Putting her future first: Exploring research at the undergraduate level

Photo of Claire Lizotte in lab

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To many undergraduate students, conducting research is often seen as a possibility in the distant future. To Claire Lizotte, a second year Mechatronic Systems Engineering student, exploring research at the undergraduate level — as early as the summer following her first year — was an opportunity that would give her an edge in the future.

Through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) — a funding program that is designed to stimulate student interest in research in the natural sciences and engineering — Lizotte was paired with faculty supervisor Michael D. Naish, Associate Professor in the departments of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Director of the Mechatronic Systems Engineering program.

Photo of Claire Lizotte working at computer Working alongside Professor Naish and graduate students, Lizotte is conducting research focused on new cutting-edge healthcare solutions. “I am working on designing hinges, tabs and slots so that they can withstand certain levels of pressure during surgical procedures,” she explained.

Devices built using these fundamental elements will have the ability to provide tactile feedback to surgeons, ultimately impacting the length of patient recovery time.

“Currently in minimally invasive surgery, surgeons have no tactile senses,” explained Lizotte. “For example, they can’t feel how much pressure they are putting on an organ. This device would allow them to receive tactile feedback, decreasing the chance of damage as a result of too much force.”

While undergraduate research may be considered outside the scope for a second-year student, it was always something that interested Lizotte.

“I have wanted to try research for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I love to learn and experiment with new things. Research allows me to do that.”

Born and raised in Ottawa, Lizotte began her academic journey by accepting an offer that brought her six hours away from home. Western’s campus and her extended family who live in London are what sparked her decision to become a Mustang.

Photo of Claire Lizotte wrestling In addition to her studies, she is a member of the women’s varsity wrestling team, enjoys fencing and biking, and is an avid reader. The young student’s book collection might be as impressive as her academic successes, consisting of more than 375 fantasy and sci-fi novels.

As for a future in research, Lizotte would like to begin with another summer research position while she is still an undergraduate student.

“Once I have another year or two of school completed, I will have more knowledge to apply to my research,” she explained. “I think this foundation will give me a better taste of what research is like.”

With plans to work overseas after graduation, Lizotte looks forward to eventually returning to London — a city she now calls home.

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