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Students interested in projects involving food science, microbiology, plants, bacteria, and the effectiveness of different medicines may want to learn more about biochemistry as a possible science career path. Biochemists work on a wide range of exciting projects involving chemical processes that happen within living organisms.



Blood clotting science project Cranberry sauce science project

Flower pigment chromatography science project Additives affect on gel science project

Affect of temperature on enzyme activity science project Kill acne-causing bacteria science project

What do the questions in the images above all have in common?

Got the answer yet? Some of the projects above appear in the food sciences area at Science Buddies, and some of them are classified as microbiology, biotechnology, human health and biology, and plant science projects. As different as some of these projects may seem from one another, they all involve studying chemical processes that occur in living organisms. Because of this, all of these are projects, questions, and challenges that a biochemist might work on.


Would I Want to Be a Biochemist?

Do the investigations listed above sound interesting to you? Do you enjoy biology and chemistry classes? Are you curious about the way medicines work in the body? Do you wonder about the mutations in organisms that lead to diseases like cancer? Are you interested in cell development? Are you inspired by current stem cell research? Are there conditions or diseases you would like to better understand and even work on helping find a cure? Do you love the idea of being the first person to discover something new about what's going on inside living organisms? If these science topics sound intriguing, then biochemistry is a field of science you may want to explore!

To learn more about a career in biochemistry, visit the Science Buddies Biochemist career page. There, you can
find out more about the education requirements for biochemists, average salaries, and sample projects and tasks that a biochemist might do. You can also read interviews with current biochemists to learn what they do in a typical day, what they love about their jobs, and how they got into the field. For example, meet Stuart Barnscher, a chemist at Agensys, Helen McBride, a scientist at Amgen, and Michael DiDonato, a research investigator at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation.

From cancer research to immunology, these scientists are working on exciting projects as biochemists!


Explore the World of Biochemistry with Science Buddies

At Science Buddies, students will find a wide variety of biochemistry Project Ideas. From food stabilization to the impact of medicine on the body to processes like coagulation, the list of science projects below highlights some of the many hands-on student science projects that can help a student explore biochemistry and start thinking about this exciting STEM career path:



Support for Science Buddies Career Profiles in chemistry-related fields provided by Astellas.

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Kathy Hooper is a Design Verification Engineer at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

If you played a video game or enjoyed a streaming video on your smart phone today, and everything worked as it should, you might have someone like Kathy Hooper to thank. Kathy is a design verification engineer at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). At AMD, Kathy's work focuses on the design verification of new computer chips being designed for use in 3D graphics and multimedia products.


Day to day, Kathy and her colleagues work hard—and apply rigorous engineering and computer testing—to find and eliminate any "bugs" that might cause a device to not work properly. Sometimes a bug turns out to be a flaw in the verification test, says Kathy. But other times, a problem spotted during testing indicates a real issue with the chip design, one that needs to be resolved by a hardware designer.


Catching and identifying bugs during early stages of chip design is a critical step in the process, says Kathy. She and her team work on testing new designs in their early prototype stages, long before the chips reach a point of production. If a problem is detected, a hardware designer can address and correct the problem, returning the modified design to the verification engineers for re-testing. Depending on the complexity of the problem, the process to correct a design flaw at this stage may take a few hours or a few days. Correcting a bug once it has already moved to a fabrication or production phase is a much more time-consuming and costly process. If a bug was not spotted before a new chip made its way into stores and consumer devices, correcting the problem could take months, might cost millions, and could frustrate thousands of consumers.


It's up to design verification engineers, like Kathy, to put a software version of a new chip through all tests necessary to ensure there are no bad "surprises" for users who end up buying and using a product containing a new or updated component from AMD.


Working on Tomorrow's Hot Products

Part of Kathy's design verification process involves writing software programs that test a model's "logic design." By putting the logic design through a variety of possible situations, and by testing the logic design with other kinds of software programs with which it will interact, verification engineers are able to weed out unforeseen problems and compatibility issues that arise during actual use. According to Kathy, they write programs and tests "to flush out any issues where the behavior of the design doesn't match the specified (or intended) behavior."

It's precise and meticulous testing, but as Kathy explains, "the effort that a verification engineer puts into creating meaningful and stressful test conditions while we are still running with software models of the design greatly reduces the risk of having hardware 'bugs' avoid detection until the chip ends up in someone's laptop, game console, or smart phone."


The Cutting Edge

According to Kathy, her work at AMD is exciting because she's working on components of products that ultimately show up on the shelves of familiar stores like BestBuy and Staples. Because consumer technology products change often in response to advancements in technology, the world of design verification is one Kathy describes as fast-paced and constantly evolving as new products are envisioned, designed, tested, released, and improved. The products and features consumers are buying, talking about, and wishing for influences what happens at a company like AMD. It's a fast-moving technical environment Kathy enjoys.

