Bubble Breakthroughs

Ninety feet below the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of the Galápagos Islands, Virginie Papadopoulou floats peacefully among hundreds of hammerhead sharks. She watches in wonder, taking easy, steadied breaths from her oxygen tank.

“It’s almost like you’re meditating and you can’t think of anything else apart from what you’re actually seeing at that moment,” she says. “You’re very present.”

Virginie Papadopoulou first learned to scuba dive during a family vacation in Jordan when she was 13 years old. After seeing advertisements across town for lessons and tours, she convinced her dad to take her and her brother on a dive. They were hooked, and have made countless dives since.

That passion has led Papadopoulou to the Dayton Lab in the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. She studies decompression sickness (DCS), which affects about 1,000 scuba divers per year.

The study of microbubbles spans out far beyond examining decompression sickness though. For decades, researchers have been analyzing the use of microbubbles for a variety of purposes like emergency lung function, cleaning dental plaque, and even restoring memory in Alzheimer’s patients. At UNC, Papadopoulou and her colleagues are exploring the use of ultrasound and microbubbles in detecting and treating cancer.

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Undergraduate Research – From the Lab to the Backyard

To celebrate UNC’s University Research Week and promote awareness of research opportunities at Carolina, we featured a variety of undergraduates doing great work. I spent the summer following students as they worked in the woods, labs, streams, and even the Smithsonian.

Climate change affects the timing of spring leaf growth, insect activity, bird migration, and breeding. Allen Hurlbert, associate professor in the Department of Biology, leads undergraduate students in surveying arthropods – like caterpillars, beetles and spiders – to see if plants, insects, and birds all respond to climate change to the same degree.

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Jared Richards recalls childhood memories walking through the halls of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and the awe of all that surrounded him. Now a research internship is making it possible for Richards to return to museum and contribute to the world-renowned institution.

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For the past year and a half, Jackson Richards has been working with Jason Franz, assistant professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, to investigate balance impairment and fall risks in adults due to aging and neurological disease or injury. Their goal is to introduce new rehabilitative approaches for preserving mobility and preventing falls.

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Gili Meno

Mark and I took a ferry from Bali to Gili Meno, one of three small islands off the coast of Lombok. While watching passengers board, I was noticing the sticker on their chests indicating their drop off point. Gili T and Gili Air kept popping up over and over, and I didn’t notice any Gili Meno stickers. “Sweet,” I thought, “We’ll get the whole place to ourselves.” At Gili Meno, we boarded the transfer boat and were the only tourists in a group of locals. When we checked into our room the woman behind the desk took a photo of us on her phone and excitedly said, “You’re our first customers back!” (Lombok had a big earthquake almost two months prior). As Mark and I gave each other glances out of the corner of our eyes, I started to doubt our decision. Maybe there was a reason no one else got off the boat here. It turns out our concerns weren’t necessary, and we had the time of our lives. We really were two of just a handful of tourists on the island and it was amazing.

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South Korea

After seven months apart, it was finally time to visit Mark in South Korea. We only spent a little bit of time there before heading to Indonesia but it was still great, with a couple days in Seoul, a tour to the DMZ, saw (from afar) North Korea, and visited Busan before heading off. I’m proud to say that I was way more adventurous with the food than the last time I visited Asia in fifth grade, but I have to admit that was limited to mostly chicken and vegetarian dishes. No octopus here.

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