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As part of the work to create biodegradable robots, Beni learned to make what are called phantoms, which are like analogues for muscle tissue. So rather than growing muscle and trying to stretch meshes with actual muscle on them, Beni was fabricating meshes out of silicon, with little fake silicon muscles, to try to compare how the meshes deformed when they’re stretched to a computational model the lab had created.

Prior to receiving a SURF award, Beni worked with his Ph.D. student mentor Saul Schaffer. As a result of this work, Beni was a co-author on a published research paper.

A native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Beni said when he was deciding where to attend college, he had an impression of CMU as a challenging school, but liked the idea of being able to do research as an undergraduate. “I didn’t really know what undergrad research looked like before I came here,” he said.

But he found it manageable, especially with the encouragement of fellow students who motivated him to work hard.

“In engineering it’s nice to have like-minded peers,” Beni said, “people who are in the same situation as you, who want to achieve great things.” Beni has embraced the opportunity to take classes outside his area of expertise, including history and psychology. In addition to his course work, Beni is a peer mentor for CMU’s Student Academic Success Center and is a residential assistant at one of the first-year dorms.

Beni said he’s still debating whether he wants to attend graduate school, but added that having research experience as an undergraduate is great to have under his belt. He does know that he wants to go into the biomedical devices field to create things that will help people with disabilities. “I think it’s really interesting that a lot of what we’re learning is going to be useful. It’s really nice to know that your time is so well spent.”