Combining biomedical engineering and neuroscience to study how brain mechanisms shape behavior

Caroline Kornbrek

Caroline Kornbrek, Undergraduate Senior

Hometown: Branchburg, NJ
BME Degree Program: B.S. in biomedical engineering '23, concentrating in biomedical imaging and instrumentation (BMII)
Lab affiliation: Tschida Lab, Psychology
Awards/Honors: Dean’s List, selected to give a talk at the 2023 Cornell Undergraduate Psychology Conference in May 2023.

Why Cornell?

Cornell has so many opportunities for learning in an incredibly broad subject range. Scientists at Cornell perform groundbreaking research, and I was excited to be able to participate in it. I also love the area where Cornell is located, with its beautiful gorges and Cayuga lake.

Why BME?

Caroline Kornbrek in Prof. Warren Zipfel's lab building a EKG circuits
Caroline Kornbrek in Prof. Warren Zipfel's lab building an EKG circuit.

I have always been an interdisciplinary person. I love solving problems and thoroughly enjoyed the design process in my engineering classes in high school. In addition, I was very interested in biology and neuroscience and how the mechanisms in our brains shape our behavior. BME seemed like a great place to combine engineering and neuroscience to gain a quantitative understanding of our biology.

How did you decide to concentrate in biomedical imaging and instrumentation (BMII)? 

I talked to a few neuroscience professors around campus about the concentrations available here in BME. Some suggested that the field of neuroscience was being pushed by new imaging techniques, and that it could be helpful to have a deep understanding of the mechanisms behind these technologies. The imaging concentration gave me the electrical and physics background to understand some of the key components in neuroimaging technologies.

What's the most useful skill you’ve learned while pursuing this major?

I think it was very useful to learn how to model complicated biological systems mathematically. This modeling experience gave me a deep understanding of how cells and organs function. In addition, the process of breaking complicated systems down into simpler parts is a useful skill that can be applied to many scenarios. 

Any advice for others considering BME?

Explore and take classes that interest you, even if they are outside of the flow chart. You never know what subject might pique your interest. 

What have been your experiences outside your coursework?

Brain slices in containers on lab bench
Brain slice samples from Kornbrek's thesis work in the Tschida lab, investigating the activation of locus coeruleus neurons in isolated mouse pups.

I worked at Regeneron in their New Therapeutics Investigation department in Summer of 2022 doing research, which was an amazing experience. At Cornell, I am involved with the Guild of Visual Artists here on campus. I have been doing research in the Tschida Lab for 3 years, studying the neural circuits involved in vocalization in mice. I am currently wrapping up my thesis in this lab. I was also involved in the Affect and Cognition Lab for a few years helping to set up a fMRI study looking at food and nostalgia interactions. Outside of classes and research I love to hike and paint. 

What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far and why?

I have really loved my neurophysiology class. We have the opportunity to record electrical signals from the neurons in crayfish. It was very exciting to connect what I had learned in past classes to this hands-on experience. 

What’s next?

I have signed a contract to work at LifeCanvas Technologies in Boston. I will be doing tissue processing and imaging work with them. I am hoping to work for a few years before potentially pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience. 


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