Graduate Student Spotlight: Ilya Kolb

Ilya Kolb is a fourth year graduate student here at Georgia Tech in the Precision Biosystems Laboratory, and is studying electrical currents from cells within neurons in the brain. He is pursuing a PhD in Biomedical engineering, and is incredibly passionate about his research, making him an invaluable addition to the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory.

Ilya began his undergraduate education as a biomedical engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, which is known for its innovative biomedical engineering department. There, he was unsure of his path post-undergrad until he became involved in research involving peripheral nerve stimulation. This research included studying the spinal cord, and related injuries that lead to paralysis, and creating potential devices to stimulate the damaged nerves, facilitate tactile feedback, and monitor neural activity. He accomplished this through testing with rabbits by developing and placing large nerve cuffs around various damaged/intact nerves and monitoring activity. Ilya additionally participated in a program that allowed him to get his biomedical engineering Master’s in five years.

After graduating from Casewestern Reserve in only four years, Ilya started his search for graduate schools. After touring Georgia Tech, Ilya chose to become a graduate student under the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering because he sensed the department’s eagerness to grow and constantly be on the peak of innovation. His graduate studies are concentrated within neuroscience, and are funded by a grant from the government, backed by the BRAIN Initiative. Specifically, Ilya is designing and developing tools to study the brain of a mouse on a small, cellular scale. These tools are helping him to study the neurons in the brain one by one, to map out what each cell’s function is. This is accomplished carefully and methodically through the patch-clamp technique. Essentially, a glass tube that is one micron in diameter is positioned on top of a cell. Then, the cell membrane is ruptured, and the glass tip then acts as an insulator. This enables the action potentials of the cell to be monitored and recorded. As these cells are analyzed, a more in-depth analysis of how the brain works and is interconnected can be performed, including comparing the cellular and electrical data to known circuits. This will allow Ilya and others to understand many complicated processes that the brain undergoes. Ilya is also working on designing a completely mechanical way to accomplish this process, to more effectively and efficiently map these neural cells.

In addition to being a full-time graduate student, Ilya has also interned twice during his time at Georgia Tech. The first was an opportunity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston under the Dr. Tonegawa, the summer after his first year as a graduate student. Here, he was able to study and understand neural cells using optogenetic techniques. The second opportunity was the next summer, in Seattle. Ilya worked in conjunction with a hospital, and was able to perform the patch-clamp technique in vitro on human brain tissue that was safely removed from patients during brain surgery. Ilya commented that this was an incredible opportunity because he was able to use his research and experiences in the most applicable environment possible.

Looking into the future, Ilya suspects he has another year here at Georgia Tech until his graduation. However, he is still unsure as to what path he will pursue post-graduate school, whether it be going right into industry, or pursuing a research position at a university. Currently, Ilya is leaning more towards an academia-focused future so he can continue researching and teach university students as well.

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