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At the 14th annual meeting of the Connecticut Microelectronics and Optoelectronics Consortium, Farah Laiwalla ’03 received first prize for her research paper. It focuses on the design of an integrated circuit that functions as a patch clamp amplifier, measuring the very small currents that flow across cell membranes in living cells.

A postgraduate research associate at Yale University, Laiwalla notes that her research could have significant ramifications for the medical field. She explains that cell membrane ion channels control the flow of substances in and out of cells. Dysfunctional ion channels cause many diseases such as cystic fibrosis and diabetes. The patch clamping technique enables analysis of the performance of the ion channels through study of the ion current that flows through them.

“These measurements are crucial in drug development in pharmaceuticals, but the protocols and equipment being used currently occupy a lot of space and time,” Laiwalla says. “With the new integrated amplifier, we will be able to reduce the space constraint and thus make large throughput systems that will scan drugs much more quickly.”

After spending another year as a research associate, Laiwalla plans to begin graduate school in biomedical engineering. To prepare for this, she has been splitting her time between two labs. Her primary appointment is in the department of physiology at Yale Medical School, but most of the equipment she needs is in the electrical engineering department’s lab.

The many research opportunities she had at Lafayette influenced Laiwalla’s interest in the biomedical engineering field. EXCEL Scholars research and classes with John A. Nestor, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, were directly related to her current research. She also had the opportunity to participate in independent research with Shyamal K. Majumdar, Kreider Professor of Biology, who was very supportive of her efforts to merge her engineering background with her biomedical science interests.

“Although Lafayette did not offer a program in biomedical engineering, I was always given the flexibility and the mentorship to choose a combination of courses that suited my interests,” Laiwalla says, noting that Yih-Choung Yu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, was particularly helpful. “He has served as my mentor through my undergraduate years, and even after graduation, he has always been more than willing to help with career-related advice.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles