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Spring '18 group

Spring 2018: Matt, Farhad, Charles, Connor, Eryn (back)
Anna, Lori, Cindy, Gareema, EV, Chase (front)

Elizabeth Vargis

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Elizabeth Vargis, PhD 

I am an Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering at Utah State University. I am also the faculty advisor for the Biomedical Engineering Society and Society of Women Engineers. I received a BS in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley, while working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab with Dr. G. Shyamala Harris. I then moved south and east to pursue an MS and PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, with Dr. Rick Haselton (MS) and Dr. Anita Mahadevan-Jansen (PhD). 

Staying in the south, I completed my postdoctoral appointment at the Oak Ridge National Lab in the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and at UT Knoxville at the Joint Institute of Biological Sciences with Drs. Pat Collier and Scott Retterer before arriving at Utah State University in August 2013. I live in Logan, UT with my partner, kids, and dogs. In our ever-shrinking free time, we hike, play, eat, dance, and eat some more.

I teach or have taught the following courses:
Introduction to Undergraduate Research and Engineering Design (BENG 1000 - every Fall)
Tissue Engineering (BENG 5890/6890 - most Springs)
Introduction to Biophotonics (BENG 5840/6840 - as needed)
Graduate Seminar (BENG 6510/7510 - Fall 2015)

Please check out the following pages: getting involved in undergraduate research and letters of recommendation requests.

Graduate Students

Graduate students Spring 2015

Graduate Students Spring 2015

Cindy Hanson

Cindy Hanson's picture

Research Gate

Cindy Hanson, PhD is a Post-doc student in Dr. Vargis' lab. She started in August 2013. Cindy earned her B.S. in chemical engineering while attending the University of Idaho (UofI) in Moscow, ID. She then worked for the Idaho National Laboratory for two years. After which, she earned her M.S. in Nuclear Engineering from UofI in Idaho Falls, ID. Cindy's thesis project was based on laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy of molten salts. As a result, she decided to continue her education in the field of laser spectroscopy by attending Utah State University and working in Dr. Vargis' lab. Some of her hobbies include hiking, crossfit, yoga, and chess.

Cindy's research is based on developing methods for label free detection of bacteria using a combination of Raman spectroscopy and dielectrophoresis. Awesome? Yes! Her work is supported by the SPIE and the Utah State University Student Association (USUSA). She was named the Graduate Researcher of the Biological Engineering Department for 2015 and 2018! She is supported by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. For spring 2018, Cindy is mentoring Morgan Bishop and working with Dr. Britt, as well as teaching a new SolidWorks course to our BENG students!

Charles Harding

Charles Harding's picture
Charles Harding, BS is a MS student in Dr. Vargis' lab. He began his research on muscle atrophy in simulated microgravity in January 2015. His experience in mammalian cell culture and bioreactor operation comes from two internships at Thermo Fisher Scientific during the summers of 2012 and 2013. The internship in 2013 also focused on protein and glycan analytics. Since February 2014, he has worked part-time at the cell culture R&D lab at GE Healthcare in Logan, UT. Charles’ goal is for his research to improve human fitness during extended spaceflight, as well as alleviate muscular atrophy for patients on Earth. Charles' work is supported by the Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In spring 2017, Charles is working with the Cleggs: Matt and Taylor (not related).

Farhad Farjood

Farhad Farjood's picture

Farhad Farjood, MS is a PhD student in Dr. Vargis' lab. He began working in the Vargis lab in February 2015. Farhad has earned his master’s in Biochemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham (UK). During his master's, he studied anaerobic production of better-folded recombinant proteins in bacteria. He then stayed at the University of Birmingham as a visiting researcher to study the potential of autofluorescent proteins as direct cellular oxygen sensors. During his first year at Utah State University, he used a systems biology approach to computationally study changes in transcriptional regulation in Down syndrome and also experimentally investigated the role of small molecules in macrophage activation.

Farhad's research in the Vargis lab is focused on retinal disease, in particular, molecular changes during retinal degeneration. His work was supported by ORAU and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation. For spring 2017, Farhad is mentoring Kara.

Lori Caldwell

Lori Caldwell's picture
Lori Caldwell is a concurrent BS/MS student in Dr. Vargis' lab. She began working in the Vargis lab in September 2013 on retinal pigment epithelial cell culture in an effort to better understand Age-related Macular Degeneration. This project evolved to include spider silk protein as a cell growth substrate in both a spray coating and a free standing membrane form. Her senior design project for her bachelor's degree focused on building a chamber that could support cell growth outside of a laboratory setting. It was used to take muscle cells to the upper atmosphere and quantify the effects of flight and landing forces using a high altitude weather balloon as a vehicle. For her thesis, she will be working to understand how radiation affects muscle growth and differentiation.

Matt Clegg
Matt Clegg's picture

Matt Clegg is a Master's student in Biological Engineering. He completed his undergraduate degree in BE in December 2017. Matt volunteered in Dr. Vargis’ lab from May 2016 to December 2017 working with Charles Harding to create an in vitro model of muscular atrophy in simulated microgravity. The focus of Matt’s graduate research is the _in vitro_ effects analysis of novel antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds against muscular atrophy. Matt is also involved with the USU Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) student chapter. Outside of school and work, Matt enjoys sports, music, and 90’s sitcoms.

Undergraduate Students


Chase Paterson

Chase Paterson
Chase Paterson is Biological Engineering student with a Chemistry minor, and has been in the lab since June 2016. Her research involves using spider silk to create a synthetic Bruch's membrane to create a healthy retina model. With this model, retinal diseases, like age-related macular degeneration could be studied and eventually therapeutics could be developed. To do this, the growth of primary porcine retinal pigment epithelial cells are being characterized using a variety of techniques, like immunocytochemical staining, DNA assays, and permeability studies. Her hobbies are sleeping, eating pizza, and actually going outside occasionally.

