Spotlight on Our Students: New Zealand, New Me!

Sid Rogers hiking in New Zealand.

“I have found that the University Scholars Program excels in making students think critically while being able to discuss controversial topics amongst others in a diverse environment.”

In this edition of Spotlight on Our Students, we caught up with Sid Rogers, a Junior from Asheboro, North Carolina majoring in Biomedical Engineering, about his involvement in a research project in theoretical model development this summer at Canterbury University in New Zealand. His research will focus on how the process of electroporation influences drug uptake to cells.

USP: Sid, I have to say, we read the description of your summer project and were totally baffled by the technical detail you included – it sounds intense. Can you tell us about the focus of your research this summer and how you got involved in it?

The view from Sid’s lab.

SR: My mom was going to name me Sidney regardless if I was a boy or a girl, she just liked the name thanks to one of her best friends in college being named Sid Becker.  In my younger years, I was close with “Big Sid”, viewing him as an incredible role model while he was getting his PhD. in Mechanical Engineering at NC State.  He has since moved around the world as a professor, with his most recent residence being Christchurch New Zealand teaching at the University of Canterbury.  Upon graduating high school, I went on the adventure of a life time to New Zealand to visit Dr. Becker with my grandpa, my other significant role model.  After getting a tour of his University and lab space, Dr. Becker informed me that if I was ever interested in doing research, to give him a call…so a year and a half later, I did. I have set up this entire research experience independently and have grown a lot by preparing for a summer 9,000 miles from home.

The research project I am currently working with Sid Becker models how the process of electroporation influences drug uptake to cells.  Electroporation is a technique where a high voltage is applied across a targeted group of cells, resulting in micro-pores of the cellular membrane.  These micro-pores allow for drug molecules, which previously couldn’t enter a cell due to the selective permeability of the cell membrane, to be able to cross the barrier and enter the cell.  The pores also affect the rate at which the drug is taken up by the cell through the diffusion.  A certain percentage of the cells which are electroporated die off, leaving the rest to survive with the drug now inside them. We say that the “dead cells” were irreversibly electroporated and the “surviving cells” were reversibly electroporated because the pores resealed on their own.  We can track the concentration of the drug in the three regions: the extracellular space, reversibly electroporated cell space, and irreversibly electroporated cell space.  This is the first research to take into consideration how the behavior of the irreversibly electroporated cells influences the rates at which the drug flows into the surviving cells.  This is significant because doctors who utilize this method need an accurate account for predicting the correct concentration of drug in their patient’s surviving cells.

USP: WOW! That really is cool research. And what an amazing connection to make from an early age to lead to this experience. What is the ultimate goal of your research experience?

SR: To keep the answer simple, my ultimate end goal is to learn.  I don’t quite know what I am going to learn, nor do I want to set boundaries on that.  I am putting myself out there to grow academically, and to cultivate what it means to think like an engineer.  So far, my time here has been a steady progression for advancing my comprehension of the research.  On my first day at the university, I was given a problem to work on, and had very little clue where to even begin.  However, after piecing things together for a few minutes, I recognized that this was an application of what I had learned through my Differential Equations course at NCSU.  I began working through the problem which later resulted in the correct solution!  Each day has been a similar experience, using everything I have been taught up to this point and applying it to stuff I have never seen before…and that feeling is quite rewarding.

USP: It sounds to me like you’re putting knowledge into action – and that’s what being a University Scholar is all about! What do you hope to learn during your time in New Zealand?

Sid in the mountains.

SR: Other than the obvious educational growth from the research, the two biggest areas I want to learn more about are the culture of New Zealand and myself as a person.  To meet with other Kiwis (New Zealanders), I have needed the mindset to constantly engage with those around me to spark conversations.  I have met several people through striking up random conversations on the bus, in the library (whoops), in the grocery store and lots of other places.  Through these conversations, I have discovered quite a few things which all Kiwis care about such as the fishing, hunting, rugby, hiking, work, biking, music, and reading. The thing in which I have found most inspiring is the fact that everyone is passionate about something.  People do not simply have interests, but rather genuine passion for the things they enjoy.  I think the evident passion is what gives this culture the spark like no other I have been to.  I have been attempting to sort through what my own passions might be and have been quite pleased with that process.

