Goldwater scholar builds on experience



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JONATHAN COHEN
David Bassen works with Gretchen Mahler, assistant professor of bioengineering.

David Bassen took an unconventional road to Binghamton University: The Hopewell Junction native spent his senior year of high school at Dutchess Community College.

“It gave me the actual experience of taking college courses and dealing with professors and the workload,” he said.

Bassen decided to hone his engineering and science skills at Dutchess Community College for another year before entering Binghamton University as a junior in the fall of 2011.

“The first time I set foot on this campus, it felt like home,” he said.

That road to Binghamton has proven successful for Bassen, who recently received a 2012-13 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which honors exceptional undergraduate researchers who intend to enter math, science or engineering fields. Bassen is one of 282 students to win the $7,500 annual award.

But the financial element is only one part of the award for Bassen.

“For me, it’s about the prestige,” the 20-year-old bioengineering major said. “My goal is to get a doctorate and I appreciate anything that helps me toward that. Money is helpful, but if you want to be able to take (research) risks, you need to be credible. The value of getting the award is that it will give me a bit more leeway in what I try to do with my research.”

Bassen’s research interest is developing multi-scale computational tools that integrate seamlessly to facilitate predictable tissue engineering and design. Tissue engineering is something Bassen has always been interested in, he said.

“It seemed like a common-sense solution to a lot of biomedical problems,” he said. “If your car engine seizes up, you drop in a new engine. If your liver becomes scarred, why can’t you just drop in a new liver? It’s obviously not that easy, but that would be optimal to trying to find a transplant and dealing with those issues.”

Bassen began his research in the summer of 2011, taking part in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Wadsworth Center Laboratories at the New York State Department of Health in Albany.  At Wadsworth, Bassen examined molecular mechanics models, constructed a sequence alignment of intein structures and developed three-dimensional visualizations of the intein splicing mechanisms.

Bassen learned about the Goldwater application after he began studying at Binghamton University.

“At first I was skeptical: I thought, ‘I could never get this award,’” he said. “But a couple of days later, I re-read the criteria and it included GPA and research experience. So I filled out an application.”

Bassen was preparing for an exam when he learned that he was named a Goldwater scholar.

“I’m not sure it hit me because I had an exam at the time and I didn’t want it to pull me out into a different mindset!” he said.

Bassen, who enjoys linguistics and music, began working last spring with assistant professor of bioengineering Gretchen Mahler on experimental tissue engineering.

“He has been very motivated, enthusiastic and a pleasure to work with,” Mahler said.

Bassen also has spent time outside of the labs tutoring Dutchess Community College students in chemistry, physics and calculus; serves as an executive board member for the Binghamton Bioengineers; and helped prepare food during the floods of September 2011.

For Bassen, who hopes to someday run his own laboratory, much of research is “being passionate about what you are doing” while finding balance in the work.

“The responsibility comes down to you,” he said. “With research, you can feel free to fail. You could have an idea that’s lucrative, but doesn’t work in the end because of something you didn’t account for. So you’ve got to be realistic. You can’t always be the person with the crazy idea because nobody is going to listen. You need to demonstrate that you have a solid foundation.”

Inside staff