New USCF-baseed bioengineering center opens its doors to SF State

SF State is partnering with Blue Sky, a bioengineering center based at University of California San Francisco, and has selected seven graduate students and seven faculty members to participate in the center’s research projects.

The National Science Foundation has recently released funding for both the bioengineering center and its researchers, which will include seven SF State faculty members and seven master’s degree graduate students. This will grant the University’s biology department access to extremely high-end equipment and resources that will allow for visualization and construction of cells.

Wallace Marshall, a biochemistry and biophysics professor at UCSF, believed SF State would be a great candidate because of its diverse student population who aren’t typically represented in the sciences.

“The idea behind it is that they would get a significant number of resources from UCSF to build several areas in biology and engineering,” said Dr. Carmen Domingo, a biology professor and one of the faculty members who will be conducting research for the center.

Biology professors Laura Burrus, Diana Chu, Wilfred Denetclaw, Blake Riggs, Mark Chan and chemistry and biochemistry professor Ray Esquerra will also be receiving funding and participating in the center’s projects.

Dr. Marshall, Dr. Wendell Lim and Dr. Zev Gartner started the conversation about putting the center together in 2014. Dr. Mark Chan, who is currently a cell and molecular biology assistant professor at SF State, spent six years in Marshall’s lab at UCSF before leaving two years ago. He worked with Marshall to establish this partnership.

“They were excited that I was potentially joining SF State because that would be a really natural way to build up a partnership between UCSF and SF State,” Chan said.

The faculty members will have the opportunity to work at a higher level of training in cell biology than they normally would due to the lack of resources. Domingo believes that the new experiences she and her colleagues will gain from working with the center will impact their lab activities at SF State. It will give undergraduate biology students the chance to work with a more innovative faculty.

“UCSF has amazing grad programs,” Domingo said. “So if undergrads work on their projects, they could get to meet faculty at UCSF. The doors open for networking. They could get letters of recommendation and access to their grad programs. So it will certainly have a broad impact.”

Domingo also believes the program would draw more graduate students to apply to SF State.

In addition to funding seven faculty members, NSF is also funding seven graduate students to conduct research projects for the center.

“The students were selected ahead of time but we couldn’t make a commitment to them until the budget was released, so the applicants were on standby until we got the grant,” said Dr. Frank Bayliss, student enrichment opportunities program director.

The fellowship was available for graduate students to sign up for when they applied for admission at SF State. However, the students chosen for the program didn’t get an official award notification until last week on Sept. 26. The selection criteria for the grant included strong letters of recommendation and exceptional experience.

“We look at it holistically. We don’t just look at GPA,” Bayliss said. “We’re committed to getting really strong students who love to do research. Passion is more important than anything.”

Edward Elizarraras, a first-year cell and molecular biology masters student, is one of the seven graduate students who will be receiving the grant and participating in the center’s research projects. He believes he was selected due to his interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and his being part of an underrepresented group.

“I’m excited about being able to work with UCSF. It would allow me to meet great scientists with similar research interests,” Elizarraras said. “This opportunity would also help me build my professional network and develop my leadership skills. I believe doors may open for me and the possibilities are endless.”

Maria Del Pilar Lopez, who will also be participating in the center’s projects, is excited about working with UCSF. She believes her research experience is the reason she was chosen.

“I am hoping to learn new things and bring that knowledge back to our lab at SFSU,” Pilar said.

UCSF is still currently organizing meetings with all the researchers in order to discuss projects and understand how each participant can best contribute. Domingo expects it will take a few months before they could start working on their projects.

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