New Matter: Inside the Minds of SLAS Scientists

SLAS2023 Student Poster Award Winners

March 27, 2023 SLAS Episode 145
New Matter: Inside the Minds of SLAS Scientists
SLAS2023 Student Poster Award Winners
Show Notes Transcript

Recorded straight from the SLAS2023 exhibit hall floor -- New Matter host, Hannah Rosen, Ph.D., speaks with each winner of this year's Student Poster Awards.

SLAS2023 was a record-breaking year, and nearly 400 posters were displayed throughout the exhibit hall. Three students were awarded the Student Poster Award and received a $500 cash prize!

Congratulations to our winners (in order of interview)!

Samuel Little, Ph.D. Candidate (Concordia University)
An Automated Platform for Engineering Primary Human T-Cells with Digital Microfluidics

Zachary Sitte, Graduate Student (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill)
Supported Gel Slabs: A Promising Method for Generating Tumor-Like Structures and Screening Toxicants in a 3D Environment

Riley Whalen, Research Assistant (Oregon Health & Science University)
Ultra-High Content Analyses of Circulating and Solid Tumor Cells

What is the SLAS Student Poster Award?
Student posters presented during the SLAS International Conference and Exhibition and SLAS Europe Conference and Exhibition are judged on quality and relevance. Student poster presenters are all eligible for the Student Poster Competition, in which the top three posters are recognized. Winners, up to three, receive a cash prize of $500. Visit our Student Resources to learn more.

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About SLAS
SLAS (Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening) is an international professional society of academic, industry and government life sciences researchers and the developers and providers of laboratory automation technology. The SLAS mission is to bring together researchers in academia, industry and government to advance life sciences discovery and technology via education, knowledge exchange and global community building.  For more information about SLAS, visit

Upcoming SLAS Events:

SLAS2024 International Conference and Exhibition

  • February 3-7, 2024
  • Boston, MA, USA

SLAS Building Biology in 3D Symposium

  • April 16-17, 2024
  • Jupiter, FL, USA

SLAS Europe 2024 Conference and Exhibition

  • May 27-29, 2024
  • Barcelona, Spain

View the full events calendar

Hannah Rosen: Hello everyone and welcome to New Matter, the SLAS podcast where we interview life science luminaries. I'm your host, Hannah Rosen, and this week we are bringing you on site to SLAS2023 to hear from our three Student Poster Award winners Zachary Sitte:, Riley Whalen, and Samuel Little. 


Hello everyone, I'm on the SLAS2023 exhibition floor with our SLAS Student Poster Award winner Samuel Little. I believe you go by Sam, is that correct? Excellent. And he's here to speak with us for just a few minutes about his award-winning project. So, first of all, you know, congratulations on your win! How do you feel about winning the Student Poster award? 

Samuel Little: Oh, really good. I thought those five really great finalists. I messaged a good friend of mine afterwards and said, like, I would be happy to lose any of these posters, cause also I thought the work was really, really nice, so it was good to be in a showcase with five strong projects. 

Hannah Rosen: Oh, wonderful. So, can you kind of just give us a brief description of the project that you presented? 

Samuel Little: So basically, we wanted to integrate electroporation onto a digital microfluidic platform. My team and I identified the pain point in cell editing workflows where most common Electro operators require hundreds of thousands, if not millions of cells to do a successful genedit or transfection process. And that's fine if you have a readily available cell type, but if you're working with really rare cells, or cells that don't grow easily, you're going to use your entire patient sample for a single process. And so, we wanted to see if we could use miniaturization and automation mega system that could maybe edit 50,000 cells at a single time. And so that was the main goal of the project and we achieved that and some of the results we showed in the poster presentation. We're just, you know, worked to that end.  

Hannah Rosen: Wow, that's... I mean, that sounds really incredible. Like, really, really impressive work. What are your future plans for this? 

Samuel Little: So, the real goal is to do large genetic screens from a single patient. So, right now you can do these large screens, but you need to get donations from numerous different patients and that's going to add a confounding factor into the research because there's always patient to patient variability, and the more specific and, like, where the cell type is, sometimes the larger these variations are going to be. So, we thought like, OK, well what if we could do these large various screens on a single donor and then reach the screen again on different donors to see, you know, how do they... things affect across a single donor and then across several donors. And so that's kind of the next step for us working with the collaborator in Ottawa, actually, and so they have some interesting libraries that they want to look at. And so hopefully we can combine their, you know, cell work capabilities with our novel platform to do these large screens. 

Hannah Rosen: Sounds like exciting times ahead. OK, so, you know, we call this the the Student Poster Award, but it's actually, you know, we have quite a range of different people at different levels of their education or even early stages of their career. So you could tell, you know, what... what is your current position and, you know, what are your plans for the future? 

Samuel Little: So I am hopefully in my last year of my PhD. Of course, confounding factors could... [laughs] 

Hannah Rosen: [laughs] You never know. 

Samuel Little: So, I'm at Concordia University in Montreal. I really love Montreal, so I'm definitely interested in ways to stay there. But I think ultimately I'm looking to explore post doctoral opportunities. So, you know, there's a handful of labs I'm interested in, you know, reaching out to and establishing connections. But I still say like probably 10 months away from graduation. So, I think when I get closer to that four or five months out, I'll start like, sending out emails inquiring with what people are doing. But I think would be very project first, like trying to find work that excites me wherever that may be. 

Hannah Rosen: Yeah, that's awesome.  What's been your experience at this conference so far? Is this your first time at an SLAS conference? 

