Biomedical engineering junior Dillon Mir’s DNA research project won a first-place award in the preliminary round of an international competition.
Mir placed first in the engineering, math, computer science, physics and astronomy section of the undergraduate awards in the recent Sigma Xi Showcase.
Sigma Xi is an international multidisciplinary scientific research society with about 60,000 members in more than 100 countries. Sigma Xi has more than 500 chapters throughout colleges, universities, industrial research centers and government laboratories around the world.
The Sigma Xi Showcase competition attracted more than 160 participants that included undergraduate and graduate students from more than 100 schools, among them Harvard University, Yale University, Marquette University and the University of Maryland.
Mir’s project focused on DNA amplification, the process of taking a small sample of DNA and multiplying it to an amount large enough for medical testing.
He was mentored on the project by Antonio Garcia, professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.
The DNA amplification process involves the use of several chemicals and enzymes and the heating of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tube that contains the DNA mixture to a specific temperature.
There are currently devices on the market that achieve DNA amplification in a similar way, but Mir says these devices are expensive and bulky.
“The goal of my research is to create a smaller, cost-effective method of doing DNA amplification that is portable and inexpensive enough to be taken into the field for quick on-site testing and for use in developing countries where they cannot afford expensive machinery,” he says.
DNA amplification technology in developing countries would enable more testing for diseases, better health and improved quality of life, Mir says.
The competition was conducted online, with students required to create a presentation website. As many as 400 judges were able to assess the projects via the websites.
Mir’s research took several months, while he squeezed in time for lab research in addition to a heavy load of classes and homework.
“Although an online presentation is not the traditional or most common form of research presentation,” he says, “it was a great experience to learn about the concepts behind doing research.”
View a presentation about Mir’s research.