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Spring '18 group

Spring 2018: Matt, Farhad, Charles, Connor, Eryn (back)
Anna, Lori, Cindy, Gareema, EV, Chase (front)

Elizabeth Vargis

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Elizabeth Vargis, PhD

I am an Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering at Utah State University. I am also the faculty advisor for the Biomedical Engineering Society and Society of Women Engineers. I received a BS in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley, while working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab with Dr. G. Shyamala Harris. I then moved south and east to pursue an MS and PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, with Dr. Rick Haselton (MS) and Dr. Anita Mahadevan-Jansen (PhD).

Staying in the south, I completed my postdoctoral appointment at the Oak Ridge National Lab in the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and at UT Knoxville at the Joint Institute of Biological Sciences with Drs. Pat Collier and Scott Retterer before arriving at Utah State University in August 2013. I live in Logan, UT with my partner, kids, and dogs. In our ever-shrinking free time, we hike, play, eat, dance, and eat some more.

I teach or have taught the following courses:
Introduction to Undergraduate Research and Engineering Design (BENG 1000 - every Fall)
Tissue Engineering (BENG 5890/6890 - most Springs)
Introduction to Biophotonics (BENG 5840/6840 - as needed)
Graduate Seminar (BENG 6510/7510 - Fall 2015)

Please check out the following pages: getting involved in undergraduate research and letters of recommendation requests.

Graduate Students

Lori Caldwell

Lori Caldwell's

Lori Caldwell
is a concurrent BS/MS student in Dr. Vargis' lab. She began working in the Vargis lab in September 2013 on retinal pigment epithelial cell culture in an effort to better understand age-related macular degeneration. This project evolved to include spider silk protein as a cell growth substrate in both a spray coating and a free standing membrane form. Her senior design project for her bachelor's degree focused on building a chamber that could support cell growth outside of a laboratory setting. It was used to take muscle cells to the upper atmosphere and quantify the effects of flight and landing forces using a high altitude weather balloon as a vehicle. For her thesis, she will be working to understand how radiation affects muscle growth and differentiation.

Matt Clegg

Matt Clegg's

Matt Clegg
is a Master's student in Biological Engineering. He completed his undergraduate degree in BE in December 2017. Matt volunteered in Dr. Vargis’ lab from May 2016 to December 2017 working with Charles Harding to create an in vitro model of muscular atrophy in simulated microgravity. The focus of Matt’s graduate research is the in vitro effects analysis of novel antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds against muscular atrophy. Matt is also involved with the USU Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) student chapter. Outside of school and work, Matt enjoys sports, music, and 90’s sitcoms.

Chase Paterson

Chase Paterson's

Chase Paterson
is a PhD student in Biological Engineering and has been working in the Vargis lab since June 2016. Her current research involves engineering models to study affects of retinal diseases, like age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. To do this, she's modeling cell-cell detachment caused by retinal degeneration using micropatterning and retinal image analysis. This will allow her to see how cell-cell detachment relates to abnormal angiogenesis, which is often the final step towards blindness in these diseases. Her research is important because it could elucidate which angiogenic factors are produced and therefore which ones to target with therapuetics to more effectively treat abnormal angiogenesis.  
As an undergraduate she worked on a project focused on creating a synthetic Bruch's membrane for a retinal model; ongoing research in this project is currently being done by Tessa Burrows. In her free time she likes doing karate, binging TV shows, and playing video games. She is also Co-President of Utah State's Secular Student Alliance Chapter.

Undergraduate Students

Eryn Hanson

Eryn Hanson's

Eryn Hanson
is an undergraduate student majoring in Biological Engineering and minoring in Chemistry and English, scheduled to graduate in Spring 2020. She is the SWE Coordinator in the Society of Women Engineers and recently received an Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunity (URCO) Award from USU. She is currently developing a 3D bioprinted hydrogel to study the effects of microgravity and radiation on muscle cells in a novel rotary cell culture system (RCCS) with bioprinted cells. In her spare time she can be found reading, drawing, playing Dungeons & Dragons, or laughing at memes.

