Aria Tarudji

Biological systems engineering graduate Aria Tarudji stands for a portrait outside the Nebraska Union on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

When Aria Tarudji was a kid, one of his favorite activities was to experiment with beans he grew on little pieces of cotton. Of course, he was still young, and growing the beans would often fail in a short amount of time. But it continued to interest him to see the different results with the different techniques he would use. From a young age, Tarudji was fascinated with genetics and how he could alter them, so the decision to study biological engineering in college was an easy one.

Tarudji, a graduate in biological engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. Right after high school, Tarudji moved to Seattle for his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington.

It was in Seattle that Tarudji developed a passion for nanoparticles because of the good it could do for people in the future. Nanoparticles are microscopic particles that are currently being studied because of their potential for different applications in the biomedical field. Tarudji’s research focuses on its application to brain injuries.

“I was doing my undergraduate research lab, and they were doing nanoparticles for cancer treatment and I found it very interesting,” he said. “The brain is one of the most challenging organs to be targeted.”

After graduating with a biochemistry and chemistry Bachelor’s degree in Seattle, Tarudji came to UNL to continue with his graduate degree and delve deeper into his research on nanoparticles. He is now on his third year of researching nanoparticles and how they reduce brain inflammation and trauma.

During his research, he has discovered that the nanoparticles he is currently using, biodegradable polymers, are able to accumulate in traumatic brain injury areas, and he is able to calculate the rate at which they accumulate into the damaged area using MRI. According to Tarudji, although these are not novel discoveries, they are rather novel to the traumatic brain injury field. 

The nanoparticles Tarudji uses were created by himself and are able to give fluorescence and MRI contrast so it is easier to find the nanoparticles in the brain. Tarudji’s current goal is to increase the accumulation rate of the nanoparticles into a traumatic brain injury.

“Right now it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “However, in the future, when the nanoparticles carry therapeutic agents, more accumulation into the injury site is expected to have a better therapeutic effect in the brain, which keeps the damage from spreading after the initial injury.”

After the initial injury to the brain, the cells that are broken release chemicals that in turn slowly kill more brain cells for as long as 18 years. This therapeutic effect on the brain is intended to prevent this continuous damage to the brain.

Tarudji's aspirations don’t stop there, however. He also is working toward launching his own startup company, possibly based back home in Indonesia. Tarudji is unsure of what exactly he wants the company to make, but is working on thinking of ideas that are useful and accessible to any social class.

“In Indonesia, there are fewer job opportunities, and in the future, I might want to go back there and help the country,” he said. “And I feel like going back to Indonesia would be the only way to do that.”

Sri Cholidah, a graduate in agricultural economics and a close friend of Tarudji’s, said they would often get together on weekends and have conversations on where they see themselves in the future.

“He repeatedly said that he wants to build a startup company so he could generate great products that have very good quality, but also have economical values so people at any level could afford to buy it,” she said.

To get a taste of the experience of being a leader for his startup company, Tarudji, with the support of his friends, founded a chapter of PERMIAS at UNL as an official Indonesian student association. PERMIAS’ English translation stands for “Indonesian Student Association in the United States.” Now president of PERMIAS for the second year, Tarudji is enjoying the experience of being a leader and hopes it will prepare him for his future.

“As a leader at PERMIAS, he is thoughtful, responsible, open-minded and very inspiring,” Cholidah said. “I believe he could get whatever he wants in the future because he has everything in himself. He is brilliant, has strong leadership skills and is very well-mannered.”

Creating a startup company is no easy task, according to Tarudji. There is a lot of knowledge that needs to be gained before attempting to start anything, like knowledge of what exactly goes into running a business. A great amount of his time is consumed by research, reading books and attending seminars for entrepreneurs, but Tarudji said it is well worth it.

“You never regret doing something,” he said. “You only regret what you didn’t do.”