UWM student researcher heads to D.C.

A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student is one of 60 undergraduate researchers from across the country who have been invited to Washington, D.C., for the annual Posters on the Hill event April 17 and 18.

Kirill Shmilovich is a senior majoring in mathematics and physics with a minor in chemistry. He is the first undergraduate researcher from the university to be invited to the national event, which gives students a chance to talk to legislators about their work. More than 400 student researchers applied for the event, sponsored by the national organization the Council on Undergraduate Research.

A professor stands behind a seated student in a lab.
Kirill Shmilovich has been working in the lab of Ionel Popa, assistant professor of physics at UWM, helping create the tools to study proteins. (UWM Photo/Pete Amland)

UWM’s undergraduate research program is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and has given thousands of students like Shmilovich the opportunity to do hands-on research, working with faculty mentors, said Nigel Rothfels, director of the university’s Office of Undergraduate Research.

“Because our campus is committed to both promoting research excellence and student success, it is natural that we have a vibrant culture of undergraduate research at UWM,” Rothfels said. “Our faculty have worked hard to bring the campus to the R-1 level and want our undergraduates to be collaborators in their research.” (The R-1 designation recognizes UWM as one of the nation’s top 115 research universities.)

Shmilovich, who was one of five UWM students to win a Senior Excellence in Research Award this year, works with Ionel Popa, assistant professor of physics, studying how protein hydrogels respond to force.

Shmilovich’s help hasbeen vital in helping develop mathematical models and to establish the instrumentation needed to study the protein hydrogels, said Popa.

Working with Popa in the Laboratory for Advanced Biopolymers and Nanomechanics of Proteins, Shmilovich is investigating the mechanical properties of protein hydrogels from modeling the nanoscale response to force of their constituent proteins. A better understanding of protein hydrogels could help expedite the development of custom-engineered artificial tissues and smart drug delivery systems.

Shmilovich, who is from Whitefish Bay, has also interned at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and notes on his personal website that, for fun, he can solve a Rubik’s Cube in an average of 22 seconds. He started the website, he said, to share his research and ideas with others in down-to-earth terms.

UWM’s proximity to home was a factor in choosing the university, said Shmilovich. “I had initially planned to transfer elsewhere eventually, but after getting involved in research I realized all these opportunities available at UWM that wouldn’t be available elsewhere because it’s not so easy to get involved in undergraduate research.

“I chose to stay here because I felt like I could become more involved in research and have a larger impact in my undergraduate career, opportunities I would otherwise not have had.”

In addition to the D.C. presentation, UWM’s undergraduate student researchers will be presenting their work at a number of other upcoming events:

  • April 20 is the UW System Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (Green Bay).
  • April 27 is the UWM Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  • May 11 is the Senior Excellence in Research Colloquium, 4-6 p.m. at the Edith S. Hefter Conference Center.

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