Tessa Burrows

Tessa Burrows'

Tessa Burrows
is a Biological Engineering student minoring in Math and Chemistry at USU scheduled to graduate in Spring 2020. She is a member of SWE, the USU Honors Program, and is a URF fellow. She works on the retinal project to determine if spider silk membranes can be fabricated at different thicknesses to promote stress factors in retinal cells related to macular degeneration. This will help establish a model of the retina to eventually study age related macular degeneration. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and stargazing.

Morgan Bishop

Morgan Bishop's

Morgan Bishop
is an undergraduate studying Biological Engineering at Utah State University. She works in the lab with Dr. Cindy Hanson and in collaboration with Dr. Abby Benninghoff extracting fatty acids from mouse fecal samples and analyzing them using spectroscopic techniques. The goal of her work is to develop a method of noninvasive detection of inflammatory bowel disease. In her free time, she enjoys kayaking, watching movies, and petting every dog possible.

Jacob Barney

Jake Barney's

Jacob Barney
is majoring in Biological Engineering and minoring in Computer Science, and he hopes to graduate in Spring 2020. Jacob started working in the Vargis Laboratory in May 2018. He works with Dr. Hanson using Raman Spectroscopy and Dielectrophoresis to find a quicker and more efficient method to identify bacteria and their antibiotic. Outside of the lab you will find Jacob playing tennis, eating out, or trying something new.

Anna Costner

Anna Costner's

Anna Costner
is a Biological Engineering student with a Computer Science minor, scheduled to graduate in Spring 2021. She is involved with Society of Women Engineers and the USU Honors Program. She works with Matt Clegg developing a device that grows muscle fibers in suspension, rather than in a 2D layer. She is also a TA for the BENG 1000 course taught by Dr. Vargis. In her “free time” she enjoys hiking, traveling, reading, and watching Brooklyn 99.

Nate Barney

Nate Barney's

Nate Barney
is an undergraduate studying Biological Engineering and is graduating in Spring 2020.  He is working on the retinal project with Chase Paterson and Tessa Burrows to create a model for retinal diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration, for medical research. He currently holds a leadership position in USU's Society of Women Engineers. To relax, Nate enjoys taking time to read a book, spend time in nature, or grab a coffee with a friend.

Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson's

Andrea Peterson
is an undergraduate studying Biological Engineering. She began working in the Vargis lab in September 2018. She is working with Lori Caldwell to create a dosage curve of reactive oxygen species production in muscle cells. Andrea is involved with Utah State University's Honors Program, the Undergraduate Research Fellows Program, and the Society of Physics Students. She enjoys reading, binge-watching America's Next Top Model, and kickboxing.


Cindy Hanson

Cindy Hanson's

Research Gate

Cindy Hanson, PhD
was a Ph.D. student in Dr. Vargis’ lab and developed methods for label free detection of bacteria using a combination of Raman spectroscopy and dielectrophoresis. The work resulted in six first-author publications in scientific peer-reviewed journals. She now owns her own business (Researcher's Quill) and teaches a 3D modeling course at USU.

Gareema Dhiman

Gareema Dhiman's

Gareema Dhiman
was a student at Logan High School who began volunteering in the Vargis lab in September 2017 with Lori Caldwell. She has competed in the International Science and Engineering Fair on Enhancing Seed Viability for Space Travel with Silk Protein Polymers and is interested in Astrobiology and Bioengineering. She was also involved in debate, orchestra, and the Future Health Professionals of America Club. She enjoys traveling and playing basketball.

Charles Harding

Charles Harding's

Charles Harding, BS
 was a MS student in Dr. Vargis' lab. He began his research on muscle atrophy in simulated microgravity in January 2015. His experience in mammalian cell culture and bioreactor operation comes from two internships at Thermo Fisher Scientific during the summers of 2012 and 2013. The internship in 2013 also focused on protein and glycan analytics. Since February 2014, he has worked part-time at the cell culture R&D lab at GE Healthcare in Logan, UT. Charles’ goal was for his research to improve human fitness during extended spaceflight, as well as alleviate muscular atrophy for patients on Earth. Charles' work was supported by the Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Farhad Farjood

Farhad Farjood's LinkedIn

Farhad Farjood, MS
was a PhD student in Dr. Vargis' lab. He began working in the Vargis lab in February 2015. Farhad earned his master’s in Biochemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham (UK). During his master's, he studied anaerobic production of better-folded recombinant proteins in bacteria. He then stayed at the University of Birmingham as a visiting researcher to study the potential of autofluorescent proteins as direct cellular oxygen sensors. During his first year at Utah State University, he used a systems biology approach to computationally study changes in transcriptional regulation in Down syndrome and also experimentally investigated the role of small molecules in macrophage activation.

