REU Student Spotlight: Michael Ferris

By Christelle Paul, SEAS Correspondent

NAME: Michael Ferris

HOMETOWN: Alexandria, Va.

COLLEGE: James Madison University


MAJOR: Physics

RESEARCH LAB: Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics


What have you been working on in the lab?

This summer, my team and I are making artificial heart valves, using a synthetic biomaterial called Poly4 Hydroxybutyrate (P4HB). The lab’s machine creates fibers needed to make the valve, which requires a two-step process. I am testing the orientation of the fibers to see which have a mechanical advantage. Our hope is that valves with fibers wrapping around circumferentially will be the strongest.

Did you have to experiment with different directions to determine the strongest valve?

The main thing I’m doing is testing the tensile strength of the different angles. We take a valve, which is like a cylinder, and cut a piece out of it. Then, we cut different angles out of the sheet and stretch them. Ideally, the horizontal sheet will prove to be the strongest.

Is your goal to implant these valves into patients?

Yes, that’s the long range goal. It’s meant to be an artificial heart valve that can be implanted into a human. The cool thing about it is that, when it is implanted the artificial heart will encourage the valvular interstitial cells, which are the cells native to the valve, to repopulate where the valve is located. Over time, the P4HB or the other chemicals we have been testing will degrade, leaving the stent sutured in by doctors. The interstitial cells will completely repopulate where the valve was. It works as  a scaffold because, after a doctor implants the material, over time the interstitial cells replace it and then it degrades.

What do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the summer?

A lesson I continue learning is to not give up. If an experiment isn’t going well, I can’t just say “oh well, nothing’s going to happen.” I may get results that I wasn’t expecting, but I have to find a way to keep going when things get tough.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy water-related sports. I row and swim. When I lived on the West Coast, I used to try surfing. I like staying active. I went kayaking down the Charles River not too long ago, which was pretty cool.