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Meet Bailey McCarthy Riley: A Ph.D. Candidate at Wayne State University

1. What is your name, institution, and field of study?

My name is Bailey McCarthy Riley. I graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Chemistry with an environmental focus from Saginaw Valley State University. I’m currently at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. As an analytical chemistry Ph.D. candidate, I develop microfluidic devices and digital bioassays.

2. Why did you choose to join a research lab and what has the research, benchwork, or specific techniques taught you about a career in science?

As an undergraduate, I joined a research lab because I was really excited by the possibility of being able to contribute to the greater scientific picture and to make a positive impact on society. My first research project as an undergraduate focused on a fluorescence indicator paper-based test for a miRNA mimic, and after that my interest in developing microfluidic devices for environmental and health applications grew.

My time as both an undergraduate and graduate researcher has taught me that scientific research opens new ways of thinking and creates developments that can better the health and lives of individuals. This research can be approached through a broad variety of methods, and I have really enjoyed working in my current field of microfluidic device development!

3. What have you learned from working in a lab and how has your role contributed to the field of research?

I have gained a lot of invaluable skills through working in a research lab. Research continuously forces you to adapt to challenges in new and creative ways and gives you the opportunity to deeply learn about a field of work that may have been entirely unknown to you prior to starting research. As the first graduate student in a new laboratory, I have built foundational skills in lab startup and defining research projects. Overall, my work has contributed to the fundamental understandings and characterizations of the digital microfluidics field.

4. What are your career goals and how has your research experience helped with this?

My goal after earning my Ph.D. is to work in a field that utilizes scientific findings in policy decisions. My research has allowed for a lot of opportunities to build skills in this regard - communicating science is a daily aspect of a Ph.D. candidate’s life! As researchers, we are often tasked with the challenge of communicating our work to a variety of audiences. This ranges from within the niches of our sub-disciplines, where the communication must be hyper-focused, to the public, where communication is broad and easily contextualized. Volunteering through different opportunities offered through my university, including communicating science to middle and high school students and co-chairing a symposium that brought together chemists from several disciplines, has greatly allowed me to expand my communication capabilities!

5. What is the most exciting aspect of the lab you are in? What is the future application of this? What is something that a non-scientist would find interesting/should know about?

My research focuses on developing digital bioassays for microfluidic devices. My day-to-day involves fabricating and optimizing microfluidic devices in a cleanroom as well as developing bioassays within the microfluidic devices. Working in a cleanroom – a highly specialized facility fitted with equipment to create micro-technology – is totally different from any sort of research I’d done before and has been really exciting to learn! My devices operate by dividing bioassay reagents into thousands of microwells within an array. This distributes the molecules of interest within the array and isolates single analytes in microwells, allowing for single-analyte detection and analysis of ultra-low concentrations of analyte. This can be applied to biomolecules of interest that are present in early stages of disease. The goal is to develop a microfluidic device that can diagnose disease before an individual is symptomatic, improving their overall prognosis.

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