A medical emergency while camping in southern Utah played an important role in guiding Jason Manning on a path to biomedical engineering, and most recently, a Goldwater scholarship that will pay the rest of his undergraduate studies. Manning is one of two U students this year to receive the prestigious national scholarship.

Just before he started at the University of Utah, Manning, then 20, was suffering what he thought was a heart attack while camping near Bryce Canyon National Park. He was flown to a hospital in St. George, Utah, and quickly recovered. Fortunately, it wasn’t a heart attack but pericarditis, or swelling of the fibrous sac around the heart. Before that frightening event, Manning had planned on going to medical school. But the mystery behind the cause of the swelling made him realize he was more interested in finding answers to important medical questions than in directly treating patients. He decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering.

“I didn’t like not knowing why this happened,” he said. “So I felt there was a lot to be done on the research side of medicine.”

Manning, who is now a junior, has been working with U professor Jeffrey Weiss on understanding the growth of capillaries in the human body, known as angiogenesis. By identifying the mechanics of what affects the capillaries as they grow, tissue grafts could work longer in patients because of better blood circulation, he said. He’s presented his research on time series imaging of angiogenesis to the Undergraduate Research Competition at the Summer Biomechanics, Bioengineering, and Biotransportation Conference in June 2020 and received a third-place award out of over one hundred entries. His work in Weiss’ lab also will result in the co-authorship on two research articles.

His plan is to continue with his studies and work toward a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering so he can conduct medical research.

“Before I was in college, I didn’t recognize the scope of opportunities in any field. That’s where the U’s biomedical engineering department really helped,” he said. “There are faculty members here who have done everything – where they have developed medical devices, or started companies, or have been doing research. I realized I was in the right spot.”

This years’ Goldwater Scholars were selected from a pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors and 1,256 natural science, engineering and mathematics students from 438 academic institutions. Manning is one of four students selected from the state of Utah to receive the scholarship.