Louai Labanieh appreciates the opportunity his research gives him to apply the knowledge he gain through his classes. He credits his experience with helping him learn to think critically and creatively. Louai has enjoyed the working independently at times, which has allowed him to make mistakes on the way, letting him learn even more quickly. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and believes that his undergraduate research experience has given him the tools he’ll need to succeed in graduate school. UROP is pleased to recognize Louai for the passion he has shown for undergraduate research.

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

I am currently working with Dr. Weian Zhao to develop a DNA-based insulin sensor for use in artificial pancreas systems. This sensor will serve as a feedback and safety mechanism for automated insulin infusion. We are very excited about this project because our work will help provide unprecedented levels of glycemic control to insulin-dependent diabetics.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I became interested in research after taking a molecular biology class where I made “glow-in-the-dark” bacteria by transforming them with a plasmid containing the green fluorescent protein gene. I too was transformed in the process (nerdy, I know). The following summer I took part in a summer research program at Iowa State University where I got to make enzyme-conjugated nanoparticles for biosynthesis applications. This experience reaffirmed my interest in research and so when I transferred to UCI in the fall of 2013, I decided to contact Dr. Zhao for a position in his lab.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Working in a research lab gives me the opportunity to apply the textbook knowledge I gain in the classroom to real-world situations. It is a stimulating experience because, unlike the classroom, there is no answer in the back of the book that I can rely on. This forces me to think critically and draw on various sources to gain insights into a given problem. I am lucky to be in Dr. Zhao’s lab because he pushes me to think big and outside-the-box.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

One of the first tasks that I was given for my project was to try and immobilize fluorescently-labeled DNA onto magnetic microparticles. When I imaged my particles under a microscope and saw that they were fluorescent, I was really excited. For one, it meant I actually did something right, and two, I like things that glow!

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

After graduating, I want to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. I hope to become a professor at a top-tier research institution such as UCI where I can continue to work on cutting-edge technology for disease diagnostics and therapeutics. By being involved in undergraduate research, I have been able to develop the fundamental skills that I will need for graduate school.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Find a project you are interested in and try to be as independent as possible. That is the best way to learn, even if it means making some mistakes along the way. Also, you should explore UCI. There are tons of exciting research/creative activities you will find if you just take a look.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '14 Louai Labanieh
Nov. '14 Brianna Ramirez
Oct. '14 Christine Wang
Sep. '14 Keith Sakata
Aug. '14 Leslie May Legaspi
Jul. '14 Nujhat Nabila Ali
Jun. '14 Eline Kocharyan
May. '14 Julian Smith
Apr. '14 Johan Mosquera
Mar. '14 Nadia Nikroo
Feb. '14 Andra Whipple
Jan. '14 Tam Phan