geekStarter Teams Updates – January 2018

The new year has started well for geekStarter teams. Here are some recent updates they shared with us. Our Lady of the Snows Synthetic Biology and Robotics Club – Canmore OLS SynBio continues to focus on a plastic that will use a biological construct to improve the sorting of plastics at recovery centers. The team is deep into research on the structure of plastic hydrocarbons, industry standards for dying, marking, sorting and recycling of plastics, and more. It has been challenging to find a way to construct a device that will work – it is possible that the team will still need to pivot our project direction in order to make it achievable in our lab. OLS SynBio recently participated in geekStarter’s start-up event, and gained a lot of experience and insight into the entrepreneurship aspects of our project, and biotech in general.  We continue to meet twice weekly to research and outreach in our community, and have a full-day workshop planned with our mentors Lisa and David for February 2nd.  This workshop will solidify our project idea and plan. We recently received sponsorship from New England Biolabs, covering the cost of several of our lab reagents and enzymes (about $500 value).  We will be applying for an Alberta Government CIP travel grant, as well as a Town of Canmore grant in the coming weeks. Ross Sheppard High School Innovation Club – Edmonton Self driving and racing Raspberry Pi cars: We have been modifying and troubleshooting code on our original tank bots, but this proved trickier than expected. We will soon get new cars that have different drives on the raspberry pis, and their GitHub code...
Spotlight on geekStarters: Sydnee Calhoun

Spotlight on geekStarters: Sydnee Calhoun

Sydnee Calhoun – member of 2017 ULethbridge iGEM team and dedicated mentor of the Lethbridge High School iGEM team – stands by her team’s poster at the iGEM Giant Jamboree in in Boston.   10 Quick Questions for Sydnee How would you describe yourself in one sentence? An all-around science nerd that loves to learn about new concepts and have discussions with people from all backgrounds. What do you love the most about your work/school? I have really been enjoying my higher-level biology and biochemistry classes. Most of them are covering the theory that I have been putting into practice through iGEM for the past 3 years. They are also going into further detail about recent advancements that have occurred, which is always intriguing! What is your best accomplishment so far? I think my best accomplishment was last year’s iGEM season. The Lethbridge High School team created a cool project on making eco-friendly ink from E. coli that a lot of people loved at the Jamboree. The Lethbridge Collegiate team also had a fantastic season and our project on developing a system to make synthetic biology more accessible was nominated for several awards. I am proud of both of my teams and all the hard-work that we put in to have successful seasons! What is something you are working towards right now? I am currently doing preparatory work for my honour’s thesis that I will be starting this summer. How do you like to spend your downtime? Outside of iGEM, I am involved with an outreach program called Destination Exploration at the University of Lethbridge that aims on teaching...
Meet geekStarter’s 2017-2018 Mentors

Meet geekStarter’s 2017-2018 Mentors

In the picture above, mentors Erin Kelly and David Lloyd work with students at geekStarter’s start-up workshop on December 2nd, 2017   Mentors add tremendous value to the geekStarter high-school program, and our 2017-18 teams are lucky to work with an amazing group of mentors. Let us introduce them. Aydan Salman-Dilgimen – Specialist/on-call mentor, synthetic biology Dr. Aydan Salman-Dilgimen completed her PhD in the Division of Biology, Chemistry, and Pharmacy at Freie University, Germany in 2008.  In 2014, she completed her postdoctoral training under the direction of Dr. George Chaconas in the Bacterial Pathogenesis Group at the University of Calgary and further worked 4 years as a Research Associate in Chaconas Lab. She is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor at St. Mary’s University and also Lecturer in the Department of General Education at Mount Royal University. Chris Isaac – Specialist/on-call mentor, synthetic biology Chris is currently a graduate student in Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge having completed his B.Sc. Biology in 2017. The focus of his research is understanding common pathways in cancer and dementia. He has participated in iGEM both as a high school student, and as a collegiate team member since 2012. In addition, he has been involved in Youth Technopreneurship, AGILITY, the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge, and has spoken at the United Nations Biological Weapons Convention as an iGEM Delegate. David Lloyd – Team mentor, Our Lady of the Snows in Canmore, synthetic biology David received his MSc in Biology from the University of Calgary and is the CEO of FREDsense, a synthetic biology startup building water sensors for contaminants. David has been a research technician, a project manager and an avid iGEMer competing as a...
Spotlight on geekStarters: Chris Isaac

