From SCE to Switzerland

Research experiences at UMKC lead mechanical engineering graduate to pursue Ph.D. in bone biomechanics

With the opening of the new Plaster Center, even more students will have the opportunity to engage with leading-edge research. We recently caught up with one School of Computing and Engineering alumnus who knows just how valuable these experiences can be in guiding your career.

Elliott Goff (B.S. ’13, M.S. ’16) spent the first six years of his higher education experience at SCE and now finds himself exploring medical technology research across the Atlantic at ETH Zürich, a research university in Switzerland.

Elliott Goff
Tell us more about what you’re up to in your current position.

I’m a Ph.D. candidate and researcher within the field of bone biomechanics. I investigate bone cell (osteocyte) shapes and relate them to disease (idiopathic osteoporosis). Our collaborators sent us roughly 100 human bone biopsies; I developed a method to prepare, 3D-image and analyze the osteocytes within each biopsy to create a database of roughly 25 million cell geometries. Then I do some big data processing and compare elements between healthy (control) biopsies and diseased biopsies. The ultimate goal of this project is to use cell geometry to classify disease severity.

How did you find yourself exploring this topic?

I won a DAAD Rise Germany fellowship my junior year to spend the summer researching mouse osteocytes in Berlin at the Charité University Hospital. I clearly remember my first day: My supervisor gave me some background reading that turned out to be research studies published by Lynda Bonewald (Ph.D.), a UMKC professor at the time. Between that summer research experience and learning about the UMKC connection, I knew I would pursue the field of bone biomechanics.

How did your undergraduate and graduate research experiences at SCE prepare you for your work now?

During my sophomore year, I joined two UMKC faculty members — Amber Rath-Stern, Ph.D., and Matt Stern, Ph.D. — on a biomedical engineering research project about the mechanical stiffness of tissue scaffolds. This is where I first learned about biomedical engineering and became enamored with the intersection of mechanical engineering and biology. This experience led to subsequent projects at UMKC with Greg King (Ph.D.) in his gait lab and Lynda Bonewald in her osteocyte lab. While earning my master’s at UMKC, Dr. Bonewald introduced me to my current mentor at ETH Zürich. And UMKC’s international academics director, Linna Place (Ph.D.), helped me draft the grant application that provided the funds to send me to Switzerland.

What’s next?

I plan to graduate this year with my Ph.D. and am currently on the hunt for a position in the medical technology field. Research has been my passion for the last decade, and I look forward to bridging the gap between the laboratory and solutions to real-world problems.

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