Student Profile - Nic Nikoloutsos

Exploring nanomedicine and beyond in Taiwan

Senior electrical engineering and physics dual degree student with a double major in mathematics, Nic Nikoloutsos, originally traveled to Taipei, Taiwan this summer to work under Che-Ming Jack Hu on experimental procedures in nanomedicine at Academia Sinica as one of two 2016 David J. Beck Fellows.

Nic NikoloutsosHowever, while in Taiwan, Nikoloutsos’ research unexpectedly veered from the nanoparticle projects he and Hu had originally planned, forming a whole new summer experience for the Vidor native.

“I was slated to work all summer on projects related to encapsulating short interfering RNA using test particles as part of the lab’s research on hollow nanoparticles, which are being studied as a preferred vehicle for medicines because they offer targeted relief to ailments while mimicking the body’s own functions. Well, I ended up only working on that for 3 weeks out of eleven,” he laughed. “The rest of my time in Taiwan I was lucky to work on something special unrelated to nanoparticles. This resultant project was successful, and will likely result in a publication later this fall. I can’t talk about it yet, but it’s definitely exciting.”

Joined in the lab by a post-doctoral researcher and institute employees, Nikoloutsos worked on this project every weekday for seven weeks. From collaborating on research to learning basic Mandarin, he said his experiences in the lab far exceeded his expectations.

 “Every weeknight, I would go to bed knowing I was going to do something I legitimately loved the next day at Academia Sinica,” he said. “My lab experiences were wonderful and definitely one of the best parts of the trip.”

Nikoloutsos helped optimize lab processes and designed experiments. He also benefited from private meetings with his mentor, Hu.

“The post-doc and I regularly went to Dr. Hu to shoot off ideas, and those meetings were really useful to me,” he said. “I would say that out of everything, these intimate meetings with our mentor had the most influence on me during my fellowship—they really helped me grow as a researcher and as a person.”

Apart from work, he explored the city and surrounding area extensively, visiting landmarks and museums including Taipei 101 (a 101 story high rise with a lookout), the National Palace Museum, the Taipei Zoo, Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen memorial Halls and Taipei’s many night markets.

“I traveled a lot in Taiwan and explored Taipei’s night markets regularly, which sell things from snacks to souvenirs to odd curios. I’d definitely say my favorite part of my cultural education in Taiwan was embracing the regional food with my friends from the lab,” he said. “The ‘bravest’ food I tried was stinky tofu…it wasn’t great, but it definitely wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. I’m still glad I tried something new.”

Although this summer marked his first time traveling out of the country, Nikoloutsos’ anxieties were quickly allayed when he reached Taiwan.

 “This was my very first time traveling out of the country, not to mention the trip spanned the whole summer. But I felt incredibly safe,” he said. “Taipei is a great place to be. It was accessible, almost everyone spoke English, and I got to meet some amazing minds. As a researcher I definitely improved in Taiwan; it was maturing to start a new project and see it through to a publication.”

The experience also boosted his confidence in his chosen field and opened his mind to future international collaboration.

“If I could, I would absolutely do my fellowship all over again,” he said. “It further solidified my love for research and the field of bioengineering. I am now sure that I want to do this kind of work for the rest of my life. I would even take a job abroad one day; there are certain projects and labs, certain experts that you can only find in new places. I encourage all students and professionals who can feasibly do so to partake in something abroad. The global exchange of information and the cultural education you receive from it is second to none.”

As for LU students considering applying for the Beck Fellowship in the future, Nikoloutsos says “just try.”

 “Whether you have a solid foundation or are just getting started with research—just try,” he said. “If you can find a project, apply. Do it. Even if you don’t win it, by constructing a proposal you already won by learning something new and making lifelong professional connections.”

Nikoloutsos has presented cancer research at Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C., conducted independent mathematics research, and participated in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program while at Lamar University.

Lamar University has allowed Nikoloutsos to use his summers “productively,” which he said is a priority to him.

“I have been incredibly lucky to have Dr. Ian Lian as my Beck mentor. I have conducted research under Dr. Lian since my freshman year of college, and he connected me with Dr. Hu, who was his former Ph.D. classmate at UCSD,” he said. “I also have further support and a stronger academic foundation to my research thanks to the Reaud Honors College.

“At most medium to large institutions, I would just now, as a senior, be receiving the opportunities and building the relationships I had as a freshman at LU. I feel I have benefited from Lamar so much already, but here, new doors continue to open.”