Kai Yuet — who was raised in a small Oklahoma town — says UROP taught him to think big. “Now, I’m always thinking, ‘What can I do for society?’” he says.
The 21-year-old senior, who has participated in three UROP projects, is currently working with Prof. Robert Langer on prostate cancer research. “Of all the hundreds of UROP students I’ve supervised, Kai is in the top one percent,” Langer says.
The pair is now working on a system to deliver drugs to the prostate. “Hopefully it will be helping people within 15 years,” says Yuet, who adds that prostate cancer affects one in six men. He has recently co-authored a paper on the research.
After high school, Yuet worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he researched high-temperature superconductors. At MIT, he got interested in clinical research and worked for a year on a UROP project on gene splicing at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It is overwhelming to have the chance to work on this research as an undergraduate,” he says. “Sitting in a classroom, you’re not making connections in the way you do when you’re in the lab.
“It’s such fun discovering new insights, finding creative solutions to solve problems. Cancer has been afflicting people for a long time, and yet we are just beginning to come up with answers. It’s very exciting to know you’re building a system that’s going to help thousands of people.”
Yuet, the son of Chinese immigrants, says one day he hopes to become a professor at a big research university. “I’d love to become an academic engineer.”
Yuet adds that his UROP experience has been invaluable. “It helped me to gain confidence.
“UROP gave me flexibility. It allowed me to get acquainted with other fields. Now I feel confident communicating with chemical engineers, biologists, materials scientists, and physicists. Working on cancer research, you need lots of different perspectives to solve the problem.”
Back in Enid, Oklahoma, he says, life was small. “But now, I am always thinking, ‘Where will my work take me? And how can I help people around the world?’”