Alumni Profiles

John Slater, PhD 2008

Assistant Professor
University of Delaware

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While waiting tables as a mechanical engineering undergrad at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, John Slater was frustrated that he wasn't able to apply what he was learning in class to real world problems.

At the advice of a professor, he began undergraduate research in bioheat and mass transfer, specifically, investigating how to keep livers alive longer outside of the body for transplantation purposes. With the help from his professor, they created a microfluidic shear chamber that allowed people to test the influences of temperature and flow properties on endothelial cells in order to help keep a liver viable for transplantation.

The work he did as an undergrad steered him toward biomedical engineering, and The University of Texas at Austin had many research opportunities that attracted Slater.

"Nanobiotechnology was a hot topic at that time, and there were professors at UT Austin working in that field," Slater said. "All the professors seemed genuinely interested in their students and their subjects, and Austin seemed like a pretty good place to live."

Once accepted into the program, he worked with Dr. Wolfgang Frey to develop nanopatterned surfaces to induce cancer-like behavior, increased proliferation and migration, in non-cancer cells.

While at UT, he took a biotransport course with Professor Peppas. This was the first time he was able to apply his mechanical engineering knowledge to BME problems.

"Being taught by someone who has a number of equations named after him was a big deal," said Slater. "And, as a professor who also teaches a biotransport course, I used Peppas' notes to outline my course."

Other notable faculty who made an impact on Slater included Professors Krishnendu Roy, Stanislav Emelianov, and Rebecca Richards-Kortum.

"I enjoyed Dr. Roy's biomaterials courses, Dr. Emelianov gave me guidance on how to select a postdoc position, and Dr. Richards-Kortum was inspiring through her amazing work ethic."

After presenting his graduate student research at a national BMES meeting, Slater realized that academia was the only environment where he could work on a specific problem and show others the value of it. He decided a university setting was where he wanted to continue working and doing research.

"In academia there is freedom and tons of creativity to come up with solutions that no one has thought of," he said. "I remember it was at that conference that another professor who is now at UT Austin, Dr. Michael Sacks, asked me a question about my research, and I was invigorated by seeing other people excited about my work."

He completed his postdoctoral research at Rice University in 2013, with another UT Austin alum and current External Advisory Committee member for the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Dr. Jennifer West. That work entailed a new biomaterials fabrication technique: developing a way to make complex patterns of multiple proteins on a surface through laser scanning lithography.

Slater became an assistant professor at University of Delaware in 2013. His lab currently works on the fabrication of biomimetic microfluidic systems for the creation of synthetic microtissues. Many researchers are working on creating human body on-a-chip devices, and although there's a lot of work being done on vasculature and blood vessels, our body has other microfluidic systems, such as lymphatic and biliary systems that play large roles in biomolecular transport but are often overlooked when making synthetic tissues. Dr. Slater's lab is developing an image-guided, laser-based fabrication process that utilizes images of in vivo fluidic systems as templates for polymer embedded, 3D microfluidic systems to recapitulate in vivo transport in synthetic tissues.

Slater credits UT Austin for much of his current success.

"The coursework and the people I chose to work with have prepared me for my position as a young professor at University of Delaware," Slater said.