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Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers: Biomedical Engineer

9 minutes

(male narrator) She runs a research lab. She teaches at a university.

(narrator) And she's cofounder of a nanotechnologies company. We're looking for feedback from you.

(narrator) Living by the wisdom of Yoda, biomedical engineer Michelle Khine is all about embracing life.

(Khine) The problems that we work on are important. There is a possibility that we can really make a huge impact on people's lives. That's a great motivator.

(narrator) Biomedical engineers like Michelle combine biology, medicine, and engineering to design and develop new equipment and methods that improve the quality of human health and life. They design everything from surgical devices, prosthetics and artificial organs, to systems for medical imaging, patient monitoring, and diagnosing disease. They also develop new medical procedures and research solutions to clinical problems.

(Khine) I teach and work with students at a university. I have a company on the side. It's the best of all worlds. I'm looking forward to getting this into the hands of students and researchers.

(narrator) Michelle has pioneered advancements in manufacturing medical diagnostic chips, a new technology that miniaturizes lab testing. Initially, the chips, which have microscopic grooves for moving samples like blood through lab tests, required expensive equipment and took a long time to make.

♪ A little bit of Shrinky Dink, Cut out a Shrinky Dink... ♪

(narrator) Remembering her favorite childhood craft, Michelle got a crazy idea. I was playing, as usual, in my kitchen one night, and I realized if I took Shrinky Dinks and patterned onto them, when they shrink down, I could use the features on the Shrinky Dinks to create my microfluidic chips. These are pre-stressed thermoplastic sheets. It's like a rubber band that's stretched out and frozen down. When you heat them up, the polymer chains relax and go back to their relaxed state. They shrink back. Honestly, it was really hard in the beginning. I had this idea, and we published-- I tried to convince my students to use a children's toy for their science. They thought, "People are going to laugh at us."

(narrator) People didn't laugh. The invention went viral on the Internet, catapulting Michelle into the spotlight. Scientists worldwide were now interested in Michelle's lab on a chip.

(Khine) I can treat one patient, but if you invent a medical technology that can save hundreds or thousands of lives at once, that would be really cool. So this small size here is 1.5 microns. The width of your human hair is 150 microns. So this is about 1/100th the width of your hair. How do they apply to different chemicals?

(narrator) Michelle and her team have been working on ways to grow embryonic stem cells into heart muscle cells.

(Khine) Once we create these cardiomyocytes, we need to figure out how to maturate them so that they're functional heart cells. A day in my life. I play soccer mornings with my dog then walk to work. I come in, and I work with the students. We work on coming up with new crazy ideas and writing papers and working on grants. I have a company on the side, so I work with the company also. We're trying to commercialize our first two products this year. Mark, ready to meet? Good. Yeah!

(narrator) As scientific founder and member of Shrink Nanotechnology's Scientific Advisory Board, Michelle helps research and develop new biomedical technologies and products. Very exciting. Very exciting.

(narrator) She also looks at ways to improve and expand the benefits of existing product lines. I like to tell people that I make accessories.

I'm still a girl. [laughs]

(Khine) A big part of my lab is focused on developing point-of-care diagnostic devices. Our goal is the ability to bring really inexpensive plastic chips to the developing world so we can detect and then therefore treat infectious diseases early on. We're meeting with the chair of the pediatrics department at the medical school here, because he's very interested in bringing these technologies to the real world. If we can have a screening test that can be done at the bedside... It's a neat job because you don't check in in the morning, you don't check out. You decide what problems are important to you. You work on those problems, and you police yourself.

(narrator) Like many engineers, Michelle thinks about her work 24/7, so she stresses the importance of balance in her life.

(Khine) I love to play. I also discovered a new sport called acroyoga, which is basically two-person yoga, and you can do flips and aerials, and it's really fun.

[both laughing]

I used to be big into biking. We built a human-powered vehicle when I was at Berkeley.

(narrator) Michelle holds a land speed world record for a bike she helped design and build in grad school.

(Khine) Being able to really have the conviction to carry it through to the end, knowing it might not work is very difficult. I think I'm an optimist at heart. So that keeps me going.

Just like a cooking show. [laughs]

(narrator) Michelle holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Bioengineering.

(Khine) I decided to become an engineer because I was really bad at math and science. And I thought that if I studied hard enough and I worked on it enough that I'd get good at it. So I did a summer internship in biomedical engineering when I was 15, and I loved it. It's hands on, it's real world, you feel like you're making a difference. You're not solving problems other people have solved. These are brand new problems that people need answers to, and that's cool.

(narrator) Biomedical engineers work in hospitals, universities, industry, and laboratories. They work with physical scientists and engineers, clinicians, life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists.

(Khine) I think biomedical engineering is extremely collaborative, and that's what I love best about it.

(Khine) What is that? Have you ever seen that deposited on metals before?

(man) With that scale, no. It's this culture of working together and talking with each other and coming up with new ideas and forming these collaborations, even if they're across the globe. Your world feels very close. You don't feel isolated at all.

(Khine) It's been a great ride. It's far exceeded any expectation or dream I could have ever had. It's been really fun. I've gone to go give talks at really cool places-- Vancouver, Hong Kong, the Caribbean. I was invited to MIT for the TR35 award, which is really exciting for me. It's been amazing. I was real fortunate to have gone into biomedical engineering. I can't imagine a better job in the world.

See, you never believe me. [laughs]

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Biomedical Engineer Michelle Khine spends her days between running her biomedical company and teaching her university students. No matter role she assumes, her goal is to further nanotechnology and its role in medicine.

Media Details

Runtime: 9 minutes

Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 1
10 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 2
6 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 3
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 4
6 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 5
8 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 6
6 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 7
8 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 8
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 9
8 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 10
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12