Senior Chemical Engineering Student and Brock Scholar, Cooper Thome, is working with mesenchymal stem cells. What the heck are mesenchymal stem cells? They are stem cells that can grow into a variety of different cells, from bone to cartilage, from muscle to fat.
“They have many therapeutic applications, from the treatment of orthopedic injuries to autoimmune diseases,” Cooper explains. “Knowing how various environments and factors affect stem cells is very important if we wish to make further advancements in the types and viability of stem-cell treatments.
Cooper spent this past summer in Japan, working an internship in nanotechnology at the National Institute of Materials Science in the city of Tsukuba. Landing the Japanese internship is a major accomplishment, and he is one of only six students selected from across the U.S. While working in Japan, Cooper took tiny, tiny stem cells — usually about one millionth of a meter in size — and grew them for tissue engineering.
“The fabrication and characterization of the patterns is an important part of the project. It has been shown that the actual patterns in which you grow the cells can influence their behavior greatly, so I am going to explore some of the implications of that reality.”
What he has learned at UTC has been critical to his success outside of the school, he says, including both the Japan internship and the one during the summer of 2016 at Georgia Tech. “I’m really thankful to the faculty and staff of the CECS for all the help they’ve given to me,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to be around people and in an environment that has pushed me to pursue some really cool (and educational and professional) experiences and positions.”
In commenting on his time in Japan, Cooper noted, “Through this experience, I’ve met a lot of people from all over the world. Tsukuba is a science city with a high population of foreign researchers, and it’s really interesting to talk to people about various cultural differences.”
In May of this year, Cooper was honored by the Tennessee Engineering Foundation as the 2017-18 recipient of the organization’s most prestigious scholarship. The coming year will be another busy one for Cooper. In addition to his work in the classroom and the lab, he will serve as president of Tau Beta Pi Honor Society, and of the campus chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.