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3D Printing Through The Body

Dr. Karen Yan  is a professor of both the mechanical and biomedical engineering departments here at TCNJ. Her main area of research interest is tissue engineering, specifically looking at how cells react to their surrounding environment by mechanical stimuli. The big-picture goal with her research is to create substitutions in the lab for damaged or lost tissue that can be replaced in the body. 

Dr. Yan and her two undergraduate students are exploring the 3D printing-based microfluidic fabrication process by practicing the hydrogel mold method. They utilize gelatin to 3D print microchannels to mimic a cell’s environment in the body at the 100 micron level (for scale, one micron is approximately one-millionth of a meter). In addition, they are also observing the effects of incorporating electrospun fibers into the gelatin mixture as they 3D print the channels. By adding and leaving the electrospun fibers in the channel molds, they are hoping that this will allow for more 3D support for the cells.

The significance of this MUSE research contributes towards a type of biomedical application called microfluidic devices. Dr. Yan and her students are pursuing this research in an attempt to:

  1. Develop an affordable & accessible lab tool for other researchers to use in their own research settings.
  2. Create an experimental set-up to test cell interactions outside of the body in controlled environments.
  3. Use nanofibers with large surface areas because the larger the surface area, the more room there will be for antibodies to attach to.

According to Dr. Yan, there is a lot of trial & error in the lab and it’s a discovery process for both her and her students. Her advice for students thinking about research is to explore the opportunities at TCNJ, talk to your professors and see how their research interests may or may not align with yours. She also stresses that it’s crucial to recognize that research is a process: we don’t always have the answer right in front of us so we need to be patient. She advises students not to be discouraged when dealing with open-ended problems because there is no set answer. Budding researchers should learn to enjoy the process of searching for answers.   

-Anisa Lateef ‘22


(Left to Right) Raahi Desai ‘23, Tyler Griffin ‘23 & Dr. Yan in their STEM Building lab.


Raahi Desai working in a lab. 

Raahi Desai ‘23

Meet Raahi: He is a rising junior biomedical engineering student & this is his 1st year doing MUSE with Dr. Yan.

Hometown: Oldbridge, NJ

Hobbies: 3D printing trinkets, spikeball

@ TCNJ: Frisbee team, Spikeball team, Treasurer for BMES (Biomedical Engineering Society)

Any advice for future students working in a lab?

Talk to your professors because they do a lot in the background that they don’t announce. If you just talk to them, see what they’re interested in and just show an interest, they’ll show the same interest back.

What’s a fun fact that you’ve learned while doing MUSE?

It’s an iterative process full of trial & error. Come up with a bunch of ideas and then try each one. From those, see what works. It’s creating your own process rather than following some instructions. That’s the creative side of research.


 Tyler Griffin typing on a keyboard.

 Tyler Griffin ‘23

Meet Tyler: He is a rising junior mechanical engineering student & this is his 1st year doing MUSE with Dr. Yan.

Hometown: Brick, NJ

Hobbies: Aviation (has his pilot’s license), hockey (Go Rangers!)

@ TCNJ: past President of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Math/Sci tutor

Any advice for future students working in a lab?

Participate in class and get to know your professors. Try to make a connection with them because then it will give you a better shot at working with them in the future.

What’s a fun fact that you’ve learned while doing MUSE?

3D printing in general. I didn’t know anything about 3D printing coming in and now I get the general gist of it. I’m pretty confident making new designs and that’s super useful.


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