Student spotlight: Dominic Marticorena

September 22, 2020—Dominic Marticorena is a senior in the undergraduate biomedical engineering program. He founded and currently leads a student group called Charosa Research Group, and has had several opportunities in biomedicine so far. 

Dominic started his lab experience in a University of Minnesota hematology and oncology lab, studied vesicle transmembrane protein function at Washington University over a summer, and worked on cellular mechanics to study malignant cell dormancy potential. Last summer, he worked with Professor Matthew Johnson in the Neuromodulation Research and Technology Lab to use deep learning body labeling and multi-camera stereovision reconstruction to quantify Parkinsonian gait ataxia severity to guide deep brain stimulation treatments.

Dominic has presented his research efforts at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) 2019 and the NIH Summer Term Research Experience  conference. Soon, he will present at the 2020 Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Virtual Meeting. 

Shortly after joining the biomedical engineering program, you created a student group. What does this group do? 

Honestly, we've shifted a lot in function since founding Charosa Research. In purpose, we've maintained a consistent, yet inconcise goal of both educating and enabling impassioned students to pursue projects or research they generate or assist with existing projects within the group. 

Beyond building community and fostering ideation, we've strived to build our model around listening to unheard voices, educating and verifying ideas, and assisting them with funding and personnel. In short, we listen to an idea, help them shape a goal, and fund them when a team is garnered. 

We hold meetings with seminars from students about experiences or research interests and have monthly updates from our project subgroups. As we've grown as a novel group, we've tried constitutions, org charts, and SOPs to find what works most efficiently. We’ve worked on projects such as from-scratch bioreactors, meta-analyses, evolution simulators, and diagnostic device methodologies, all with unique group dynamics. 

Leading up to March of 2020, we'd been considering expanding our efforts to compete in national competitions, collaborating with other groups to form a International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) team, and submitting devices and research posters, but COVID has clearly shifted those priorities and our abilities to do so. However, long-term, we hope to instill staying power and enable students following us to participate in in-person conventions and events once again.  

How is your student group confronting the challenges of COVID-19, so students can continue to have biomedical engineering opportunities?

Most of our projects have been based on wet lab work and prototyping and we thrived on in-person meetings for updates on each other's projects, so it's been challenging. In weekly meetings with the officers, we are working to repackage our student group to remote opportunities of equal or greater value to BMEn students and the department itself. 

We are working with TeslaWorks and Engineering World Health to design and implement remote opportunities such as biomedical imaging and machine learning workshops and seminars on experiences in undergraduate biomedicine. These collaborations have also led to virtual showcases for current and upcoming projects to garner interest. 

As for projects, we understand that some can handle the remote transition, and some cannot. Remote projects related to biomedicine normally involve more developed knowledge of physiology, biology, computing, and modeling. Because of this, we are working both on ways to involve students new to computational medicine in a meaningful way and continue work on other projects through computational media. 

For example, the bioreactor group lead is attempting to implement a growth modeling aspect to their project, and I am shifting my diagnostic project to a more software-based device as opposed to bioMEMS hardware. I am taking it upon myself, beyond these efforts, to collaborate with professionals and students to create a virtual medical hackathon for BMEn students at the U and beyond.

What led you to create this student group?

Coming into the BMEn program, I explored groups and events within and related to BMEn, but I wanted to expand the opportunities for myself and others. 

I knew that lone students couldn't guide research or projects on their own, but with a team, funding, and experienced guide, students could have a fantastic opportunity to pursue projects they're passionate about. I was excited to find a place in which meaningful impacts driven by grit and curiosity could be made by hard work, and I felt compelled to create, rather than find, said opportunity.  

How is your BME educational experience benefiting you?

I've been able to be immersed in so many kinds of research, work with various researchers, and learn under some seriously distinct professors. It's been invaluable to see so many different thought patterns and discern for myself what kinds of mindsets best guide research, collaboration, inclusion, and learning. 

Being able to make strong connections with professors and other students has not only given me connections but instilled confidence and emboldened me to vocally pursue my overall goals of working to deliver cost-effective and accessible solutions to those who most need it. 

What have been some highlights of your BME experience?

Building and watching my group grow has definitely been a big one. Lots of tests and assignments have gone well and poorly, such is life. I've been able to exercise a lot of creative freedom with projects, and I've been allowed to play tennis, chess, and blackjack in the name of science, and that's always fun. 

Honestly though, BME has such a tight community and it's kept me going. In class, I've seen some hilarious presentations, listened to endless questionably relevant questions, bonded over sub-50 averages, and seen some fire memes in our class groupchat. Our classes, especially junior year where we're in Jackson Hall almost the whole time, felt so connected, and we went through a lot together. Study groups became friend groups, and class gatherings became more frequent. It's been emboldening to see other students grow and become confident in their knowledge and desires in a discipline we share.

What's your advice for new biomedical engineering majors?

Don't be too hard on yourself, and never forget why you're here.