Eryn HansonEryn Hanson's picture

Eryn Hanson is an undergraduate student majoring in Biological Engineering and minoring in Chemistry and English scheduled to graduate in Spring 2020. She is involved in the Society of Women Engineers and I Am That Girl. She works with Lori Caldwell studying the effects of microgravity and radiation on muscle cells in a novel rotary cell culture system (RCCS). On the rare occasion that she leaves the Engineering building she can be found reading, drawing, or laughing at memes. 

Tessa Burrows
 Tessa Burrows

Tessa Burrows is a biological engineering student at USU scheduled to graduate in Spring 2020. She is a member of SWE, the USU Honors Program, and a URF fellow. She works on the retinal project with Chase to determine if spider silk membranes can be used to replicate Bruch's membrance found in the eye to eventually study macular degeneration. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing and delving through stories with her friends. 

Morgan Bishop 
morgan bishop

Morgan Bishop is an undergraduate studying biological engineering at Utah State University. She works in the lab with Dr. Cindy Hanson and in collaboration with Dr. Abby Benninghoff extracting fatty acids from mouse fecal samples and analyzing them using ramen spectroscopy. This is done in an effort to develop a method of noninvasive early cancer detection. In her free time, she enjoys kayaking, watching movies, and petting every dog possible.

Gareema Dhiman
gareema dhiman

Gareema Dhiman is currently a senior at Logan High School. She began volunteering in the Vargis lab in September 2017 with Lori Caldwell. She recently competed in the International Science and Engineering Fair on Enhancing Seed Viability for Space Travel with Silk Protein Polymers and is interested in Astrobiology and Bioengineering. She is also involved in debate, orchestra, and the Future Health Professionals of America Club. She enjoys traveling and playing basketball. 




Harsh Singh, BS was an undergraduate student majoring in biological engineering at USU with a Pre-Med emphasis. He was involved in the Pre-Med and Pre-SOMA clubs, as well as the Biological Engineering Club. He worked under the Retinal Research area, researching the effectiveness of spider silk as a substitute for Bruch's Membrane. 

Ian Wadsworth, BS 
was a biological engineering student at USU who graduated in Spring 2018. He was the president of the Biomedical Engineering Society USU student chapter and was also involved in the biological engineering club. He worked on the retinal research project, researching the ability of a free-standing spider silk membrane to accurately mimic native Bruch's membrane found in the eye. 

Kara Swenson, BS
was a Biochemistry student at USU with a Pre-Med emphasis. She graduated in the spring of 2018. She was a member of the Honors Society Student Council, and was also the peer advisor for the Chemistry/Biochemistry Department. In the lab, she worked with Farhad on his research on the neovasculatization of retinal epithelial cells to understand the mechanisms that cause Age-Related Macular Degeneration. 

Nate Israelsen, MS
​was a master's student in the Vargis lab. While completing his undergraduate work at Utah State, he also worked at Quansys Biosciences to produce and test a multiplex ELISA assays for biomarker quantification. As a graduate student in the Vargis lab, he is continuing to develop antibody-based assays using Raman spectroscopy. He graduated with his MS in December 2015 and is working at GE Healthcare.

Ian Wadsworth
Ian Wadsworth
Kara Swenson
Kara Swenson
Nate Israelsen

Nate Israelsen's picture

Aaron Fronk

Aaron Fronk's picture


Aaron Fronk, MS
Biology was a MS student in Dr. Vargis' lab. He started in August 2013. To finish up his master’s degree in Biological Engineering, he has worked for the past year and a half to develop a protocol for growing retinal pigment epithelial cells in vitro for drug testing, in the hopes of helping to develop a treatment for age-related macular degeneration. He is currently writing a literature review summarizing various RPE culture methods. He presented his MS in November 2015.

Karen Tew worked with Cindy to grow bacteria and use Raman spectroscopy for detection. She works at Fresenius Medical Care.

Peter Haight was majoring in Biology at USU. He received an URCO in the Spring of 2015 for his project titled "Cellular Uptake & Distribution of Gold Nanoparticles."

Donald Wooley majored in biological engineering at USU. He received a SURCO grant in the Summer of 2014 for his proposal "Development of a SERS Library for Detection of Unknown Food Contaminants."

Luke Jarvis, 
Dallon Durfey, Elsa Greenwalt and Rob Smiley worked together in the Mammalian Cell Culture Lab on Innovation Campus with Thermo Fisher, looking at the effect of leachables and extractables from single use bioreactor containment systems. They received an URCO in April 2015 to support this project.

Michael Sieverts
I studied biological engineering at USU. I was a member of the Utah Gamma Chapter of Tau Beta Pi. I assisted Cindy in the lab with Raman spectroscopy and microfluidics for the detection of bacteria. Outside of school I spend a fair amount of time rock climbing up Logan canyon. I also like playing the guitar, slacklining and listening to podcasts. I graduated in 2015 and now work at BioFire Diagnostics.

Michael Sieverts

Michael Sievert's picture

Annelise Dykes

Annelise Dykes's picture

Annelise Dykes
graduated from biological engineering in 2016 with a Pre-Med emphasis. She was involved in the Peru Team for USU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. In the lab, she is working with Cindy to use Raman spectroscopy and dielectrophoresis for the detection and separation of bacteria. When she isn’t busy studying, she enjoys doing yoga, watching Netflix, and late-night brownie baking.