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Spring 2016 (Back: Kara, Charles, Bret, Dallon, Farhad, Harsh; Front: EV, Lori, Annelise, Cindy, Elsa; Missing: Ammon, Ian and Mike)

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, daughter and dogs. In our ever-shrinking free time, we hike / ski / snowshoe, 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

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Research Gate

Cindy Hanson, MS is a PhD 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! She is supported by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. For spring 2017, Cindy is mentoring Cameron and Jessica and a new army of eager Biological Engineers.

Charles Harding

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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

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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's pictureLori Caldwell

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

Undergraduate Students

Undergraduate Students picture

Retinal Research Undergrads: Lori Caldwell, Harsh Singh, Katie Glaittli

Harsh Singh is majoring in biological engineering at USU with a Pre-Med emphasis. He is involved in the Pre-Med and Pre-SOMA clubs, as well as the Biological Engineering Club. He works under the Retinal Research area, researching the effectiveness of spider silk as a substitute for Bruch's Membrane. In his free time, he enjoys watching and playing sports, especially hockey, and watching BBC's Sherlock.

Ian Wadsworth

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Ian Wadsworth
is a biological engineering student at USU, scheduled to graduate in Spring 2018. He is the president of the Biomedical Engineering Society USU student chapter and is also involved in the biological engineering club. He works 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. In his free time, he enjoys longboarding, watching hockey, and playing bass in a funk band.

Kara Swenson 
is a Biochemistry student at USU with a Pre-Med emphasis. She is planning on graduating in the spring of 2018. She is a member of the Honors Society Student Council, and is also the peer advisor for the Chemistry/Biochemistry Department. In the lab, she works with Farhad on his research on the neovascularization of retinal epithelial cells to understand the mechanisms that cause Age-Related Macular Degeneration. When not studying or working in the lab, Kara enjoys singing and playing the piano, watching Netflix, and volunteering at a local fair trade store.

Kara Swenson

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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.

Nate Israelsen

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Aaron Fronk

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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

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Annelise Dykes

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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.