With plans to grow a fruit, such as a grape, on the leaf of a plant, Pine View’s Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) has many interesting projects prepared. Every Tuesday, the club members of BMES meet together in biology teacher Rebecca Kehler’s Room 121. Students fill Kehler’s classroom and work together on projects that are nothing like one would see in their biology, chemistry, or engineering classes. Along with these unique projects, they dive into researching various topics and analyzing data they have collected. On days when there are experiments, the club members are split into small groups and the room is filled with microscopes, containers, and sheets of paper to collect data.
Pine View’s Biomedical Engineering Society Club was created by twelfth-grader Ray Min and a few of his friends when they were sophomores in 2019. Currently, twelfth-graders Sonica Prakash and Ray Min are co-presidents of the club. Over the years, the once-small club has gained so many new members that almost every seat in Kehler’s room is filled during their Tuesday meetings. The ever-growing club won the Outstanding High School Chapter Award during the 2020-2021 year.
The Outstanding High School Chapter Award is a nationwide award given to the high school BMES club that does the most interesting activities and gives back the most to the community. A 20-page-report called the Chapter Development Report (CDR) determines which high school BMES club gets this award. The CDR is crucial for the club to earn awards, so members begin working on it several months before it is due. To work on the CDR report for 2020-2021, the BMES club met on Discord calls that lasted through the night.
“The most iconic parts of biomedical engineering is having everyone on one Discord call at 10 or 11 pm the last month before [the CDR report] is due to make sure that every single thing that we do is perfect. Although it is pretty stressful, it is pretty iconic because I have never had that type of experience anywhere else,” Min said.
Last year, the BMES club researched a chemical harmful to humans called glyphosate. This chemical can be found in a lot of places: table salt, clothing, pesticides, and more. Glyphosate is harmful as it kills a lot of the good bacteria in the human microbiome, a community of bacteria which keep people healthy. The club planned on presenting about the research it conducted at the annual BMES meeting. However, because of the pandemic, the club was unable to attend.
“Our main takeaway from the project was that we used only public data that was available and it was really interesting how you could do a data science project online for the club completely with public data,” Prakash said.
Along with researching about numerous harmful chemicals, the BMES also participated in volunteering and mentoring; one place the club volunteered at was Sarasota Memorial Hospital. There, club members put in over 150 hours and assisted doctors and nurses by delivering items to rooms and helping prepare patients before seeing the doctors. For mentoring, the BMES club members helped younger students with their inventions and aided them in using equipment at the Fab Lab.
The BMES Club has a lot of ideas for future projects. This year, they plan on doing a procedure called decellularization where plant cells are removed and replaced with other material, such as bone tissue or fruit cells, which grows on the plant. The students will be split into multiple groups; each group will perform the experiment on a different type of cell, organ tissue, or bone tissue.
“We are planning on changing a simple vegetable like lettuce, for example, and we add a solution and do a lot of other techniques that removes most of the cellular material from the plant except the scaffolding. The scaffolding serves as a baseline for new growth,” Prakash said.
The club planned on decellularizing a plant during the 2020-2021 year, however, the plans were interrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with COVID-19, the BMES club faces other challenges, such as cost of materials. These challenges force the club to create solutions to solve these issues.
“We wanted to get a $1000 [incubator to grow cells], but we couldn’t get it approved by PVA. So, we got a $150 one instead — which could only last for two hours at a time. But, we needed it to stay on for at least 48 hours, so we tried to duct tape the handle across to make sure it didn’t turn off,” Min said.
In the future, Min and Prakash both hope that the club will be able to expand and gain membership. They feel that going to the club not only teaches students about biomedical engineering but also provides students with scientific research skills. Both Min and Prakash hope to teach more people about biomedical engineering and encourage others to learn more about science.