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3 Biomedical Students to Conduct NASA Research


Rosalie Connell, Chiebuka Okpara, and Calvin Okulicz, three TCNJ biomedical engineering students from Dr. Anthony Lau’s Biomechanics Laboratory, were awarded a New Jersey Space Grant Consortium Academic Internship to conduct NASA related research during the 2020-2021 academic year. This internship is awarded to students enrolled in New Jersey universities to further research and education in aerospace and STEM. Reflecting on this award, Senior Calvin Okulicz called it the fulfillment of a childhood dream.  “Doing research that will potentially aid the progress of space exploration is such a huge honor.”

Receiving this honor and doing the work in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, but one this group is capable of dealing with. Each student has been able to continue their work using a remote desktop connection to access lab software available on the TCNJ campus. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, senior Rosalie Connell was working multiple jobs on campus to support her education.  Unfortunately, those positions were cut due to the pandemic and this award “alleviated some of those stresses.”

All three students are thrilled with the opportunities and mentorship provided by Dr. Anthony Lau and the Biomechanics Laboratory. Senior Chiebuka Okpara emphasized Dr. Lau’s talent for “giving practical advice and lending a helping hand,” while Rosalie discussed how Dr. Lau looks out for students, provides insight into the “endless possibilities of research” and encourages undergrads to pursue opportunities that have led to “national conferences, travel across the United States, and [collaboration] with renowned scientists.” Rosalie’s message to prospective students, one she often shares as a TCNJ Campus Ambassador, is that TCNJ has “the resources of a large public institution, combined with the network found at a prestigious private institution. The opportunities that I have received would not have occurred anywhere else…The engineering program at TCNJ allows you to receive a nationally ranked education while pursuing any and all of your passions. I am so grateful that my professors know my name, my face, my future ambitions and that they are so willing to help me achieve all my goals.”

Rosalie emphasized what a “great honor” this is and how “very proud” she is to work on “researching the systemic effects of space radiation, with the hope of identifying general trends by comparing cognitive effects to the mechanical effects that we have been documenting over the past few years.” Her future plan is to go to graduate school with the goal of getting a Ph.D. Calvin is working towards “creating a methodology for working with Nano CT scans to create more accurate micromechanical models to better model bone to eventually study the effects of bone strength due to space travel,” and looks forward to a future career in Medical Devices or Biotechnology. Chiebuka, who is “excited to have the chance to assist NASA in human/space research,” is researching “to understand the effects of proton radiation on bone micromechanical properties using finite element analysis.” His next step is to participate in a post-baccalaureate program to help determine the next area of research for him.

Calvin Okulicz (Top Left), Dr. Anthony Lau (Top Right), Chiebuka Okpara (Bottom Left), Rosalie Connell (Bottom Right)