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Morgan Gautho: Breaking Kidney Stones With Ultrasound

Pratt Undergraduate Research Fellow Profile

  • Major: Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
  • Advisor: Pei Zhong
  • Pratt Fellows Project: Innovations in Shock Wave Lithotripsy

How did you get interested in engineering to begin with?

I’m from the Silicon Valley and both of my parents work in tech and biotech, so I was raised around the tech industry. I applied for engineering thinking it would give me an edge in the application process, but then when I came into it, I really liked it. The introductory classes aren’t super engineering-intensive. They do a really good job of having a well-rounded first year here at Duke. It helps you adjust and not be overwhelmed with engineering, so I’ve really enjoyed the program so far.

How did you get involved with the Pratt Fellows program?

When I was an underclassman, I knew a few seniors who were doing the program and they recommended that I apply for it. They release a list of available projects for each year, and you can pick the descriptions that sound interesting to you. Then they match people up with a project, and for me, I really want to do medical devices, so my project works really well.

What kind of research project are you doing through the Pratt Fellows program?

I’m researching shock wave lithotripsy, which is basically a way of breaking up kidney stones with ultrasound. We’re hoping to eventually build a device that can break up kidney stones from outside of the body without harming tissue. Right now, we just have it so when we’re close to the kidney stone we can break it up, which obviously helps a lot so people aren’t in as much pain when they have to pass their kidney stones.

Have you enjoyed your time in the Pratt Fellows program thus far?

I’ve really enjoyed it. During the school year it’s a lot on your own schedule. You can fix it with your class schedules and if you have any extracurricular activities. I’ve had a really great experience with my PI, and everyone that is working in the lab has been very accommodating and very nice, and they have let me adjust to learning the ropes. They’ve given me my own experiment to run for the summer, which has been very cool. It’s given me some hands-on learning that I wouldn’t have necessarily got in the classroom.

What has it been like working with the faculty?

It’s been really nice to get to know my faculty advisors, who both work in the mechanical engineering department. They’ve been able to have meetings with me one-on-one where they talk to me about the research they’re doing, which is at a higher level than mine, the papers they’re working on, and the other kinds of research they’re doing. So that’s been a really cool relationship that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise besides through the Pratt Fellows program.