Student Spotlight

Physical Optics and Electronics Group: Ningren Han (Peter)

Ningren Han (Peter)

Hometown, Country:
Wuhu, China

Academic history prior to coming to MIT:
I received my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from National University of Singapore.

What brought you to MIT?
I liked working with technical problems and respected MIT as a school that emphasizes fundamental scientific and engineering advancements. Before I came here, I was prepared to have a tough life that would eventually lead to the infamous Permanent head Damage (Ph.D.) Syndrome. However, it turns out that my journey here is quite manageable and pleasant, thanks to the tremendous support and care from the MIT family.

What problem are you trying to solve with your current research and what are some possible applications?
I am currently working on bio-instrumentation. My collaborators doing synthetic biology provide me with cells that produce different biopharmaceutical proteins depending on what I feed them. I then use a microbioreactor, a new technology that originated from my lab, to provide the right conditions for the cells to produce whatever protein I want. One challenge right now is to see if the right protein has been produced in the required amounts, and whether the protein has folded correctly. This requires integration of novel bio-sensing techniques with the existing platform in order to provide real-time feedback and control. Once these production and analytical processes are robustly integrated into the same biomanufacturing system, it could potentially reduce the development time of biopharmaceutical drug production and offer additional control flexibility in biomanufacturing.

What interests you most about your research?
The interdisciplinary nature of my research has made it both especially challenging and also appealing. In order to design and build a new instrumentation to solve a particular biology problem, I need to pull pieces from different disciplines together to see if any of them is the key. This always ends up being a highly iterative process that involves numerous experimental trial-and-error, as well as extensive discussions with my collaborators. Even though my efforts sometimes initially fail, the knowledge I obtain and the new ideas that come to mind during the process are always something that I relish.

What are your future plans?
Ideally, I’d like my Ph.D. work to have some practical applications that I can carry on to start a company. Even if I’m not so lucky, hopefully the skillsets and experience I have accumulated along the way could be helpful for startup companies in a related field.