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Student Profile: Nanotechnology draws Brandon Karlsgodt

By Andrew De Young

Karlsgodt

Karlsgodt

Because they spend so much time studying, it’s not hard for engineering majors to feel a bit insulated—and senior Brandon Karlsgodt is no exception. Talking about science, Karslgodt can usually tell when he’s talking above people’s heads, and isn’t above referring to himself as a “science nerd.” But when he decided to come to Dordt, it wasn’t just the engineering program he liked—it was the whole package.

“I liked the emphasis on a more holistic mentality,” he says. “There’s a great emphasis on writing and communication skills, along with being active in society.”

You might call him a well-rounded science nerd. Karlsgodt may have a passion for the natural sciences, but his interests and intellect serve him well in other areas too, and have since he was very young. Born in Atwater, Minnesota, he loved competitive games and enjoyed watching high school athletes play. The competitive streak helped foster his interest in math, an interest sparked by his father.

“He’d give me math problems when I was bored,” he remembers. “We’d go through flashcards together, and he’d say, ‘I’ll buy you some baseball cards if you can get these.’” At school his competitive streak pushed him to study harder and learn faster to beat his classmates at math games.

The interest in engineering came late in high school, and he hasn’t looked back.

“I felt there was a great need for Christian engineers,” says Karlsgodt. “Biomedical engineering is where I’d like to end up, and that’s a field that needs a lot of direction right now.” He wanted to go to a Christian college with an engineering program, which immediately limited his scope. He first

found out about Dordt from an advertisement in a magazine, and after visiting campus and talking to engineering professors, he made his decision.

Karlsgodt says that he was initially attracted to the perspective that the people in the engineering department seemed to have. “Some places tack on their Christianity,” he explains, “but here the math and science are built on a Christian foundation.”

Later, Karlsgodt came to appreciate other things as well: the writing and communication skills that he learned, the emphasis on other fields, and the opportunity to be part of campus clubs or manage a Dordt College athletic team. It’s all part of something, he explains, that many engineers refer to as “soft engineering.” “Soft engineering” takes scientific ideas and communicates them to people.

“It’s said that an engineer’s success is eighty to ninety percent soft engineering,” Karlsgodt says. “You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t communicate them or unite people under a vision, then what’s the point?”

Karlsgodt learned the tools for soft engineering at Dordt; he applied them in internships. At Interstates Electric in Sioux Center, he was part of something called “value engineering,” in which he helped the company launch new programs and cut costs. He had to convince everyone else to get behind his ideas.

“We wanted them to be thinking about everything they do at Interstates. It involved a lot of presentations and writing in the company newsletter, which is where the communication skills came in.”

More recently, he worked at the University of Washington in Seattle, researching biomedicine.

“What I was doing was called ‘biosensing,’” says Karlsgodt, leaning forward in his chair and resting his elbows on his knees—he’s about to get technical. “You can analyze a group of cells pretty easily, but we wanted to monitor a single cell. If a single cell gets cancer and you monitor it, you could learn a lot.”

The metabolic activity of the cells was measured through nanotechnology, causing a slight glow in the presence of carbon dioxide—and it gets more complicated from there. But rest assured, Brandon knows what’s going on, and he’s excited about it.

“Nanotechnology has so much potential for great things,” he says. “It just needs some Christian guidance.”

And it’s Christian guidance that Brandon will be willing to provide. He’s looking forward to graduate study in electrical engineering, focusing on nanotechnology and biomedical engineering.