Alum Spotlight: BJ Minson (ME EN BS/MS 2013)

BJ Minson’s path to success included a fork in the road. Fortunate for many, the founder and CEO of GRIP6 Belt Company chose to simultaneously take both the right and the left roads. The road on the right would carry him toward cutting-edge mircrofluidics. The road on the left was to satisfy an itch, the kind you get when you feel something just isn’t right

(Pictured: After obsessing about Tesla for the past six years, Minson finally took delivery of his Model 3 last July. He was just a tad bit excited.)

As a master’s student, Minson was creating microfluidic chip designs and waiting for E. coli colonies to grow. But between rounds, his mind was on product design. He had an idea to use the CO2 laser in his lab to test out thin plastic belt buckle concepts. “I simply wanted a better belt, one that didn’t have holes, didn’t have a flap hanging off and wouldn’t stick out under my shirt,” he said.

Within a few weeks, the prototypes were taking shape and working well. Next, he began cutting out aluminum parts on the water-jet cutter in the advanced machine shop and giving them to friends to try out. The new buckle design worked well, and the feedback was encouraging.

After graduating with his master’s and still on his chosen career path, Minson began a job working as an engineer at Merit Sensor Systems. By day, he was designing new manufacturing techniques for high volume blood pressure sensors, and by night he was refining the design and manufacturing techniques for his new belt.

His best friend gave him $1,000 to purchase a few supplies so he could launch the belt on Kickstarter to test the viability of the product. With no marketing, the belt raised $106,000 in 30 days. When the number reached nearly 10,000 units, manufacturing them in his garage no longer seemed feasible.

“The advice I received at the time,” said Minson, “is that I would not succeed without making my products in China, but something bothered me about that. Why did so many people think it was impossible to make products domestically? Why should I have to rely on someone halfway around the world to be successful? After all, I had specifically designed the belt to be simple to both use and manufacture. After about the 10th time. someone said I would fail without China. I was determined to prove them wrong.“

Minson posing with his custom built animatronic badger on set before filming a GRIP6 commercial.
Minson posing with his custom built animatronic badger on set before filming a GRIP6 commercial.

So GRIP6 was born in his garage. Minson buckled down and got friends and family to help him for free. Over the next several months, he purchased a few small machines, made several custom machines and pumped out belts and buckles. The labor and the long hours, in addition to a full day at work, made it a truly hellish experience, he said. However, the small team delivered on their promise and shipped GRIP6 belts all over the world.

“Today,” he said, “GRIP6 is a team of about 30 full time employees including five mechanical engineers and a machinist. We do almost all of our manufacturing in-house and pride ourselves on doing things faster and better than our competitors. GRIP6 has never been in debt, never had to take out a loan and has always been profitable. At my core, I believe manufacturing is the foundation to innovation, technology and a strong economy.” ( )
Besides manufacturing and engineering, GRIP6 operates almost everything in-house including photography, marketing, video production, retail displays and animatronic badgers for commercials.
“There is a simpler, better way,” he said. “In my experience, bringing things in-house has almost always made it possible to do things simpler, faster, better and cheaper. In the next few years I hope to continue developing new products, bringing more production in-house and growing GRIP6 into a large, capable manufacturing company and a common household brand.”

BJ’s Tips For Engineering Students:

Be a project-oriented engineer. It’s critical to have a solid understanding of underlying principles, but you also have to move beyond the theory and get experience building physical things by hand. My most valuable engineers are the very diverse and adaptable type. They can’t help but work on their own projects on the side. They love learning and doing. School projects and personal projects and extremely valuable catalysts for learning and becoming valuable as an engineer.

Minson and his daughter Elyxzia at the FIRST Lego League competition held January 2018. They finished 3rd in the state competition and had a blast building robots together.
Minson and his daughter Elyxzia at the FIRST Lego League competition held January 2018. They finished 3rd in the state competition and had a blast building robots together.

Interesting things: Fun facts about BJ:

  • BJ is obsessed with anything related to Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX.
  • BJ coaches a small First Lego League team consisting of his daughters and nephews.
  • BJ designs and builds electric scooters with and for his kids every summer.
  • BJ cuts his own hair.
  • BJ actively encourages engineering among youth; GRIP6 held its first annual “Engineering Day” for kids last summer, and plans to expand it in 2019 and beyond.