While Kathy's work focuses on specific electronic components, she's always aware of the big picture. Looking beyond the 1's and 0's involved in the code she is testing and troubleshooting, Kathy knows that the models she puts through testing are ones that friends and family may someday use every day. The models she tests may even end up as part of the next blockbuster gadget or gaming device. For example, one project she worked on involved performing design verification testing on the memory interface block of a 3D graphics controller. That memory interface block isn't something you'll pick up and use by itself, but the block ended up being used in a popular line of smartphones. Those phones are used by many, many people each day, and they work, in part, because the controller Kathy helped test does its job the way it should.

"When we first embarked on that project, I could not imagine the market demand for 3D gaming graphics power on a handheld device with a screen that was only 3-5 inches in size," admits Kathy. "At that point, I couldn't imagine the demand for 3D graphics quality for games like Angry Birds, or for the ability to stream a movie from Netflix on my handheld device." Today, those capabilities on a phone or other portable device are exactly what users want and have come to expect. Kathy knows, without a doubt, that her work paid off. "A chip that I directly worked on delivers unbelievable graphics quality in those devices," she notes.


Science Buddies Video and Computer Game Project Ideas and resources are sponsored by the AMD Foundation.

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Jeff Hagen / Science Career profile

Jeff originally considered a career in electrical engineering but followed his interests into computer science. Today, he's an Engineering Manager at Medtronic and works to help oversee testing on CareLink, a heart monitoring site.

Meet Jeff Hagen, an Engineering Manager at Medtronic for the last nine years.

Jeff Hagen leads a team of software verification test engineers who deploy specific web-based applications that medical personnel use to provide patient care. Jeff and his team work on a computer-based diagnostic tool called CareLink. The Medtronic CareLink® Network is a web-based application and remote monitoring service that gives clinicians, doctors, and nurses online access to data transmitted from a patient's implanted heart device. The reports and data available from CareLink can be comparable to an in-office visit, and medical practitioners using CareLink rely on the data from CareLink to be accurate and available when needed—24/7.

Jeff and his small team of testers and software engineers work to make sure that's the case!

From Electrical to Virtual Circuits

Jeff started out with plans to follow in his father's footsteps as an electrical engineer. Once he realized that he enjoyed computers more than circuits, he changed his major to computer science, a field of study that capitalizes on two of his primary interests: math and computers. "Computer science is an engineering discipline that blends the mathematics and logic of engineering with the technology of computers," explains Jeff. "It's the best of both worlds." Today, with more than twenty years of experience in the field of software engineering, Jeff knows the career path he followed was the right one for him. "I do not look back on my decision to go into computers and leave electrical circuits behind. Computers and I have always understood each other."


Keeping Up to Date

Jeff knows that a big challenge he and his team face is keeping pace with the rapid growth in technology. Ongoing research and developments means that technology changes frequently, as do the languages, equipment, and approaches that make various technologies "work." Staying ahead of the curve and keeping up to date with changes and advancements in one's field is always important, but when your work involves the well-being of patients, there may be a correlation between staying "current" and ensuring the best patient care possible.

According to Jeff, he and his team monitor and evaluate their systems throughout the year, but they have to be cautious before adopting upgrades and new approaches. With a product like CareLink, Jeff and his team can't assume that newer is always better. "We are under much scrutiny to ensure our patients' safety, and as a result, we are not often the first to try out a new technology," he explains. Before adopting new approaches or making changes, Jeff has to be certain that patient safety won't be compromised.

In some areas of software testing, a "bug" is a small error that creates a problem in the application. A "bug" in a game or a word processing program, for example, might be an inconvenience or cause a user frustration—or maybe data loss. But in software engineering related to patient health care, there can't be any bugs. There is no room margin for error when a patient's heart is at stake, which is why teams like Jeff's are so important.

As a former programmer, Jeff says his understanding of computer science is an advantage in working with software verification and testing. "Having a computer science degree teaches your brain to be a better problem solver and think of issues in terms of cause and effect," says Jeff. "Finding and fixing software bugs is a very important part of what we do. If we make a mistake the patient could be impacted!"


Flexible Thinking

Day to day, Jeff needs to keep the "big picture" of his team's core application in mind even as they troubleshoot and test specific issues. Being able to employ stages of the engineering method is a critical component of his job. "As an engineer, I would say that being fluent in the practical real-world engineering method is of vital importance," says Jeff. It boils down to "being able to define and analyze a problem, specify the requirements, choose the best solution available, and implement [that solution] quickly and with strong quality."


Helping People

While careers in computer science and software engineering can mean long hours at a computer—and little time "in the field," Jeff never forgets that the product he oversees and helps maintain is one that is used to treat patients. It's a connection that makes working on CareLink and for Medtronic especially rewarding for Jeff. Jeff works in a cubicle among a hundred cubicles on the eighth floor of a modern office complex in Minnesota. He works long hours with his software developers and test engineers both in the U.S. and in Europe. He's far from the "hospital scene," but every few months, Jeff gets the chance to meet patients whose lives have been transformed by products and services offered by Medtronic. "This is the BEST part of working at Medtronic," says Jeff. "Realizing that what you do actually saves and prolongs life!"

