One of the toughest choices to make every semester as a Princeton student is course selection. This may not seem immediately apparent once you set foot on campus (especially as an engineering concentrator) as our first-year schedules are often congested with mandatory prerequisite courses. However, once you declare your concentration and move past the introductory courses, you have more availability to delve much deeper into specific interests and even explore courses outside of your comfort zone. Thus far, I have really enjoyed my classes this spring semester as a sophomore, and one in particular has changed my approach to understanding molecular biology and bioengineering -- Biomechanics and Biomaterials: From Cells to Organisms (MAE344). While I am taking this course initially to fulfill one of my requirements for the Engineering Biology certificate, it's turning out to be an amazing class experience that I would recommend to any engineering concentrator.
First of all, the instructor for the course, Professor Daniel Cohen, is extremely knowledgeable and is currently spearheading research in controlling group behaviors in tissues. His lectures, which never fail to spark my interest, strike a healthy balance between teaching important biology concepts and establishing mathematical intuition necessary for engineering. For example, one of the lectures dealt with one of the most groundbreaking methods employed in this field for cell imaging: atomic force microscopy (AFM). AFM relies on a tiny cantilever to detect specific features on the surface of a cell by measuring deflection forces that result from interaction with the cell. While Professor Cohen emphasized the cantilever equations that are pivotal for AFM, he also carefully explained the advantages of using different cantilever tips for certain applications. He ensured that we did not simply memorize the material, but that we were able to think critically and synthesize from the scientific techniques that we learned.
In addition to the lectures, the class also meets every other week for “journal club,” in which we read an assigned scientific journal article so that we can discuss anything we find interesting. This has been tremendously helpful because these sessions have trained me to skim through an article in order to parse through specific information. At times, academic writing can often be very dense, cluttered with jargon and indecipherable figures, and it used to take me hours to get the general gist of a paper. However, I can now take this newfound skill with me through the rest of college and even graduate school.
I’m also looking forward to the final project, where we will take all that we've learned and will individually attempt to solve a bioengineering problem by designing a biointerface, allowing us to fully embrace our creativity.
I have really enjoyed this class so far and encourage anyone interested in the physics of cells and tissues to take it!