Farhad's research in the Vargis lab was focused on retinal disease, in particular, molecular changes during retinal degeneration. His work was supported by ORAU and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation.

Ian Wadsworth

Ian Wadsworth's

Ian Wadsworth, BS
was a Biological Engineering student at USU who graduated in Spring 2018. He was the president of the Biomedical Engineering Society USU student chapter and was also involved in the Biological Engineering Club. He worked on the retinal research project, researching the ability of a free-standing spider silk membrane to accurately mimic native Bruch's membrane found in the eye. He is currently a concurrent BS/MS student in Dr. Britt's lab.

Kara Swenson

Kara Swenson's

Kara Swenson, BS
was a Biochemistry student at USU with a Pre-Med emphasis. She graduated in the spring of 2018. She was a member of the Honors Society Student Council, and was also the peer advisor for the Chemistry/Biochemistry Department. In the lab, she worked with Farhad on his research on the neovasculatization of retinal epithelial cells to understand the mechanisms that cause age-related macular degeneration.

Nate Israelsen

Nate Israelsen's


Nate Israelsen, MS
was a master's student in the Vargis lab. While completing his undergraduate work at Utah State, he also worked at Quansys Biosciences to produce and test a multiplex ELISA assays for biomarker quantification. As a graduate student in the Vargis lab, he worked to develop antibody-based assays using Raman spectroscopy. He graduated with his MS in December 2015 and is working at GE Healthcare.

Aaron Fronk

Aaron Fronk's

Aaron Fronk, MS
Biology was a MS student in Dr. Vargis' lab. He started in August 2013. He worked to develop a protocol for growing retinal pigment epithelial cells in vitro for drug testing, in the hopes of helping to test treatments for age-related macular degeneration. He graduated with his MS in November 2015.

Michael Sieverts

Michael Sievert'sLinkedIn

Michael Sieverts
studied Biological Engineering at USU. He was a member of the Utah Gamma Chapter of Tau Beta Pi. He assisted Cindy in the lab with Raman spectroscopy and microfluidics for the detection of bacteria. Outside of school he spent a fair amount of time rock climbing up Logan canyon. He also likes playing the guitar, slacklining, and listening to podcasts. He graduated in 2015 and now works at Polarity TE.

Annelise Dykes

Annelise Dykes' LinkedIn

Annelise Dykes
graduated from Biological Engineering in 2016 with a Pre-Med emphasis. She was involved in the Peru Team for USU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. In the lab, she was working with Cindy to use Raman spectroscopy and dielectrophoresis for the detection and separation of bacteria.

Karen Tew worked with Cindy to grow bacteria and use Raman spectroscopy for detection. She works at Fresenius Medical Care.

Harsh Singh, BS was an undergraduate student majoring in Biological Engineering at USU with a Pre-Med emphasis. He was involved in the Pre-Med and Pre-SOMA clubs, as well as the Biological Engineering Club. He worked under the Retinal Research area, researching the effectiveness of spider silk as a substitute for Bruch's Membrane.

Peter Haight was majoring in Biology at USU. He received an URCO in the Spring of 2015 for his project titled "Cellular Uptake & Distribution of Gold Nanoparticles."

Donald Wooley majored in Biological Engineering at USU. He received a SURCO grant in the Summer of 2014 for his proposal "Development of a SERS Library for Detection of Unknown Food Contaminants."

Luke Jarvis, Dallon Durfey, Elsa Greenwalt and Rob Smiley worked together in the Mammalian Cell Culture Lab on Innovation Campus with Thermo Fisher, looking at the effect of leachables and extractables from single use bioreactor containment systems. They received an URCO in April 2015 to support this project.