Staff Graduate Aaron Windsor

Jan Lammerding hoods Aaron Windsor
Aaron Windsor being hooded by Jan Lammerding at the May 2019 BME Commencement (Photo: Heather Ainsworth Photography).

The Meinig School was thrilled this past spring to add its first staff graduate to the commencement program; Aaron Windsor, an employee at Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility (CNF), and a member of the Meinig School’s Lammerding Lab, received his M.S. in biomedical engineering in May. 

While Windsor’s walk across the stage to receive his diploma took minutes, his journey to that moment began nearly 15 years earlier when he started as a tech at the Cornell Nutrient Lab in July 2004. After moving to a Research Support Specialist (RSS) position at Laboratory of Elementary Particles Physics (LEPP) in 2006, Windsor found a home at the Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility (CNF) in 2009. Through his work at CNF, Windsor discovered his role involved more than facility maintenance and he came to appreciate the interdisciplinary and rapidly-evolving nature of the nanotechnology field. 

After a year at CNF, Windsor decided he could best serve this diverse research community by going back to college. He began by auditing nanofabrication courses through Cornell’s part-time study (formerly extramural study) program, but when he found he was not absorbing any of the material that way, he decided to start taking the courses for credit. This decision, said Windsor, not only helped him learn what came easy at his later age, but also gave him the credentials required for his next step; entering a graduate program. 

“After assisting others with their research and external remote projects, I wanted to work on something that was my own.”

Windsor approached the Biomedical Engineering (BME) field about entering graduate school through Cornell’s Employee Degree Program. “I remember professor Chris Schaffer asking me if I wanted to do a lengthy research project or make some ‘cool stuff’ and I knew [BME] was the right place for me,” said Windsor. It turned out Meinig School Professor Jan Lammerding was looking for a student with CNF experience, and the rest is history. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with for over the past three years,” said Windsor.

The feeling was mutual. “It was wonderful having Aaron in our lab,“ said Lammerding of Windsor's role and impact. "His outstanding experience with nanofabrication lead to the implementation of several new ideas and fabrication of microfluidic devices that are now being used in the lab on a daily basis.”

While the experience was worthwhile, Windsor acknowledges there were also challenges. “I graduated with my B.S. in biology in 1995 before the internet existed, so there was a huge technical gap I had to overcome. As a non-traditional student, I was on my own most of the time, which sometimes made class work and projects difficult. Plus, I was single when I started taking classes nine years ago and now I’m married with two children. I had to do most of my work after my family went to bed, so I haven’t really slept much in the past six years.”

But it was worth the work, says Windsor. “I am extremely thankful for Cornell not only to be an employee, but also, now, an alumnus. I now feel I am truly a part of the university.”

microfluidic device
Windsor's research at the Meinig School focused on designing microfluidic devices that mimic the confined environment inside living tissues, enabling the study of cancer metastasis in vitro. Shown here are fluorescently-labeled cancer cells migrating through such a microfluidic device (Image: Lammerding Lab).