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Summer 2019 Interns at HP Labs – Tynan Becker

By Simon Firth, HP Labs Correspondent

July 18, 2019

Tynan Becker interns this summer with HP’s Print Adjacencies and Microfluidics Lab, working out of HP print laboratories in San Diego, California. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Maine at Machias, Becker moved to Alaska and pursued a masters in human anatomy and physiology instruction from the New York Chiropractic College. She then taught human biology, anatomy and physiology, and microbiology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks before enrolling in the university’s Ph.D. program in molecular immunology, where she is nearing the completion of her studies.  

HP: Can you tell us about what you are working on this summer?

HP Labs is interested in exploring how the company can apply its expertise in microfluidics technology to improve medical diagnostics and they needed somebody with a background in immunology to work on the protein side of those tests. The first thing I’m doing is looking at the technology’s capabilities and constraints when it comes to working with proteins - information that could be of use for multiple future projects. After that, I’ll use what I’ve learned to rewrite the protocols for a number of existing medical tests so that they work with HP’s InkJet technology and then test those new protocols to see how they perform.

HP: How long do you have to get all that done?

I’m here for between five and seven months, so longer than a typical summer internship. I’m also planning to keep going with my Ph.D. research while I’m here.

HP: We don’t think of HP having much to do with biology – what’s the connection with InkJet printing?

Thermal InkJet technology lets you place super-small volumes of liquid very precisely across a 2D plane. Those liquids can include reagents like the protein antibodies used in medical testing, which are very expensive. So if we can figure out how to “print” the proteins in the right way and then automate the process, we can potentially create tests that both work faster and use significantly lower volumes of antibodies and that therefore cost a lot less to run. That could put us on a path towards a new era of more personalized, and therefore more effective, medical treatments.

“What’s been really engaging is using my knowledge of immunology to think about the very specific challenge of getting proteins to flow through print heads that weren’t designed with them in mind.”

Tynan Becker, HP Labs Intern

HP: What are you finding most interesting about the work you are doing?

What’s been really engaging is using my knowledge of immunology to think about the very specific challenge of getting proteins to flow through print heads that weren’t designed with them in mind – without either harming the proteins or impacting the printer’s reliability. And then I’m super excited about what we’re hoping to achieve by the end of the internship. We can potentially rework some laborious, days-long processes down to hours and maybe just minutes.  

HP: How is the interning at HP as an immunologist different from interning at somewhere like a pharmaceutical company?

What’s different is that I’m not only thinking about the immunology and the protein chemistry, but I have to understand the physical and engineering challenges that the team I’m working with are facing. So I’m working with a whole range of chemists, engineers, and software designers to better understand the big picture and how my piece fits into it. That adds a layer of a complexity to the project that takes me well outside of my area of education and is just super fun to work with.

HP: What has impressed you most so far about interning at Labs?

It's been really pleasant to discover that everybody here is super helpful. Nobody minds if I want to ask them question, even if they're not working in the same area as me – and on the flip side most people have been interested in what I’m doing and want to help however they can. It's really nice to see the levels of inclusiveness, cooperation, and collaboration that exist here.

HP: Lastly, what do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Well, I have a husband and a teenage son, so I spend a lot of time with my family. I grew up sailing in Maine, and I’m excited to be getting back into that with my son while we’re here in San Diego. I also do metalsmithing when I can – working in copper, brass, and nickel for the most part, but also silver and gold – although that’s mostly on hold while I’m both working at HP and finishing up my Ph.D.