Bringing an idea to life: engineering through co-op

Photo of Sarah standing with her arms crossedSarah Odinotski (she/her), a fourth-year Nanotechnology Engineering student, shares her co-op journey working in research at Waterloo. She discusses the importance of networking and tells us about a biosensor device that she created during her last co-op term. Through her hard work, Sarah is also the recipient of the 2021 Engineering Co-op Student of the Year Award!

In her previous co-ops, Sarah worked as a research assistant at both Ryerson University and the University Health Network (UHN). For her most recent work term, she worked as an integrated devices design engineer at the University of Waterloo, alongside Dr. Mahla Poudineh. During this time, she completed her work in the Integrated Devices for Early disease Awareness and Translational applicatIONs Lab (IDEATION LAB).

Q: What were your main tasks/projects from your co-op term with Dr. Poudineh?

A: “I was working on developing a microneedle-based pH biosensor at the IDEATION Lab. Our device design has three electrodes: a reference electrode, a counter electrode, and a conductive hydrogel working electrode. We incorporated this conductive polymer inside our microneedle design, because it would allow us to sense something going on inside the body in a minimally invasive manner, without any sample pre or post processing, expensive lab equipment, or any long wait times.”

“I jumped into this project right after idea conceptualization, meaning we had the idea for the device and were just starting to create potential fabrication methods. I was the first student on the project, so I was lucky enough to see it through from start to finish. I started working on the electrode fabrication and characterization so that we could understand the properties of our polymer and how it interacts with our electrode system. To do so, I did a series of electrical, chemical, mechanical and optical tests to quantify different material properties and relate it back to the pH range we were able to sense.”

“Finally, the most important task I had was to test and validate our device. This is important because we need to make sure the device is reliable and performs similarly to existing measurement methods. So, I created a series of ex vivo tests and in vivo rat models to make sure that our biosensor works reliably in a living system and then validated it against commercial pH meters.”

A photo of a prototype that Sarah created of the device.A prototype of the conductive hydrogel microneedle biosensor device that Odinotski worked on.

A photo of the biosensor device prototype being held in two hands.Seen on the left side is the counter electrode, on the right side the reference electrode, and in the middle is the conductive hydrogel microneedle working electrode.

 

Q: What were some of the most important skills you developed during this co-op term?

A: “Since this was the first research project where I was able to fully take the reins and lead the way, it really helped me build my critical thinking as well as my independence as a researcher. Being able to design experiments, find and generate data, as well as analyze and evaluate this data, gave me the opportunity to ask more questions and see if anything needed to be optimized. This co-op term had many great opportunities for me to develop and expand this skill further - and I know it'll be a handy skill in the future!”

“Also, I was lucky enough to actually communicate my findings and their meaning through paper publications, patent applications, and presentations. Learning how to translate and communicate this technical research into something that everyone can understand has been the most significant takeaway for me.”

Q: How important do you think it is for students to be able to network for co-op roles or for roles after their undergraduate?

A: “I think that networking is one of the hardest but best things that students can do for themselves. I remember looking for my first co-op position in my first year, having just come out of high school with minimal work experience. Being able to get a job on WaterlooWorks is great, but students who want to dive into something that they're really passionate about from the get-go need to be able to network and find those people who are willing to take a chance on them.”

“I'm very thankful that I've been able to see the benefits of networking throughout my time in the co-op program. It's helped me gain mentors and provided me with great opportunities. As much as I can, I try to encourage students to start networking early; for example, by attending the Waterloo Nanotechnology Conference (WNC). Waterloo has so many other different conferences and networking events that students can attend, and so, I think it's really important to just put your foot through the door, get yourself out there and try to make connections!”

Photo of Sarah sitting down and smiling during an interview.

 

Q: How does it feel to be awarded the 2021 Engineering Co-op Student of the Year Award?  

A: “Oh my goodness, it's really humbling - and I honestly didn't expect to win. But to be awarded the Co-op Student of the Year Award is a great honor and encouragement. It means I’m doing something right. It shows that even in your undergrad you can make differences that can help other people and just to be awarded for that is really encouraging and it's a big blessing. So, thank you.”


Here are some words Sarah would like to share about her co-op experience at the University of Waterloo:


Work-integrated learning (WIL) is a great way to explore different career paths and gain valuable work experience for yourself. Just like Sarah, you too can make a difference with your work outside of the classroom! Happy National Day of WIL!

Are you interested in applying for the Co-op Student of the Year Award in your faculty? Submit a nomination form to be considered for the award. You never know what can happen!