

Dumas develops polyurethane materials for orthopedic tissue engineering. Taite’s lab makes soft hydrogels — a transparent material resembling Jell-O — designed to promote the growth of soft tissues such as blood vessels.

“Polyurethanes are much more elastic, much stronger, more resilient than hydrogels,” Taite said. “We are looking at whether or not we can mix these materials, as my hydrogels are also light-crosslinked.”

Normally, when Dumas sends students out for summer research experiences, he doesn’t see them in action. This year, he successfully applied to UVA’s STRIVE-C, the short-term research initiative for visiting oncology educators, sponsored by the UVA Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The program encourages research partnerships between UVA cancer center faculty members and faculty at minority-serving institutions. It does this by providing a host lab at AVU and four-week funding to allow the visiting faculty member to do original research.

As a member of the UVA Cancer Center, Caliari happily accepted to host Dumas this summer.

“It really gave me an energy boost as far as my research goes,” Dumas said. “Typically, HBCU faculty teach three to four classes per semester, and we try to conduct research.

“A partnership like this, with Dr. Taite and Dr. Caliari and other colleagues in chemical engineering, being able to come here and work with the students on research that has synergy with mine really helps me generate ideas, as well as complete projects that I don’t normally get a chance to complete,” Dumas continued. “Plus, DessaRae and Alex work in my lab. They get extra mentorship that I often don’t get. opportunity to lead during the regular school year.

The four Hampton University students were drawn to chemical engineering because of a parent’s influence or illnesses in their family. They are driven to find remedies so others don’t struggle the same way their loved ones do.

Harmon found the perfect spot this summer on “Team Muscle” in the Caliari Biomaterials Lab. When the internship started, he intended to work in industry after completing his degree and then a master’s degree, but now he plans to go straight to a doctorate.

“My aunt is struggling with heart failure, and I just want to improve the treatment,” Harmon said. “If we could find ways to create regenerative tissue, she wouldn’t have to have back-to-back surgeries and she could live better knowing that something works, instead of just a temporary fix. So that’s what I’m trying to find.