Harika Dechiraju’s interest in using electronic devices for biomedical applications led her to pursue a doctoral program in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at the Baskin School of Engineering. Since 2017, Dechiraju has been a part of Professor Marco Rolandi’s research group. Her current research centers around developing a bioelectronic bandage capable of cutting healing times in half for hard-to-heal wounds.
What factors led to your decision in choosing Baskin Engineering as your graduate institution?
I completed my undergraduate degree in India. During my junior year, I wanted to find a way I could land a research internship abroad to discover whether or not I wanted to attend graduate school outside of India. When I was looking at professors in my field of interest, I came across Professor Marco Rolandi’s research and was really intrigued with the work he was doing. I reached out to him, which then led to a three-month research internship with his research group the summer after my junior year. I enjoyed the research group’s culture, the campus, and the city of Santa Cruz, so when it was time to choose a graduate school to attend, Baskin Engineering was an obvious choice.
Why electrical and computer engineering?
When I chose my undergraduate major, it was based on interest, and I felt like this program in particular would give me a wide range of options after graduation. A lot of the undergraduate courses I took led me toward an interest in the biomedical aspect of engineering and how we could use electronics for biomedical applications. And, after looking into research in this area, I found Marco’s work and felt the ECE program was a good fit for me and would allow me to build on my background in instrumentation and control engineering.
Tell me about the research you’ve been involved in the past four years.
So far, I’ve been a part of two major projects, both funded by DARPA. The first project’s aim was to develop bioelectronic devices that can influence stem cell differentiation by controlling membrane voltage. My role was to build the devices that delivered ions in order to control the membrane voltage of the cells.
The project that I am currently working on is in a sense an extension of the first project. It’s a collaboration between Baskin Engineering Professors Marco Rolandi, Marcella Gomez, and Mircea Teodorescu and researchers from Tufts University and UC Davis. We’re developing an intelligent bandage to control the electrochemical environment of hard-to-heal wounds in an effort to cut wound healing times in half. My research is specifically focused on developing systems to deliver ions that aid in controlling the electrochemical environment and promoting healing of the wound.
Could you talk a little bit about your dissertation?
I’ve been working on developing bioelectronic devices for wound healing applications and tissue regeneration. My work primarily focuses on delivering ions, like potassium and sodium, and creating closed-loop feedback systems.
What’s next for you?
I hope to be finished with my doctoral research by spring 2023. After graduation, I would like to find a research role in industry, preferably with a company who develops biomedical devices or implants.
What’s something you enjoy doing in your free time?
One of my favorite things to do is take a daily walk on West Cliff Drive. It’s my “me time,” where I can fully disconnect from work and enjoy the ocean views. And, I love watching the sunsets from West Cliff. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Interview Date: 12/6/2021