3D Printing Human Ligaments, Tendons and More . . .

With today’s technology, we can 3-D-print sculptures, mechanical parts, prosthetics, teeth, even guns and food. But a team of University of Utah biomedical engineers have developed a method to 3-D-print cells to produce human tissue such as ligaments and tendons, a process that will greatly improve a patient’s recovery.

A person with a badly damaged ligament, tendon, or ruptured disc could simply have new replacement tissue printed and ultimately implanted in the damaged area, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Tissue Engineering, Part C: Methods.

“It will allow patients to receive replacement tissues without additional surgeries and without having to harvest tissue from other sites, which has its own source of problems,” says University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Robby Bowles, who co-authored the paper along with former U biomedical engineering master’s student, David Ede.

The 3-D-printing method, which took two years to research, involves taking stem cells from the patient’s own body fat and printing them on a layer of hydrogel to form a tendon or ligament which would later grow in vitro in a culture before being implanted. But it’s an extremely complicated process because that kind of connective tissue is made up of different cells in complex patterns. For example, cells that make up the tendon or ligament must then gradually shift to bone cells so the tissue can attach to the bone.

“This is a technique in a very controlled manner to create a pattern and organizations of cells that you couldn’t create with previous technologies,” Bowles says of the printing process. “It allows us to very specifically put cells where we want them.”

This image is of cells that were made fluorescent showing how they are printed in complex structures for the purpose of producing tissue such as tendons and ligaments.

To do that, Bowles and his team worked with Salt Lake City-based company, Carterra, Inc., directed by mechanical engineering professor and chair Bruce Gale, which develops microfluidic devices for medicine. Researchers used a 3-D printer from Carterra typically used to print antibodies for cancer screening applications. But Bowles’ team developed a special printhead for the printer that can lay down human cells in the controlled manner they require. To prove the concept, the team printed out genetically-modified cells that glow a fluorescent color so they can visualize the final product (pictured, below).

Currently, replacement tissue for patients can be harvested from another part of the patient’s body or sometimes from a cadaver, but they may be of poor quality. Spinal discs are complicated structures with bony interfaces that must be recreated to be successfully transplanted. This 3-D-printing technique can solve those problems.

Bowles, who specializes in musculoskeletal research, said the technology currently is designed for creating ligaments, tendons and spinal discs, but “it literally could be used for any type of tissue engineering application,” he says. It also could be applied to the 3-D printing of whole organs, an idea researchers have been studying for years. Bowles also says the technology in the printhead could be adapted for any kind of 3-D printer.

3D Printing of Tendons and Ligaments


Farhad Shiri

I received my Bachelor’s degree from K.N. Toosi University of Technology and Master’s degree from Sharif University of Technology both in Mechanical Engineering. Currently, I am pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah.

My work focuses on two projects: 1. separation of virus like particles; 2. Characterization, purification and sorting of exosomes and oncosomes.

Separation of virus like particles: this research focuses on the separation and characterization of different types of recombinant protein-based virus like particles (VLPs). In addition, the separation of the monomers from aggregates using electric field flow fractionation (ElFFF) and asymmetric flow field flow fractionation (AF4). VLPs play an important role medicine. They are popularly researched as potential drug carriers, and safe vaccines.

Characterization, purification, and sorting of exosomes and oncosomes: this project is concerning about the characterization, isolation, purification, and sorting of exosomes and oncosomes derived from cell culture supernatants and plasma samples.


  • Hiking
  • Soccer, Volleyball
  • Reading books
  • Biking
  • Singing

Ugochukwu C Nze

On paper, I’m probably your prototypical “nerd”. I’ve been parts of clubs like the Jedi knights club (Yes, we actually had choreographed Jedi light saber battles. yes, be jealous.), LARPing (Live action role play) club, watch anime, and have participated in several zombie apocalypse exercises. Judge me as you see fit.

Research Project: Pathogen detection project. My project aims to develop an ultra sensitive device that is capable of detecting pathogens in water, food, and other media. Our device must meet several specs: it must be ultra sensitive (detecting well below the limits of infectivity for target pathogens), specific (only detect target pathogens), Multiplexible (detects a wide array of predetermined pathogen targets in one medium ), and finally rapid (able to do all this in roughly 2 hours).

