From Tissue Engineering to Engineering Education Research: Designing in vitro cell microenvironments and undergraduate research experiences
Doctoral thesis, 2015

This thesis looks at tissue engineering from two perspectives that are closely interconnected with each other: 1) Research in the discipline of tissue engineering that aims to advance our knowledge in the field, and 2) research on how students learn tissue engineering through undergraduate research. In the body, cells are constantly exposed to a concert of different signaling factors that steer their behavior. However, in the majority of in vitro cell studies single factors are investigated in isolation, as there is a shortage of techniques to closely mimic in vivo cell microenviron- ments. This shortage is addressed here by applying approaches to control both spatial and temporal composition of the growth medium and material properties simultaneously. Mi- crofluidic networks were designed to combine controlled liquid gradients with 2D, 2.5D, and 3D extracellular matrix mimics to address key questions on cell-matrix interactions in tissue engineering. It was shown that nanometer scale peptide spacing mildly influences cell chemotactic migration speed, and that contact guidance cues for axon outgrowths on the mi- crometer scale can be overturned by a gradient of bioactive molecules. On an even larger scale, starch microspheres embedded in collagen hydrogels were shown to influence cell attachment, proliferation, and migration by providing a second phase material that potentially influences local growth factor concentrations. Cell response to multiple cell stimuli is not necessarily predictable. With the help of the systems developed in this thesis, it is possible to investigate the complex interplay between different signaling factors in cell microenvironments, eventu- ally leading to improved in vitro tissue models and the development of more advanced tissue engineering scaffolds and strategies. Over the past two decades, there have been numerous calls for universities to forge stronger links between teaching and research. This is particularly important for tissue engineering, as a majority of jobs in this field are located in research and development. The context for the engineering education research part is an undergraduate course on tissue engineering, where students work on projects directly connected to ongoing research efforts. The aim is to under- stand how students experience learning in this discovery-oriented environment. A method for analysing qualitative data was developed to explore students’ pathways in the course: how mo- tivational factors, challenges, and the learning environment influenced the students’ learning and development. Data was collected through surveys, reflective writing and interviews, and the analysis led to the identification of three pathways: learning to navigate the field, learning to do real research and learning to work with others. Overall, the students strongly valued learning in a discovery-oriented environment and three aspects of the course contributed to much of its success: taking a holistic approach to linking teaching and research, engag- ing students in the whole inquiry process, and situating authentic problems in an authentic physical and social context. Based on these findings and a review of the literature in the area, a framework for designing, evaluating, and researching course-based undergraduate research experiences was developed. This work offers a way to meet the long-standing call for a stronger teaching-research nexus to enhance student learning and development. There are strong benefits of combining tissue engineering and engineering education research: advancing the tissue engineering field with the students’ research projects, understanding how students learn to do research and what support structures are needed for it to happen, and for me to develop as a researcher through working within two different research paradigms.

teaching research nexus

community of practice

tissue engineering Undergraduate research experiences

cell microenvironments

cell migration

inquiry based learning

surface functionalization

chemotractant gradients


situated cognition

Kollektorn, MC2, Chalmers University of Technology
Opponent: Prof. Rena Bizios , Department of Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at San Antonin, USA


Patric Wallin

Chalmers, Applied Information Technology (Chalmers), Engineering Education Research - EER (Chalmers)

Chalmers, Applied Physics, Biological Physics

This thesis is about the importance of environments and contexts in two areas of research that are deeply connected to each other, but seldom discussed together: research in a technical discipline and research in education. I have been especially interested in understanding more about how cells find their way while moving thru our bodies. We have our GPS systems to find our way - cells use all the different cues in their environment to know which direction to move in. I have developed equipment that make it possible to setup experiments to discover new mechanisms in the cell’s GPS in more detail. I also looked at how we can help university students to become the next genera- tion of tissue engineering researchers. I explored how students learn and develop when they work on “real” research projects that provide a rich context to their work. Through this approach, the students’ learning becomes integrated into the natural research environment present at universities.

Subject Categories

Educational Sciences

Materials Engineering

Cell Biology

Areas of Advance

Life Science Engineering (2010-2018)

Materials Science

Learning and teaching

Pedagogical work



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie

Kollektorn, MC2, Chalmers University of Technology

Opponent: Prof. Rena Bizios , Department of Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at San Antonin, USA

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