Pratt Profile: Korine Ohiri

PhD Candidate, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
Advisors: Gabriel Lopez and Benjamin Yellen

What sort of research are you working on?

My PhD topic is about developing next-generation bioanalytical assays. I take a blood sample and try to isolate molecules or cells of interest in bulk, like circulating tumor cells, stem cells, or indicators of some sort of disease like HIV or tuberculosis. And we’re developing a magnetic template that can take the cells and store them one-by-one on specific spots so that we can do long-term drug studies.

What’s been the most challenging part of your studies?

I would say the most challenging part of my studies is probably common to most PhDs, where it’s just troubleshooting through unexpected hurdles or taking longer to troubleshoot than initially expected. It’s just adjusting and adapting to obstacles that may come along the way, and trying to find the gaps in my knowledge and fill them so I can answer these questions. It’s finding the right people to talk to and collaborate with so that I can answer the right questions.

What is it like working with your advisor?

I now officially have two advisors. I came into Duke initially working with Gabriel Lopez, and I’m also working with Benjamin Yellen. They both have dual appointments in the MEMS and BME departments, so it’s very relative to my project. And I like them both a lot. They bring very different skills to the table, which has helped me learn a larger variety of skills than I expected to learn. I did mechanical engineering in undergrad, but now I’m working with cells, developing things in the clean room, and working with magnetics. So it’s ended up being a very interesting combination.

Tell me about the rest of the people you’re working with.

My colleagues are great. Our lab is very interdisciplinary. We have a lot of people from various backgrounds. We have chemists, chemical engineers, biomedical engineers, mechanical engineers, and materials engineers. It’s been interesting learning from them, but more than that it’s been interesting just getting to know them and hanging out with them. We’ve had lab potlucks, we’ve gone out to celebrate people defending their theses, and a lot of people got married last year so we went to each other’s weddings.