Some undergraduate students hesitate to get involved in research. But at the University of Utah, there’s no need to wait: undergraduates can take advantage of university programs and resources to begin their research careers right away. Among the many undergraduate researchers at the University of Utah are Yazan Issa and Sanjana Aujla, who are conducting research with the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. Both students were recently selected for the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), which provides students who carry out a research project under the supervision of a faculty member a $1,200 stipend and an educational program. Both Yazan Issa and Sanjana Aujla are mentored by Professor Simon Binder, a research assistant professor at the ECE department.

Both students’ projects involve biohybrid brain implants. Under the supervision of Professor Binder, they are involved in the microfabrication and characterization of these novel implants as well as neural recording trials on rat models.

Yazan Issa studies Electrical Engineering with minors in Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science. His research project is titled Developing Alternatives to Utah Electrode Arrays for Next-Generation Brain-Computer Interfaces. “I love how my research has aspects of electrical and biomedical engineering, allowing me to learn a lot about my major and minors simultaneously,” says Issa. “The UROP program allows me to advance my research capabilities and helps me become more well-known throughout the University of Utah.” Issa is currently working towards a publication in the journal RANGE: The Undergraduate Research Journal.

Sanjana Aujla studies Biology with a minor in Pediatric Clinical Research. “I joined this lab because [she] wanted to step outside of my usual comfort zone and try something that wasn’t related exactly to Biology,” says Aujla. “I wanted to be a part of a research lab that genuinely cared about my interests and I have received an immense amount of support. It is also a unique project that I have been able to work on from the beginning.” Aujla’s research project focuses on the synthesis of flexible electrode arrays.

What makes the UROP program so special for Aujla? “I wanted to be able to speak more about the project that I was a part of. UROP has great opportunities that let you connect with other research faculty and students and has pathways that let you to explore and present your work,” Aujla responds. This opportunity will be given to her soon, as she was selected to present her work during the Research on Capitol Hill conference in January 2024. Additionally, as part of the UROP program, both Issa and Aujla will also give presentations at the Undergraduate Research Symposium before they graduate.

At the University of Utah, undergraduate students—like Aujla and Issa—are encouraged to get involved with cutting-edge research. Doing so allows them to gain experience in academic research and jump-start their scientific careers.

“The UROP program allows the students to make their first steps into research as early as possible, which is tremendously valuable for them—regardless of whether they will later work in an academic or industrial research environment,” says Professor Binder. “As part of the mentoring program, we train a whole range of important skill sets, from experimental work in the lab and analyzing data to presentation techniques and writing scientific texts. In addition, our research in which the two projects are embedded is highly interdisciplinary. The research on biohybrid neural implants covers aspects from the fields of engineering, biology, materials science and medicine. Being able to work and communicate in such interdisciplinary research groups is an essential skill. And thanks to the UROP program, Yazan and Sanjana can experience this firsthand.”

Learn more about Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty research topics and discover ways to get involved in undergraduate research.