Nicholas Csicsery, president of BMES at UC Davis, has been named the UC Davis College of Engineering’s 2013 Ghausi Medal Recipient. This award is the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior by the College of Engineering and officially recognizes Nick’s overall academic excellence and his contributions to the College. While Nick is a biological systems engineering major, the department of biomedical engineering celebrates his numerous contributions to and deep involvement with biomedical engineering, its faculty, and its students.

Nick has been conducting research in synthetic biology with biomedical engineering Professor Marc Facciotti since spring quarter 2011 as a part of both the 2011 and 2012 iGEM teams. In 2011, the team sought to advance the field of synthetic biology by expanding the availability of well-characterized and interchangeable biological parts. Their goal was to outline a standard method for the creation and characterization of these new parts. At the 2011 world championship, the UC Davis team was selected as one of the top sixteen teams, from over 160 participants, and was recognized with a best-of-track award for having made the best foundational advance to the field.  In 2012, Nick was the captain of a group that worked to engineer E. coli capable of degrading the common plastic found in water bottles, polyethylene terephthalate. Plastic pollution has become a serious problem in the world today, and to address this, the iGEM team aimed to break the plastic into two components, the first of which could be fed back into the cell’s metabolism, while the second could be sold for a profit.

Most in biomedical engineering will know Nick for his activities outside of the lab. He has worked hard to broaden the community, expand opportunities for students, and foster a more inclusive culture in biomedical engineering at UC Davis. Nick has served as president of BMES and been an active member of the Society of Biological Engineers (SOBE).  During Nick’s tenure as BMES president, membership has increased, welcoming members from across the engineering disciplines and the biological sciences, and the number of BMES sponsored events has increased, averaging more than one event per week!  Events included intercampus activities with local chapters at UC Berkeley and San Jose State. As a member of the BME Picnic Day committee the last few years, and through outreach to local elementary schools Nick has also helped spread awareness of bioengineering to the general public.

“Nick is the one of the top students that I have worked with throughout my academic career,” said Prof. Facciotti. He is an outstanding scholar, a creative engineer, a leader, and generous soul. He has all of the qualities that will make him not only an outstanding and productive engineer but will also catapult him into leadership positions.”  BME advisor Rosalind Christian adds, “Nick truly embodies the qualities of an everyman engineering student. He has made a lasting contribution to the undergraduate engineering community at UC Davis.”

“I was attracted to biological engineering because of its potential for application in so many different areas. When looking at the research efforts in both the Biomedical Engineering and Biological and Agricultural Engineering departments, you can see applications that range from producing new forms of bioenergy to finding new ways to treat disease, all of which are extremely necessary in our world. With synthetic biology, I am able to design tools at the molecular level of these systems. The potential for engineering at this scale really excites me because all life is dependent on DNA, and thus, the devices I design could possibly impact anything from biofuel production to tissue engineering,” explained Nick.

Nick is currently exploring the ways in which bioengineering can improve our society on a much larger scale. With the help of his senior design team and advisor, Dr. Ruihong Zhang in Biological and Agricultural Engineering, he is investigating how sugar beets can be used to produce forms of renewable bioenergy. The project involves designing the processes for the pretreatment, fermentation, and anaerobic digestion of the beets, as well as designing the bioreactors and a plan for how this system could be scaled up to an industrial level.

Next year Nick will attend UC San Diego for their Ph.D. program in Bioengineering.