geekStarter News

geekStarter News

Meet geekStarter’s 2016-2017 high-school and middle-school teams…


Synthetic Biology Teams

  • Ted Harrison School – Calgary

The school has two bio-design teams, one returning and one new. The returning team will carry out experiments with the goal of prototyping the project they started last year. Their goal is to build an environmentally friendly device for removing pesticides from water. The new team will design and develop a new project using design thinking methodology available through the new Berkeley Program. This year, the school introduced a peer-mentorship component where the more experienced, returning team is mentoring the new team.

  • Notre Dame Collegiate – High River

In their 2nd geekStarter season, the team will grow and solidify their skills in synthetic biology and iGEM, and will select and design an original project with the assistance of design thinking methods available through the new Berkeley Program. Having researched four different project ideas, the team is keen to decide on which project they will pursue, develop that project and start the experimental work. Their plan is to take their project to the iGEM Giant Jamboree in 2018.

  • Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy – Canmore

After participating in the iGEM competition for three consecutive years, the school decided to take a more systematic approach. They are spending this season designing and developing a new project using design thinking principles and methods available through the new Berkeley Program. This will also provide the many new team members with enough time to get caught up on their knowledge of synthetic biology and iGEM. The team’s goal is to build a high-quality project and present it at the 2018 iGEM Giant Jamboree.

  • Lethbridge High-School iGEM Team – Lethbridge

The Lethbridge High-School team is in the process of recruiting new team members, with the goal of participating in the iGEM Giant Jamboree in November 2017. While pondering ways to continue their 2016 iGEM project, a rapid blood coagulation system to stop bleeding when medical assistance is not readily available, the new team will get finalized and start the research for their 2017 iGEM project.

Robotics Teams

  • Ross Sheppard High-School – Edmonton

Student members of the newly formed Innovations Club at the school are working on developing their skills in hardware and software technologies such as Arduinos, Makey Makeys and littleBits. While their knowledge expands, the students are exploring project ideas and will be selecting and developing their original student-driven project during the second half of the season.

  • FIRST Robotics Team 5897: APEX Robotics – Calgary

In their 2nd year of participating in the First Robotics competition, the team will build on the experience they gained last year, as attested by their Rookie All Star Award at the regional contest, with the goal of establishing itself as one of the preeminent FIRST Robotics teams in Western Canada. The team will give presentations and workshops that will inspire schools and the wider community to learn and engage with STEM and robotics.

  • Father Mercredi Community High School RSports – Fort McMurray

The school has two returning First Robotics teams, one of which is an all-girls team, both registered to participate in the 2017 Western Canada FIRST Robotics Competition. They plan to grow their connections with other robotics teams and take part in training workshops to develop relevant skills, such as design and fabrication of robots, and programming. They will also engage in community outreach and teach robotics to younger students.


Meet the 2016-2017 geekStarter mentors for synthetic biology…

Born several years ago as an extension of Alberta’s iGEM community, the geekStarter 2016-2017 mentor group for synthetic biology is fifteen members strong, with eight team mentors – two per team – and seven specialist/on-call mentors.


  • Aydan Salman-Dilgimen – team mentor to Notre Dame Collegiate High-River: 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. She is currently working as a Research Associate in the same laboratory and also as a contract lecturer in the Department of General Education at Mount Royal University.
  • Chris Isaac – specialist/on-call mentor: Chris is currently an undergraduate at the University of Lethbridge, completing his B.Sc Biology this spring. He has participated in iGEM since 2012 in both High School and Collegiate divisions, Youth Technopreneurship, AGILITY, the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge, and is currently working on developing an agriculture-focussed biotechnology startup.
  • David Lloyd – specialist/on-call mentor: 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 student, advisor and a judge for four years.
  • Dennis Kim – team mentor to Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy Canmore: Dennis is an undergraduate student at University of Calgary. His experience with iGEM started with the 2014 University of Calgary iGEM team. The project was concerned with the design of a blood test capable of detecting multiple pathogens simultaneously. He has also been a geekStarter mentor for the past two seasons with Ted Harrison School and Central Memorial High-School teams.
  • Emily Hicks – specialist/on-call mentor: Emily has a degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Calgary. During her program, Emily was heavily involved in the university’s iGEM team. An avid public speaker, Emily has won several awards for her presentations and was named a top 30 under 30 in Canada this year for sustainability. Currently Emily is the president of FREDsense Technologies.
  • Erin Kelly – team mentor to Lethbridge High-School iGEM: Erin has started her MSc in RNA Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge. She worked with the Lethbridge High School iGEM team in 2012 – 2013, transitioning from student to instructor. In 2015, she worked at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, characterizing yeast strains that produce jet fuel additives.
  • Heather Baker – specialist/on-call mentor: Heather is currently a third year undergraduate student pursuing a double major in chemistry and biology. Her areas of research experience include biochemistry and molecular biology. She previously worked in a protein engineering lab on fluorescent proteins, and is currently transitioning into structural biochemistry research.
  • Himika Dastidar – team mentor to Ted Harrison School Calgary: Himika was part of iGEM Calgary in 2009, 2012 and 2013 as team member & team leader. She also mentored high schools in 2014. Himika finished her MSc in Microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases in 2016 and has extensive experience in cloning, cell biology, virology, immunology, including with troubleshooting experiments, designing posters and presentations. She looks forward to mentoring again.
  • Iain George – specialist/on-call mentor: Iain is pursuing a PhD in Molecular Microbiology at the University of Calgary, studying how gene expression is regulated.  He has been a competitor and a judge at iGEM. Iain is a videographer, science music parody developer, and an information technology wizard. He is a co-founder and IT Lead at FREDsense Technologies.
  • Isaac Ward – team mentor to Notre Dame Collegiate High-River
  • Lisa Oberding – team mentor to Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy Canmore: Lisa obtained her M.Sc. (2016) focusing on microbial hydrocarbon remediation. She is a co-founder, design lead, & researcher at FREDsense, building microbial biosensors. She has experience with protein expression & engineering, Bacillus, presentations, and poster design, and has been involved in iGEM (2012-present) as a team member, leader & mentor.
  • Robert Mayall – specialist/on-call mentor: Robert is a PhD student in Chemistry at the U of C focusing on the combination of chemistry, nanoscience and biology to create sensors for airborne biothreats in collaboration with the Canadian military. He has co-led collegiate iGEM teams from 2011-2013 and is also a co-Founder of FREDsense Technologies.
  • Rochelin Dalangin – specialist/on-call mentor: As a Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta, Rochelin combines her interests in chemistry, neuroscience and molecular biology to develop fluorescent protein-based sensors for imaging in neuroscience, with a focus on developing sensors for detecting neurotransmitters. She is looking forward to working with teams from around Alberta.
  • Sydnee Calhoun – team mentor to Lethbridge High-School iGEM: Sydnee has been involved with the iGEM competition since 2015 at both the high school and collegiate levels. Currently she is entering her third year majoring in Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge. She looks forward to her second year mentoring the Lethbridge High School team.
  • Tiffany Dang – team mentor to Ted Harrison School Calgary: Tiffany has been involved with the iGEM competition since 2013 with the University of Lethbridge and University of Calgary teams. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with a special in biomedical engineering. Her current research focuses on the upscale expansion of stem cells for use in equine injuries.