When asked if he ever thinks about what it would be like to work on a very different kind of technology—like video games or a popular online destination like a sporting site—Jeff admits that those kinds of projects might be fun, but he questions, "If you work on your "hobby", does it remain fun as your hobby, or does it become just a job?"

For Jeff, knowing that he's helping better people's live by doing something he loves makes his career the right one for him. "It would be very difficult to get a better feeling than that from any job," says Jeff.

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Katie Hilpisch / Career Profile

As a biomedical engineer at Medtronic, Katie Hilpisch is making a difference in people's lives. "It is rewarding to meet someone who finds out that you work at Medtronic and wants to tell you that someone they know has a Medtronic device."

For Katie Hilpisch, a senior biomedical engineer at Medtronic, helping devise therapies for heart patients is all in a day's work!

According to Katie, biomedical engineering offers an exciting combination of research, problem-solving, and fieldwork. Biomedical engineering brings engineering, medicine, and biology together, but not all biomedical engineers do the same things or work on the same kinds of product development, research, and testing. At a large company like Medtronic, there may be many biomedical engineers working on different facets of a larger health issue. Katie and her team, for example, work in the area of "heart health," exploring medical therapies for patients with heart problems, specifically electrical stimulation (pacing) therapies. At the same time, other biomedical engineers work on different aspects of heart health, like exploring new imaging technologies that let doctors better see "inside" the body or researching the ways different substances interact in the human body.


A Collaboration Between Math and Science

Figuring out the right combinations and solutions to improve a heart patient's quality of life is a puzzle that biomedical engineers are constantly trying to solve. According to Katie, "my job is all about math and medicine!" It's a combination students might not immediately think about, but for biomedical engineers, science and math work together as keys to helping problem-solve, troubleshoot, and find solutions.

"Here's a very specific example," says Katie, "on a project I was recently working on, we were trying to reduce the flow of blood through an artery by 80%. We had to find the area of the vessel to determine an appropriate new size of the vessel to get an 80% reduction. Think geometry. Think statistics. Think measurements and calculations that you are learning right now in school!"


Between Desk and Lab

Katie splits her time at Medtronic between desk work and lab work. She estimates she spends 75 percent of her time doing computer-based research and analysis and 25 percent of her time working in research labs or in hospitals.

"Data analysis is a huge part of my job," she explains, "so using software to analyze data and calculate statistics is a big part of my repertoire. " Reading and staying up to date with both current and historical research and trials is also critical, says Katie. You have to "read anything that gives you insight into what has already been done or what other people are working on," she explains, "We don't want to re-invent the wheel."

In fact, Katie wants to take what exists and find new and better wheels. It's a process of finding the right combination and approach to improve life for patients, and that's what she enjoys most about her job. "Hands down, I most enjoy helping patients. It is very rewarding to come to work every day and get the chance to do something that helps people who are sick."


Advancing Treatment

Working at a global company like Medtronic, means that specialized groups are able to take advantage of each other's research and development when envisioning new solutions, therapies, and treatments. Katie's group isn't working on drug therapies, for example, but others at Medtronic are. Similarly, Medtronic biomedical engineers work with drug pumps, pacemakers, and other equipment that may come into play in a plan for a new heart therapy.

The process of putting new therapies into action, however, is one that takes time. New therapies go through many different types of testing, including lab-based testing using computer simulations or machines built to test possible answers. According to Katie, other stages in testing may include pre-clinical testing at Medtronic's Physiologic Research Lab, small patient studies to test for safety and effectiveness, and finally larger patient studies.

Biotechnology

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Learn more in our new Medical Biotechnology interest area!
The outcomes of large-group studies help biomedical engineers evaluate whether or not the therapy is better than not having the therapy.


Answers Take Time

On paper, the point from A to B may seem pretty clear-cut, but it can take years of testing to ensure a therapy is safe and effective. With testing of new therapies averaging 3-5 years, it is clear that accepting that testing takes time is part of the game plan for biomedical engineers. "Usually when we are planning for products, we are looking at things in a 1-2, 2-5, 5-10 and 10+ years' time frame!"


A Future in Biomedical Engineering

According to Katie, students interested in a possible career in biomedical engineering should take as much math and science as they can. But beyond schoolwork, Katie encourages students to also think outside of school. "Figure out what sets you apart," she urges. "Do something nerdy outside of school. Join a group that takes apart toasters and puts them back together. Or even volunteer at a local science museum. " For Katie, when you think about what you want to do with your life, the mantra is simple: "Always do something you love. Then it won't be 'work.'"

For Katie, heart health and biomedical engineering is where she wants to be right now. "It is rewarding to meet someone who finds out that you work at Medtronic and wants to tell you that someone they know has a Medtronic device," says Katie. "My own grandfather has a Medtronic pacemaker, so when people ask what gets me to work every day, I tell them, in the end, it's the patients."

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