Gold star worthy mistakes
From forgetting to add antibiotics to cyanobacterial culture (and only remembering after we set up bottles in the incubator), to using the wrong buffer for a protein purification procedure, we have found endlessly creative ways to mess up while working at the lab. We made so many mistakes during our first two weeks we deserved gold stars. And that’s exactly what our advisor gave us. Each new mistake we made earned us another one. Thus, the "iGem Leaderboard" was born.
Our advisor got on Amazon and ordered 1,000 gold star stickers (did I mention we make a LOT of mistakes?) and for each error we make, instead of telling us off, he rewards us with another gold star sticker on the iGEM Leaderboard. The system has changed the way we think about our mistakes. We’ve learned to see them as a good thing - as part of a learning process.
Mistakes can make or break us, depending on the way we reflect on our experiences. Treated as prompts for creative solutions, errors can actually improve performance. Finding your once green cyanobacteria culture suddenly turn yellow, or shattering expensive glass bottles, are falls that can teach us to stand. Mistakes are memorable, they are sticky and allow us to make mental notes of what change for the future. In science they’re vital, and may even inspire teams to think of new and creative solutions to age-old problems.
As children we received gold stars for our wins. But that only primes us to be winners. Learning requires losing too. If we are too afraid to make mistakes, we’ll never take the risk to walk the path less travelled. Learning from our mistakes can propel us forward and allow us an opportunity to get better. That is the message of iGEM Leaderboard.
It’s a lesson we’ve learned many times over working at the lab. We are still at the rookie stage, but the mistakes we’ve made so far have not only helped us to get the hang of new laboratory skills but primed us to troubleshoot and be creative in our approach to solving problems.
And no one can deny that our advisor deserves a gold star for his unique system.
Team Ingenuity at Lethbridge geekStarter workshop
Date: May 16th, 2016
Over the weekend of May 14-15, the geekStarter Workshop in Lethbridge aimed at bringing all the Albertan teams together at one meetup to exchange knowledge, seek collaboration opportunities, mentor each other, and develop critical skills – not only in the lab, but in real world settings. Here are the highlights from the Ingenuity team.
Dawson Zeng: The May geekStarter Workshop really helped our team narrow down our project idea in terms of its feasibility, while furthering our knowledge of the competition criteria. I found David and Patrick’s presentations to be very useful. iGEM HQ has constantly changed its competition criterion. Since I have been out of the competition for 3 years now, it was an important reminder of the other non-scientific aspects for this season. If only we had more of these workshops set up throughout this summer. But as I understand, we unfortunately will not be having them, with the exception of the Calgary workshop in September. I was also hoping for an opportunity to meet the other iGEM teams and get to know their projects. A 2-day workshop would also give the teams these opportunities to interact. But I know this isn’t always the case, so we’re thankful nonetheless!
Mirat Sojitra: The geekStarter workshop was really effective in giving us an idea regarding the requirements for iGEM competition. The one-on-one conversation with the experts helped us to tweak our project to give us an competitive edge at the competition. The ideas presented in the lecture given by each experts gave us information that was unique and helped us understand how to diversify our project with incorporation of different methods and also present in a proper way at the competition. Only one aspect in my opinion that could have been done better is the interaction between each of the iGEM team. We briefly had interactions with other iGEM team but if there was more time allocated for people to interact, I believe that we could have exchanged ideas and understand other iGEM team’s approaches to the competition.
Nafaa Haddou: The geekStarter Workshop was fantastic. It was definitely an enjoyable experience and quite an opportunity to speak to previous competitors and other authorities in the field of synthetic biology. The opportunity to have some one on one time with each presenter was really good in allowing a different perspective to be addressed in regards to the project and its development. Also having the presentation in regards to the protocol and regulations for IGEM was really good. It gave a better understanding of what is looked for and areas to address. One thing that would have been great to have would have been some time to interact with other teams competing and attending the workshop. Beyond that it was a great and informative weekend!
Sharing our wonders
Date: June 28, 2016
Our team spent a morning at the St. Elizabeth Seton School to encourage them to explore the wonders of science. The Grand 9 students were very interested in the science experiment and the team dynamic exercises that they took partake in with the iGEM team. Extraction Strawberry DNA using common household items such as detergent and alcohol showed them that science experiments are not exclusive to lab but can be performed at their home or even in a garage lab. In the audience when asked If any of their houses had solar panels, surprisingly not a single hand was raised indicating that none of their houses were had their own solar panels.
Students were asked if they knew the source of the electricity their home is receiving and not a single person could confidently answer it. This showed that lack of adoption of solar panels and also the lack of awareness regarding energy source. The students were also intrigued by new type of solar cell that we presented as our iGEM project that uses plant's component, the photosystem II protein.
Our short interaction with the junior high students enhanced their scientific knowledge but also it showed that our project has potential to create awareness and a new type of system that have higher efficiency compared to traditional solar cells. The foundation of using plant components for energy can transform in wide adoption of solar panels as a renewable source of energy.
Thinking back to square one
Date: August 26, 2016
On May 2, the day we started working at a lab, our supervisor emailed us a list of buffers to prepare. News flash, working with each other running around figuring out how the new lab functions all the hassle brought the e reign of craze and tension over us. Advisor meticulously watched every detail of our work. Questioned and corrected every error and gently guided us throughout the way. For some of us, the basics such as adjusting pH of a solution, degassing, filtering, and doing everything using sterile techniques were new lessons. But that's day one and the hard part was yet to come: protein purification.
The first time we purified protein with our advisor, it took us a solid 16 hours (it’s supposed to take 7-8 hours maximum). The first time we purified protein without any supervision a month later, the protein died at 20 percent into the procedure. The entire month of June, we got closer and closer to finishing the procedure before the protein became inactive. The next month, although we managed to speed up and get to the last step of the purification within 10 hours, the protein turned out dead at the very last step. And then finally, after three months of changing protocol, starting from scratch endless times and trying different methods, we finally acquired weak active protein. Every protein purification in August, we had active protein and each time the activity only got better. Pure bliss.
We started at square one, and even though our project is not yet completed, we have all learned to critically think when problems arise. Making media and setting up cyanobacteria cultures in incubator that once used to take us 4 hours, we learned to do that in less than an hour.
Update on the iGEM leaderboard
Date: August 30, 2016
Reshma received a total of 5 stars, Mirat is at 3 and Patricia at 0.