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U of T undergrad takes Sunnybrook Prize with biomaterials discovery

Ben Ouyang with Professor Paul Santerre (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Fourth-year Engineering Science undergraduate Ben Ouyang has taken first place in the national Sunnybrook Prize competition which recognizes excellence in undergraduate engineering and physical sciences research and promotes careers in biomedical engineering.

“The level of competition was pretty crazy,” Ouyang said of the competition which pits 10 undergraduate finalists from across Canada against one another in a final presentation before a panel of Sunnybrook Research Institute judges for the top $10,000 prize.

“There were a lot of really, really great projects.”

This year, students from across the country tackled topics as varied as new ultrasound transducers and a new coil for an MRI machine—building upon a tradition of outstanding research, Ouyang said.

“Last year’s winning research was in quantum entanglements,” said Ouyang, “it’s really impressive.”

Two other students from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering made it into the 10: Ang Cui and Mark Aquilino.

Ouyang’s winning research focused on the creation of a new, elastic biomaterial substance with “highly tuneable” mechanical properties. Ouyang hopes the unique material will enable better drug delivery systems.

The research began as a project Ouyang worked on at MIT during his Professional Experience Year – a year in which Engineering students are given the opportunity to explore research in a professional environment.

Ouyang spent that year in a biomedical program jointly run by Harvard and MIT, working under PhD student Maria Pereira and U of T alumnus Jeff Karp, associate professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Ouyang was one of the researchers named on the patent application filed on the biomaterial research and was an author on the article recently published in high-impact scientific journal Advanced Materials.

“Ben is an outstanding, fast-paced, yet humble individual who has made a lasting impact on my laboratory,” Karp said in a statement. “I have very high expectations for Ben’s success and I am very proud of him and his accomplishments, including the Sunnybrook Prize.”

Karp, who studied at U of T’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME), graduating in 2004, said he was glad to be in a position to “give a little something back through mentorship of the next cadre of IBBME students.”

Ouyang’s prize comes on the heels of another accolade; he also took top prize at the IBBME Undergraduate Summer Research Program symposium.

“Ben has been a top-performing student of the Engineering Science program, one of the toughest and most demanding engineering programs of its kind,” said Ouyang’s supervisor at IBBME, Director Paul Santerre.

“His maturity, work ethic and problem-solving skills are good indicators that Ben’s accomplishments will continue to guide his success in the future.”

For Ouyang, the unexpected spotlight grants him an opportunity to acknowledge and thank his mentors.

“I really just want to thank Professor Karp for the fantastic opportunity to work in his lab, Maria for teaching me the fundamentals of research and being a fantastic mentor, and the rest of the Karp lab for their support,” said Ouyang.