USP: It’s good to hear that it isn’t all lab work, that you’re also making time for reflection and exploration. What’s the most interesting adventure you’ve had so far in New Zealand?

Mountain biking in New Zealand.

SR: Over the past weekend, I went on an incredible adventure with a couple of mates from the Canterbury University Tramping Club. Tramping in New Zealand simply means camping and hiking …or so I thought.  My experience of doing such things in North Carolina has meant walking a few hours through well-traveled trails, maybe crossing a couple creeks and up a small mountain.  My experience in New Zealand was far more different, extreme, and fun.  On the hike up to a hut, we walked for several miles through a rocky river bed, then headed up the gut of a mountain along a stream. For a couple miles longer, we were jumping from boulder to boulder, crossing knee deep freezing (actual ice forming on rocks making them quite slippery) streams, and eventually up a rather steep slope, making it to the summit just after the sun had fallen. For every two steps I took forward, I slid at least one step back due to the loose rock up toward the summit. But hey, that added up to progress: slow, tough, and steady progress.  Upon arriving to the summit, we peered over only to find the worst conditions possible, a thin layer of snow on top of a thin layer of ice on top of loose rock.  Although we had only made it just over halfway to our destination at 6pm, we were contemplating turning around and going back down the way we came because the other side of the summit was quite dangerous.  But we decided to push through and test our luck, using an ice pick and crampons, we creeped down the slope.  Thankfully, we made it to the UCTC Avoca Hut around 11 PM.  On the way home, we traversed through a different route which was slightly shorter.  The terrain along this trek was quite similar, but we completed the route just before sun fell and then drove an hour and a half back to the city.  The difficulty in the climbs and descent made the trip quite an adventure, and the views made it quite rewarding.  I could not have possibly had a more spectacular, adrenaline-filled first tramping experience.

USP: That is capital ‘A’ Adventure. And your photos are just stunning. How would you say your time as a University Scholar has prepared you for your summer in New Zealand?

SR: I have found that the University Scholars Program excels in making students think critically while being able to discuss controversial topics amongst others in a diverse environment.  Being an American novelty to the Kiwis, every single person I have had a conversation with wants to talk about…you named it…Donald Trump. I have actually enjoyed the political discussions because I felt confident to engage in issues, like these, which have a variety of viewpoints.  It has also been refreshing to hear more discussion on policy rather than political jargon and rhetoric surrounding a political figure’s every waking move.  Kiwis are more interested in how a policy will create a change rather than play he said she said games.  The USP has pushed me to engage with others in more difficult conversations than I would have before joining the program while helping me to think critically about all diverse viewpoints surrounding an issue.

USP: It’s good to know we’re rubbing off on students! But seriously, looking at issues from various perspectives is so valuable. Keep it up! To wrap up, can you tell us the best bit of advice you’ve ever received?

SR: I have to be honest as a Momma’s boy and say that the best advice comes from my awesome Mom.  She has raised me on the mantra of not living as a victim of my circumstances but rather to utilizing my experiences to become the best person I can be.  I can’t sugar coat everything and say this experience so far has been a fantastic smooth sail.  I’ve had my wallet stolen, crashed a mountain bike, lost my phone, been hit by a car, had several missed busses, struggles cooking in a very limited kitchen, and a whole lot of loneliness being cooped up in a single bed studio apartment. It has been difficult to overcome these obstacles and view the brighter side of my day sometimes, but I continue make the choice to rise and not let the minor negatives define my experience here.  Sure there are a couple times I’ve want to fly home, but then I glance out of my window and see the snowcapped mountains extending across the entire horizon.  I know that this experience is currently shaping me into being the best engineer, lifelong learner, man, and friend I can possibly be.

USP: Your mom sounds like she knows what she’s talking about and you sound like you’re already well on your way to being an awesome human. Best of luck on the rest of your time in New Zealand and we’ll look forward to hearing more when you return to the States.

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