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Claire Zhang 

Claire is a third-year student in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, studying Engineering Science and specializing in Robotics. She participated in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering’s Undergraduate Summer Research Program.

Through her research experience, Claire had the opportunity to bring her engineering background to work on a project looking at improving invitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. More specifically, her project focused on the process of oocyte vitrification—a crucial technology in fertility care. The research addressed limitations of current manual and automated IVF procedures. Current manual techniques require time-sensitive loading and unloading of cryoprotectants (CPAs) using micropipettes, a labor-intensive technique that lacks consistency. On the other hand, current automated IVF machines have limited CPA fluid exchange and can deviate from the clinical protocol.

To address these limitations, the research team designed and built an automated, robotic vitrification system which featured “Cryo-Mesh,” a 3D printed micron-sized structure suspended as the bowl of a vitrification spoon. Cryo-Mesh is used to improve the efficiency and reproducibility of manual vitrification; it is controlled by six stepper motors attached to linear actuators, allowing for precise submersion, draining and transportation of a batch of oocytes in various CPAs. The goal of the research was to compare the robotic system’s performance with manual pipette work done by embryologists at the CReATe Fertility Clinic by measuring total operation time, oocyte survival rate and morphological changes following vitrification and thawing. 

Following her research experience, Claire had the opportunity to present at the Undergraduate Engineering Research Day (UnERD). As she shared, “During my presentation, I had to convey complex IVF and engineering concepts to a diverse audience of judges and non-academic peers who came to watch. This experience underscored the importance of clear and engaging communication. It taught me that the ability to explain technical details in a way that resonates with both experts and non-experts is a valuable skill.” Claire won Best Overall Podium Presentation at UnERD and looks forward to attending and participating in more research conferences! 

Reflecting on the experience, Clare shared, “This experience was not only professionally enriching but also personally fulfilling, as it highlighted the potential for technological advancements to have a profound impact on families seeking fertility solutions.” Going forward, Claire is hoping to participate in more research conferences and learn more about robotic applications for different industries.

Research Type(s): Research Skills Training, Summer Research Programs