Amany Alshibli always had an interest in medical-related research, so her path to biomolecular engineering seemed almost a foregone conclusion.
“I always knew I was interested in medicine and in bio-research,” said Alshibli. “I considered biomedical engineering for a while, but I liked how the classes in chemical and biomolecular engineering let you look at and solve issues at a much smaller scale.”
Specifically, she took an interest in learning about the possibilities related to regenerative medicine and stem cell research and how breakthroughs in those areas could lead to specifically-tailored treatment, something she called the “caretaking component.”
One early research opportunity that fueled her imagination came through the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition.
IGEM brings together teams of students from around the world with a common goal of using genetic engineering to solve a problem or contribute to the greater good.
As a member of UT’s 2016 team, Alshibli and her fellow students used E. coli bacteria to convert byproducts of petroleum processing such as benzene into useful products such as fragrances and flavorings.
In that way, the team was able to take substances that would have been otherwise harmful to humans and considered waste products into harmless and purposeful materials.
“One of the requirements of iGEM is that you can’t just focus on the research; you also have to demonstrate how it would impact society and undertake outreach efforts,” said Alshibli. “It was a lot of fun, and it helped each member of the team learn to play to their strengths for the overall good of the project.”
She pointed out that biomolecular research has led to other uses of it as well, including as a source of manufactured insulin.
Her next step is to begin medical school this fall, further highlighting the work of the department and how it impacts humanity.
Alshibli already has some experience in a medical setting, having served at a regenerative healthcare center in Edinburgh, one of two summer undergraduate study abroad trips in Scotland.
Taking advantage of such opportunities is something she would encourage current and future students to do, but with a caveat.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things, but remember to tell yourself that it’s OK to stop if the excitement wears off,” said Alshibli. “If you go to the first meeting of a group or attend an event, it doesn’t mean that you’re bound to go to the rest. You only have so much time as a student. Use it wisely.”
With medical school, a bright future, and a path of her choosing ahead of her, it’s clear she’s done just that.
Five Questions: Amany Alshibli
For Amany Alshibli, the question wasn’t so much whether she’d come to UT after high school, but rather what she’d study once here.
Her father, Khalid, is the associate department head of graduate studies and professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and her older sister, Noor, is also a UT grad.
She won several accolades during her time at UT—including being named a Torchbearer in 2018, the university’s top honor.
Question: When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
Alshibli: I knew a lot of good things about the college, so it just made sense to come here. Before that first year was out, I realized how awesome my choice had been and some of the amazing things that were possible.
Q: What are some of the experiences that shaped your time here?
A: Like many, I took engineering fundamentals as a freshman, opting for the program’s honors path. That experience was tough, but cool and was the perfect gateway to the rest of my time in engineering.
Q: How did the freshman program serve that role?
A: It helped me transition into college life and also helped me make a lot of friends with whom I’m still connected.
Q: Do any faculty members stand out for the way they shaped your experience within the department?
A: Associate Professor Eric Boder was a major influence during my time in the department. He focuses on engineering proteins, immunology, and molecular biology, and was able to help me see potential career paths through the innovative nature of his classes.
Q: What, in particular, stood out about his classes?
A: His classes allowed us to merge technology and science. Being able to connect those two was exciting. It really piqued my interest.