UC Students Win Sigma Xi Awards for Outstanding Science and Engineering Research

By: Ashley Duvelius
April 24, 2012

UC graduate students Andrew Breidenbach, Amie Norton and Abdul Sheikh earn Sigma Xi awards. The UC Chapter of Sigma Xi awards the Student Grants-in-aid of Research Award to students for Outstanding Science and Engineering Research.

The UC Chapter of Sigma Xi awarded Student Grants-in-aid of Research (GIAR) Award to three excellent students. Graduate students Andrew Breidenbach, Amie Norton and Abdul Sheikh were each presented with $3,000 awards. These grant awards are made possible by the Violet M. Diller Endowment to the UC Chapter of Sigma Xi and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Andrew Breidenbach, a Biomedical Engineering graduate student and GIAR recipient, has always been intrigued by the “vast complexity of biological systems” and he has a strong desire to improve patient care. The field of biomedical tissue engineering combines his two passions and allows him to work across the spectrum of scientific discovery from basic science to clinical research. Breidenbach works on advancing scientific discoveries towards practical use in surgical treatments.

Abdul Sheikh

Breidenbach’s research focuses on using adult stem cell-based therapies to improve tendon and ligament healing. In the human body, the tendons and ligaments are responsible for transmitting muscle forces and stabilizing joints for efficient movement. Unfortunately, when an individual injures such body tissues, they are often left disabled with reduced activity levels. By implanting his tissue-engineered constructs, a person’s normal healing response immensely improves. The goal is to restore the tissue’s normal function more quickly, which yields the patient a quicker recovery time.

These tissue-engineered constructs are created by seeding cells harvested from bone marrow into biocompatible materials. With the help of developmental biologists, Breidenbach aims to understand how these tissues normally develop and then use mechanical and chemical stimuli to precondition and improve the formation of tissue-engineered constructs. Breidenbach intends to collaborate with clinicians to evaluate how these constructs can be used to improve healing and restore normal, functional tissues.

Breidenbach explains, “The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that tendons and ligaments make up more than one-third of all musculoskeletal treatments.” His research focuses on restoring normal mechanical and biological function to injured tissues which is not achieved by current standards of medical care. By using adult stem cells in tissue-engineered constructs, patients could be provided an effective means to treat their acute injuries, as well as chronic disease.

UC’s impeccable reputation for engineering and medicine is what attracted Breidenbach to CEAS. He says, “As a tissue engineer, it is critical to establish collaborations across these disciplines to improve patient care.”

The Sigma Xi GIAR allows Breidenbach the means to purchase supplies to continue investigating how mechanical and chemical stimulation can be combined to efficiently precondition tissue-engineered constructs for musculoskeletal soft tissue repair.

Breidenbach eagerly awaits the opportunity to work more closely in device design for medical applications. He also has a strong desire to mentor younger scientists.


Amie Norton, a Chemistry graduate student, loves a challenge. In her field of inorganic chemistry, she finds problem solving to be quite enjoyable. The GIAR recipient was originally attracted to this field because it takes into consideration concepts from inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry and polymer and material science. She states, “It is really electrifying to have a project that combines so many different disciplines.”

Currently, Norton is making inorganic sensors for contaminates, called anions, in drinking water. Simply, it is a sensor that has a turn off/turn on response to contaminates in drinking water, at levels above 0.1 part per billion (ppb). The user of this sensor system will either see the response through a strong red-emission signal, which means there is contaminates, or they won’t. One possible contaminate that can be detected is perchlorate and it interferes with a person’s healthy thyroid function. Norton’s sensors are ideal because they can be used by anyone to know if they have contaminants in their drinking water.

Thanks to Norton’s research, the average person will be able to detect a health hazard in their drinking water. In her research, she is trying to push this technology to detect at what concentration that perchlorate is in your drinking water. In addition, they are attempting to change the technology in order to get it to selectively detect other anions.

Norton chose UC for her studies because she was “very captivated by the research going on here.” She explains, “In my career, I plan on continuing research and work on projects that have applicable uses in society.”

Norton adds, “I am very honored to have gotten this award.  It is often very pleasant when others see the value in your research that you see, and understand what you are trying to accomplish.”

The final GIAR recipient is Biomedical Engineering graduate student, Abdul Sheikh, who began his career in Electrical Electronics at the University of Manchester, England.  However, his path quickly changed once he worked alongside pioneers in Neural Network Computation for the Field of Diagnostic Field of Medicine. “Working on that project, I developed a significant interest in the field of medicine and motivated me to pursue a research based career in the field of medicine,” says Sheikh.  He discovered a passion for the medicine field after achieving his bachelor’s degree in Electrical engineering. He went on to pursue a research based career in Biomedical Engineering. Sheikh joined the Biomedical Engineering program at UC in 2007 and is now a graduate student in biomedical engineering specializing in tissue engineering.

Abdul Sheikh

Sheikh credits his advisor, Daria A. Narmoneva PhD, for sparking his interest in the medical field and for bringing to his attention the importance of therapeutic tissue engineering. He states, “On a personal note, in recent years I have become very close to my research because of my mother, who passed away few months ago due to heart failure and several episodes of strokes - all mainly caused by chronic small vessel disease and diabetes. So working in the field of biomedicine has become really close to my heart.”

Sheikh’s working on the formation of new blood vessels to promote blood supply and enhance tissue function. The clinical implication of his work lies within the treatment of heart failure, where the heart muscle dies due to a lack of blood supply. Another clinical implication of promoting blood vessel formation is in the treatment of chronic diabetic foot ulcers, which leads to amputations because of a lack of blood supply and abnormal wound healing.

There is no doubt that any treatment for diabetes and its associated complications will have a great impact on the lives of every person, both directly and indirectly. Sheikh remarks that, “the Sigma Xi award is probably one of the most exciting, important and relevant achievements for me.” With the help of this award, Sheikh hopes to continue researching, not just “for his own sake, but for the well-being of people suffering from diabetes.”

With the Sigma Xi funds, Sheikh will now be able to learn techniques to and assess the function, structure, blood supply, etc. of diabetic hearts. He looks forward to working with the world class faculty and labs at the UC Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“UC has an excellent biomedical engineering program, with one of the most accomplished and talented faculty in the nation,” says Sheikh, “I am glad and lucky to be a part of such a great institution through the collaboration of UC Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and other UC programs.”

The UC chapter of Sigma Xi is an international research society dedicated to promoting scientific enterprise and honoring scientific achievement. David Butler PhD, Program Chair of Biomedical Engineering, is this year’s President of the University of Cincinnati’s Sigma Xi Chapter. He is immensely proud of this year’s GIAR winners, and adds:

“Our University of Cincinnati chapter of Sigma Xi is devoted to the promotion of science and engineering among all of its members. There is no greater purpose for Sigma Xi than to promote its future educators and researchers. As such, we are privileged to be able to support three of our young investigators with our Graduate-in-Aid-of-Research awards. We are confident that Andrew Breidenbach, Amie Norton and Abdul Sheikh will benefit from our investments and we look forward to their research presentations at our 2012 Autumn banquet.”

Select for print copy of Sigma Xi Awards