Engineering News Winter 2016
Plays Well With Others
Prashanth Asuri, assistant professor of bioengineering, is a dynamo. He's a fast talker, a fast walker, and fast to connect with students, faculty, and staff alike. With his quick mind, collegial spirit, and eager manner, you can easily imagine that somewhere along the way someone has pointed out that he "plays well with others."
A quick look at his impressive list of journal publications bears this out, as his articles are often the result of collaboration with fellow academicians, industry partners, and students. And at Santa Clara he has made a practice of collaborating with colleagues outside his department to provide interdisciplinary research and classroom experiences for his students. Asuri has worked with a biologist to develop an advanced cell culture lab so biology and bioengineering students can work on projects together; with a biochemist to develop microfluidic chips to explain heterogeneity in cancer cells; with a mechanical engineer to delve into how nanoparticles may influence mechanical and thermal properties of hydrogel composites; and with an ethicist from the University's Markkula Center to develop an ethics module within his tissue engineering curricula.
"It's important that we develop an entrepreneurial mindset among future engineers and scientists and facilitate learning in new ways," he said. "We need to mirror real-world workplace experiences where students from varied disciplines meet to solve problems. When people talk about collaboration or convergence, they are often talking about bringing a team together to solve a problem that hasn’t yet been fully defined. We need to prepare our students to think holistically, to view a problem from many different angles, and to respect what others bring to the team, in order for them to be effective participants in this kind of problem-solving process."
With this attitude, it's no surprise that Asuri was tapped to take part in the visioning process as SCU prepares to build its new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Complex here on campus, the largest capital investment the University has ever undertaken. But he’s not only interested in equipping Santa Clara students with the knowledge and skills they will need to enjoy successful and rewarding careers in bioengineering and biomedical science. He’s also passionate about inspiring other college students and even high school students to consider these paths. As co-founder of a new enterprise, SE3D Education, Asuri is working on doing just that.
"We're developing low-cost bioprinters, curricula, and software to enable college and high school teachers to provide the kind of hands-on learning and experimentation that can open their students' eyes to the world of opportunity available to them. The demand for STEM workers is growing tremendously, and we have to empower educators by giving them the tools to present material they may not be entirely comfortable with themselves. We're hoping to do for bio-related fields what the Maker Movement has done to improve the pipeline for design and manufacturing. With our tools, students can print arrays of proteins and cells for drug discovery or even design and construct biologically relevant architectures for seeding mammalian cells for tissue engineering applications." Asuri adds that he and SE3D co-founder Mayasari Lim are excited “to be incubating the company here on campus in the KEEN space, EdVenture,” a new School of Engineering hub of innovation supported through a grant from the Kern Engineering Education Network, a group dedicated to championing the entrepreneurial mindset.
"Today's students are incredibly tech-savvy and computer literate; giving them access to these tools and letting them play and learn through experimentation can be a game-changer," Asuri said. Couple that with his passion for collaboration and we could have a whole new generation of engineers who play well with others.
More information: www.se3d.com
Photo: Prashanth Asuri (left) collaborating with SE3D co-founder Mayasari Lim and Kevin Kozel ’14, MS ’16 and Theron Hawley ’14. Production of the 3D bioprinters, seen in the background, is taking place in the EdVenture incubation space at SCU.