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Introduction to Bioengineering Class Presentations

We reached out to the staff of the Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory and Bio-Maker Space where freshman and sophomores learn the foundations of bioengineering in introductory laboratory classes. We asked if we could introduce the field of synthetic biology to the student through the lens of our project, the OptoReader and optogenetics. The director and staff were enthusiastic to help us educate our younger peers to new opportunities and frontiers in science. We presented to all sections of the class. In addition to representing the iGEM program, we were able to represent independent research and the DBTL process as well as field a plethora of questions. We were excited by the enthusiasm and engagement of the students and hope to see some of them on our team next year.

Pre-Freshman Program

The University of Pennsylvania hosts a rigorous month-long summer program prior to the start of first year in order to aid with academic preparedness in students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college or come from underrepresented backgrounds in their fields of study. We had the opportunity to present to the matriculating engineering students. We discussed what the iGEM organization and competition is, our project, the relevance and importance of optogenetics in the future of synthetic biology, and how to conduct research at our institution. After the presentation, we fielded questions on everything we discussed and found that many students were not only interested in our project, but also in joining the iGEM in the following years. It was a great opportunity to share our research experiences and advice with younger students at our University to promote inquiry and scientific discovery.

Mentorship Meeting for iGEM Advice

Vardaan Bhat, a student that graduated from a high school in Southern California, reached out to our team for advice on starting a iGEM team at his former high school with his friends. He especially wanted to know more about the structure and schedule of iGEM, as well as how to integrate learning synthetic biology and bioengineering topics into a high school iGEM program, in preparation for the project. We were able to discuss the iGEM timeline and give insight on what deliverables are needed for the competition, and how best to present them. We were also able to direct him to resources and types of projects/labs he could build a curriculum around to provide high school students with some background knowledge before starting ideation for the actual competition. Unfortunately, due to the differences in timeline between our iGEM cycle at UPenn and their plan, it’s uncertain whether a direct mentorship program could be established once their team gets up and running. We are excited to see how this idea will grow!

CURF Research Fair

CURF is the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania. The annual Fall Research Expo is a time for students doing research to present their research to University students, faculty, staff, and alumni and to the surrounding community as well. The purpose of the Expo is to display student work and show undergraduates that research is ongoing and accessible. Our team presented a poster at the presentation session highlighting the OptoReader and iGEM. We received a lot of interest from other undergraduates regarding how to get involved in research, how to participate in iGEM, and specific questions about optogenetics and its application in synthetic biology!

Frontier of Energy Research Poster Fair

The Frontiers of Energy Research Fair was the inaugural collaboration between the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research and the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology. The research fair featured posters from the broad pool of energy researchers throughout the University of Pennsylvania that allowed us to showcase our research and learn about the other energy research going on around campus. Because of the implications of our device to research in metabolic engineering and biofuels, we were invited to present at the session and thought it was a great opportunity to showcase the impact synthetic biology has in current energy research.

West Philadelphia

The students of the West Philadelphia School district are diverse and unique individuals. However the geographic area of West Philadelphia suffers from poverty, health disparities, and inadequate, unequal education. Less than half of students are proficient in the state standardized Math and English Language Arts exams. Poverty rates are 45% and more in West Philadelphia. STEM exposure is often limited, preventing aspirations into STEM careers. Thus, UPenn iGEM is committed to working with local public schools to mentor, support, and teach the students about biology and synthetic biology. Once safe to work in person, we will be teaching synthetic biology biology workshops with the K-8 Andrew Hamilton School. We also have agreed to mentor the all-female Science Olympiad team at Philadelphia High School for Girls where we will introduce them to synthetic biology and teach them basic engineering and genetic skills. We have had consistent Zoom meetings with the Volunteer Coordinator of Moelis Access Science that works with the Hamilton Schools. We have also been in communication with the director of the Netter Center for community outreach as we assess the safety situation of going in person to schools.