College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

First-place finish at ERN conference caps off a busy four years for ME senior

Alex Avendano 1Alex Avendano, senior in mechanical engineering, recently earned first place for his poster presentation at the national Emerging Research Network (ERN) conference in Washington, D.C. Avendano’s presentation about his McNair research project was selected as first from about 40 others in the Materials Science category. After attending the conference for the past three years, Avendano enjoyed this year’s first-place finish as well as the chance to talk with fellow researchers. “It’s a really good conference, you have people coming from all over the country and they’re either graduate students or people just like me, undergraduate researchers that are either starting or almost graduating, so it’s a really nice networking opportunity,” Avendano said.

Iowa State caught Avendano’s attention at a recruiting event in Puerto Rico, where he attended high school. The engineering program and scholarship opportunities brought him all the way to Ames, where he wasted no time getting started in research. Avendano worked with Pranav Shrotriya, associate professor of mechanical engineering, the summer before his freshman year through SPEED (Summer Program to Enhance Engineering Development). Avendano worked on a project about biosensors, and conducted immobilization experiments to examine surface coverage between two DNA molecules on a cold surface. A study being written now is using data from the research done by Avendano, which means he may be listed as a co-author upon publication.

The summer after his freshman year, Avendano was selected to work with MIRTHE (Mid-InfraRed Technologies for Health and the Environment), a research center headquartered at Princeton with partners at six universities. Avendano spent the summer at Rice University in Houston, where he worked in bioengineering applications. His project involved working on vectors that could deliver DNA to cells for gene therapy cancer treatments. “It was very fun, I did a poster and I presented at the end, they got everyone together at Princeton so it was nice to go to Princeton and see the school and present my research there,” Avendano said.

Avendano’s current project is focused on measuring the mechanical properties of an agar gel. This research will supplement work being done by Tim Bigelow, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, to explore new methods for non-invasive surgery. Because agar gel is very similar to tissue, the researchers must measure its properties in order to assess the possibilities for surgery methods.

A busy research schedule has not kept Avendano from being active with SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers). After attending a national conference in Cincinnati as a freshman, Avendano served as secretary, then president of Iowa State’s SHPE chapter. “It really was an eye-opening experience for me, I got to meet a lot of people from all over the country, and I also talked to companies,” Alex said, “So I decided that I really wanted to become involved in that.” Under his leadership, Iowa State was selected to host this year’s regional meeting, which will take place in just a few weeks. About 130 undergraduate students and 15 graduate students and professionals are registered to attend. The meeting will focus on leadership topics and applying them to a career in engineering.

After graduating from Iowa State this May, Avendano will spend the summer at Boeing, where he also worked last summer. He is currently in the process of deciding where to begin graduate school this fall, and is planning to focus on biomechanics research. “What I want to do in grad school is focus more on biomechanical aspects,” Avendano said, “how humans or animals move, how can you model moving mechanisms, how you can model injury and then how you can use that to help people.”