Kathleen Bommer ME '11 took third place at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) 2011 Summer Bioengineering Conference’s Bachelor's-Level Student Paper Competition. Bommer’s paper, "High-Speed Imaging of Intra-Embryonic Phase Transformation Events During Rapid Freezing of Zebrafish Embryos," impressed the judges of the "Tissue Engineering, Biotransport, and Cell Mechanics" area of the program.
“I am very happy that I placed in the poster contest. It made me feel that my research had really accomplished something meaningful,” says Bommer, who performed her work in the Biothermal Sciences Laboratory as an undergraduate research assistant. “I entered my abstract in the Student Paper Competition with hopes of sharing my research at the conference. It was exciting to be a part of the experience and learn from the work presented by other students.”
Bommer began conducting her research, advised by Dr. Jens O.M. Karlsson, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Dr. Angela DiBenedetto, Associate Professor of Biology, in January 2010. Their joint project was funded in part by a Villanova University Undergraduate Research Fellowship given to Bommer, a Villanova University Summer Research Fellowship awarded to Dr. Karlsson, and a Villanova University Research Support Grant shared by both professors.
The team used liquid nitrogen to freeze zebrafish embryos provided by Dr. DiBenedetto’s laboratory and captured images of this complex procedure with a high-speed video cryomicroscopy system previously developed by Dr. Karlsson. By examining the resulting video recordings in slow-motion playback, they discovered that the freezing response of a zebrafish embryo consisted of eight distinct events, most of which had never before been seen. The zebrafish represents an increasingly popular vertebrate animal model for genetic and developmental biology research because of its rapid rate of reproduction and optically clear embryos that develop ex vivo, making it possible to survey growth processes directly. However, zebrafish research would be more efficient and less costly if it were possible to cryopreserve embryos of the myriad genetic variations of this fish species, a goal that has been hampered by the sensitivity of zebrafish embryos to ice formation and cold temperatures.
“Our research is the first of its kind because we are able to see specific details in the mechanics of ice formation during the freezing process. I am proud to be a part of the team!” says Bommer. “As a junior, I was looking to enhance my courses with independent research. When I spoke to Dr. Karlsson about this project, the work just seemed so different from anything I had done, or was doing, in class. I thought that assisting him would be a great opportunity to work in the lab and learn something new. It is amazing how far we have come with our research in such a short period of time.”
Bommer now works as an Applications Engineer for SKF Group, a leading global supplier of products, solutions, and services within rolling bearings, seals, mechatronics, services, and lubrication systems.