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The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering will host its first undergraduate science competition this year, encouraging students to combine biology and nanotechnology to solve global challenges.
By Radhika Jain
Announced in early January, BIOMOD 2011 is a "highly interdisciplinary" international bio-molecular design competition which will challenge students to engineer biological molecules that can assemble into nanoscale structures or systems capable of performing useful technological and scientific tasks, according to competition founder and Wyss Fellow Shawn M. Douglas.
Teams can register starting on Feb. 1 and will work on their projects throughout the spring and summer. Teams will be invited to present their final designs at the BIOMOD Jamboree at the Wyss Institute on Nov. 5. Teams must also produce a YouTube video and Wiki page to explain their projects.
The Wyss Institute brings together Harvard's schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Arts and Sciences as well as clinical institutions from across Boston. Its research seeks to mimic natural processes to develop solutions to problems in fields as diverse as energy, robotics, and manufacturing.
Synthetic biology and DNA nanotechnology have high potential for "useful applications," said Douglas, who said he founded BIOMOD to expose undergraduate students to the field.
"The nice thing about young students is they haven't yet learned what's not possible, so it's true that if you come in from a fresh perspective you would be more willing to try things that a senior person has already dismissed," he said.
He said he hoped the competition would also teach students how to work in a team and improve their communication skills.
Although they are required to have a faculty advisor, student teams will have an unusual amount of independence in the research process, said Adam H. Marblestone, a graduate student at the Wyss Institute and mentor of Harvard's BIOMOD team.
"Working at the Wyss Institute will allow us to leverage every conceivable discipline that is relevant to our goal, and to learn these skills as a group when we need to," Marblestone said.
Douglas said he expects at least ten different teams to participate this year.
"We should be able to grow pretty quickly to get more and more teams participating since the rules are pretty open ended," he said. "I'm hoping that we can start seeing some exciting projects and ideas come out of the competition, which could hopefully seed and inspire further advances in the field."
—Amy Guan contributed to the reporting of this story.
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