Marzieh Chaharlang

I received My Master in theoretical condensed matter physics and later shifted my attention to experimental and computational biophysics. While I maintain an interest in these subjects, more recently I have become fascinated by the possibility of using microfluidics approaches in biology, medicine and beyond. For the purpose of improving health care quality and designing applicable public health interventions, I joined a microfluidics group in the Department of Mechanical Engineering run by Dr. Bruce Gale as a Ph.D. student. My thesis work centers around trying to investigate the separation dynamics of bio-particles. I focus particularly on sperm, which has shown unusual behavior in the spiral channel using particle simulations. This will improve the understanding of the underlying mechanisms of particle sorting. This information can be leveraged to design sorting devices for effective separation of other asymmetrical and non-spherical bio-particles in the spiral channel device.

My research focuses on two distinct projects:

  1. Understanding the Bio-particle Behavior in Spiral Channels: The ultimate goal of my project is to unravel the physics of cell/sperm sorting in a device with spiral channels and understand how some bio-particles order themselves in the device. Sperm separation is a fundamental process for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) using sperm from testicular biopsies. For sperm preparation to start, we need to segregate sperm from unwanted particles (RBC, WBC, etc.) using inertial focusing technique. The mechanism by which sperm focuses is not known completely. Sperm cells show remarkably different focusing behavior compared to other cells (Ellipsoid, Cylinder, Red Blood cell, etc.). This phenomenon has fascinated our interests as researchers, raising questions like: How and why do various particle shapes find their equilibrium position and where does this difference come from? We have chosen spiral channels over other designs because of the property of curved channels to create an additional secondary flow effect known as Dean vortices. The dean vortices accelerate and modify particles’ inertial migration process for better cells focusing. By carrying out particle simulations that mimics the behavior of a living cell in the device coupled with experimental analysis, we (Brady Goenner and I) aim to elucidate physics principles governing sperm focusing to understand asymmetrical particle focusing behavior in the spiral channel.
    Particle sorting in a Straight Channel vs Spiral Channel [Sorting algal cells by morphology in spiral microchannels using inertial microfluidics, Allison Schaap, et al (2016)]
  2. Automated Device for Sperm Purification: I am also working on a NSF funded microfluidics project. The work involves building and developing rapid, highly automated, and controllable instrumentation which will be capable of isolation and enrichment of Sperm cells from patients with low sperm counts for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). We aim for our system to both increase pregnancy rates of infertile couples and provide separations faster than anything that is currently available on the market. The project is done in collaboration with the Andrology Clinic at the University of Utah and with the Salt Lake-based startup company NanoNC.

Joshua Burton

I just started my 2nd year of my biomedical engineering Ph.D. and am currently working on 2 projects for Dr. Gale in collaboration with Dr. Jay Agarwal. The vascular coupler device is an alternative to hand sutures for arterial anastomosis. The coupler utilizes a backpack type clip to allow surgeons to quickly connect two ends of a severed artery or vein back together. I’m also working on a nerve conduit device for use in peripheral nerve repair and regeneration. The conduit provides structure as well as a system for drug delivery during axon regeneration after injury.


Research: Vascular Coupling Device and Nerve Conduit device

Matt Nelson

I am interested in microfluidic cell culture devices known as organs-on-chips, which are used to model physiological functions of tissues and organs.  These devices have the potential to better mimic human physiology and disease compared with traditional cell cultures or animal-based assays, and therefore have significant promise for future drug development.  Outside of work, I’m interested in hiking, playing piano and guitar, cooking, and gaming.

Mike Beeman

University of Utah Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student, Michael Beeman, advised by Mechanical Engineering professor Bruce Gale, is an alumni of the colorado school of mines where he received a masters of science in Mechanical Engineering. My work focuses on two distinct projects: pathogen detection using electrochemistry and glass nano-pores.

Bacteria Detection: This project focuses on the use of electrochemical signal processing to detect pathogens in liquid and solid food sources. The project is done in collaboration with the United States Army and with the Salt Lake-based company Espira.

Glass Nano-pore Reduction: I also work on a project researching deposition techniques to reduce the pore diameter of glass nano-pores. The project is in conjunction with Electronic Bioscience Inc.