Samuel Little: My second time, but first time in person. I did the virtual last year, and the in person is much better. Way better, honestly. It's a very interesting conference because it feels much more industry heavy than other conferences. Getting to where the academic part of it is obviously still important, but, you know, the... I mean the exhibition floor is massive and that's the main draw here for me as an academic, like walking around and seeing like, this really applied engineering happening. It's interesting to see the nuts and bolts of it and really talk with people who are very divorced from the academic side, and I think that's something that SLAS has that a lot of other conferences I’ve been to do not.  

Hannah Rosen: Yeah, well, that's fantastic. Well, thank you so much for taking some time out to talk to you today and I really hope that you continue to enjoy your time here. And again, thank you so much for presenting your research cause that is just really incredible stuff. 

Samuel Little: Thanks and I really appreciate. 


Hannah Rosen: Hello everyone I'm here with SLAS Student Poster award winner, Zachary Sitte:, who is here taking a few minutes to tell us all about his award-winning project. So first of all Zach, congratulations on your win! How do you feel? 

Zachary Sitte: It's really nice to win a poster appearance. 

Hannah Rosen: Yeah, yeah, that's great. Can you just give us a brief description of the project that you were presenting? 

Zachary Sitte: Yeah, sure. So, what we do in our group is create scaffold based 3D cell culture systems. Some of the things that I presented in my poster was a new system that I developed in our group to overcome some of the limitations of our previous system that we had spent many years going through and develop, OK, and then just giving demonstrations that this new system one, overcomes the limitations that our previous one had while also being able to be used for a lot of the methods that we previously developed for that system. 

Hannah Rosen: Oh, that's fantastic. What are your future plans for this work? 

Zachary Sitte: It's a great question, there currently are not very many future plans. I'm actually getting ready to graduate in about six weeks. 

Hannah Rosen: That's exciting, congratulation! What are you... so, OK, well, let's transition then into, you know, tell us a little about, you know, what's your current position? You know, you're clearly a student, but you know what level and what are your future plans?  

Zachary Sitte: So, I'm a fourth year graduate student studying bioanalytical chemistry, so a little bit different than a lot of other people here, where we kind of sit at the... the interface between chemistry and biology. Once I finish grad school, I'm personally going to take a little bit of time off and I'm going to backpack around Europe. No, no current plans after that. 

Hannah Rosen: That's awesome! Well, that's really exciting! You know, you've got the whole future ahead of you and at least now, you know, you can finish your... your PhD knowing that you had a really good project, an award-winning project. 

Zachary Sitte: Exactly. Yeah, it's... it's nice to have an award-winning project to finish off on.  

Hannah Rosen: Absolutely, I would imagine.  You know, what’s been your experience of the conference so far? Is this your first time at an SLAS event? 

Zachary Sitte: Yeah, it's my first time at an SLAS event. Other people from my group had come here before, which is what led me to actually come to this one. It's been a very exciting to kind of see a lot of the automation that I don't typically get to see in the chemistry side of my field and just kind of learning a lot more about what other people are doing with the automation and cell culture. 

Hannah Rosen: That's great.  Well, thank you so much for taking a few minutes, you know, to come and talk to me, and I hope that you really enjoy the rest of the... the event. And thank you so much for presenting your research and have a great time backpacking around Europe! I'm super jealous. 

Zachary Sitte: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the recognition. 


Hannah Rosen: I'm here on the floor with our one of our student poster award winners, Riley Whalen, and she's going to be here to just tell us a little bit about her award-winning project. So first of all, you know, congratulations on your win! How do you fell? 

Riley Whalen: Thank you so much. I feel really good. I'm just feeling really proud and excited to be honored with this. 

Hannah Rosen: Yeah. Well, you earned it! I mean, really an awesome poster. Can you, uh, you know, give us a brief description of the the project that you were presenting? 

Riley Whalen: So, our overall goal was to better understand the underlying cellular processes of metastatic cancer by combining the discovery about novel circulating tumor cell population with innovative technology that allows us to perform ultra high content analysis of these cells, both in the primary tumor and peripheral blood samples, and this innovative technology is a immunofluorescent cyclic based platform. 

Hannah Rosen: That's really, really awesome. What are your future plans with this research? 

Riley Whalen: Yeah, I think that these circulating hybrid cells along with this platform and other innovative technologies poses exciting promise as a biomarker for cancer, either for early detection or ongoing disease monitoring in a non invasive way since it can be captured and analyzed from a small blood sample. 

Hannah Rosen: That's great. So where are you... you know, we call the Student Poster awards, but, you know, we’ve got kind of a range of early career... where are you in your career, and, you know, what are your future plans? 

Riley Whalen: Sure, yeah. I graduated with my bachelors in 2020 from University of Washington, and I've been working in collaboration with Dr. Melissa Wong and Dr. Summer Gibbs at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon. I've been there for two years now. I'm going to be starting a PhD program there as well in the fall.  

Hannah Rosen: Oh, congratulations! 

Riley Whalen: Yeah, I'm excited. Yeah, I'm very excited. 

Hannah Rosen: Yeah, that's awesome. So, you know, what has your experience of this conference been so far?  

Riley Whalen: It's been really awesome. I feel lucky to have been able to come here and experience it. I learned so much, and it was a great introduction into the industry side of things, since my background is exclusively in academia, so it's been great. 

Hannah Rosen: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for attending and presenting your poster, and I really hope that you enjoy the rest of your conference experience at SLAS2023. 

Riley Whalen: Thank you so much for having me. This has been great! 

Devin Stone: Thanks for listening to this episode of the New Matter podcast. If you're student looking for opportunities, visit, where you'll be able to find plenty of student focused SLAS awards, grants, scholarships, ways to advance your career, as well as other digital educational content. Visit today. Look in today's episode description notes to find the link and learn more. 


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