Spotlight on geekStarters: Chris Isaac

Chris Isaac – member of ULethbridge iGEM team and dedicated geekStarter mentor – shares tips for designing successful bioengineering projects at the Lab skills workshop held at University of Lethbridge in March 2017   10 Quick Questions for Chris How would you describe yourself in one sentence? Something along the lines of a jack of all trades and a master of none: picking up the skills I need to know as I go. What do you love the most about your work/school? Having recently begun my Master’s at the University of Lethbridge, I most enjoy the freedom associated with studying at a higher level. While you have objectives that need to be met in your research program, it’s also possible to enjoy the full support of faculty in pursuing additional academic projects even if they don’t perfectly align with your supervisor’s laboratory goals. What is your best accomplishment so far? Most recently, I had the good fortune to collaborate with wonderful people on the Lethbridge Collegiate iGEM team while working on a fantastic project. As a result of our efforts, we were nominated for several awards at the international level. I’m very proud of our team and the part that I played in helping us to that success. What is something you are working towards right now? There are always several irons in the fire, but there are two really cool things happening right now. The first is my academic research into picking apart disease pathways that are common to both Alzheimer Disease and Cancer. The second is a personal research project wherein I develop software to address biosecurity concerns in order to keep...

geekStarter Weekend of Celebration and Deep Learning

This is an exciting time of the year for the geekStarter community! On June 10 and 11, geekStarter teams gathered together to share and celebrate their projects. They met with experienced guests and mentors and learned tips for how to succeed at competitions and what it would take to bring their projects to life and make an impact in the real world. Highly anticipated events like these are at the core of our program, which is operated by MindFuel with funding support from Alberta Innovates. They are key to Alberta teams’ excellent performance at competitions such as the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM), and plant the seeds for start-up companies in new technologies such as synthetic biology. Here is what Justin Pahara, Co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Amino Labs and one of the expert guests, commented: “It’s amazing that Alberta has this program – This is a great example of Alberta leading Canada out of the commodity economy.” At geekStarter’s 2017 High School Jamboree held at Notre Dame Collegiate in High River on Saturday June 10, six of geekStarter’s high-school teams presented their projects and received feedback and guidance from six experienced judges from academia and industry: Emily Hicks (President and Co-Founder at FREDsense Technologies), Julie Legault (CEO and Founder at Amino Labs), Robert Mayall (Vanier Scholar at University of Calgary, and Co-Founder at FREDsense Technologies), Justin Pahara (Chief Science Officer at Amino Labs), Anam Rizvi (Student in Mechanical Engineering with Biomedical specialization at University of Alberta), and Patrick Wu (Biotechnology Consultant). The Jamboree culminated with the top three teams winning special awards chosen by judges based on each team’s performance and areas of strength. Team...
Spotlight on geekStarters: Lethbridge High School iGEM Team

Spotlight on geekStarters: Lethbridge High School iGEM Team

Best Communication Awardees at geekStarter’s High School Jamboree on June 10: Lethbridge High School iGEM team – Pictured with them (at left) is judge and mentor Emily Hicks, presenter of the award Meet the High School iGEM team from Lethbridge, and learn about them and their project from this recent interview they gave us. What is unique about your team? Any memorable moments? We are an ethnically diverse group of high school students that very much enjoy synthetic biology and have found a way to try to solve a significant real world problem with syn bio. We have also found success with our project, performing greatly at the recent high school jamboree! What is your team’s favorite fun activity? What’s something your team does to bond? We have had a game night with our team, where people brought snacks and we played board games for hours! How does your team use social media? As of now, our team does not have a social media presence, but that is something that would be great to use! How would you describe your team’s project in 3 sentences or less? We will be manufacturing pigments using synthetic biology, to use for our own environmentally-friendly inks. To do this, we are using genes from many different organisms to create four colours, cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Our pigments will be created in the bacteria Escherichia coli, therefore being natural and much less environmentally damaging than current ink products. What has been one highlight of working on your project so far? Just recently, we won a special award at geekStarter’s High School Jamboree for best communication! What is your team’s biggest challenge?...