Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What is a Biological Engineer you ask?

After declaring my major at the end of freshman year, I had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic to visit my extended family. As always, visiting family, enjoying the warm climate, and eating a ton of delicious food makes every trip to this small island a trip to paradise. Now that my family knew that I had completed my first year in college, the natural question I would receive after the common “How did it go?” was of  “What are you studying over there?” The first time I had to respond to this question, I first of all had to double check with google how I would say this in Spanish. After I had that down, I proudly responded “Ingenier√≠a Biol√≥gica”. I was then met with a face that resembled Homer’s below:

There aren’t any Biological Engineers in my family. In fact, I don’t think any of my family members know any people who have any acquaintances that are Biological Engineers…. so to say that most of my family members might not have heard about Biological Engineering before is an understatement. Over the past year, particularly after my experiences in 20.109, I feel that I can answer that blank stare with a much better response. I see Biological Engineering as a fascinating discipline in which you can try to fit biological puzzle pieces together in order to shed light onto solutions to some of mother nature’s mysteries. Sometimes I also see the engineering aspect of this field as constructing paths that lead us closer to solving biological problems, although those paths also reveal other meandering roads into additional mysteries we hadn’t contemplated before.

One of the examples I usually give to my family members when attempting to describe biological engineering is the overall goal of my UROP project. That goal is to engineer RNA-based vaccines using RNA replicons as genetic circuit platforms (well I might simplify the RNA replicon explanation if I don’t want to get another set of blank stares from some of my family members, but I’ll share that additional detail with you). I usually share this project description in order to convey one of the aspects of Biological Engineering that greatly interests me- the development of devices that could potentially impact millions of citizens through medical applications. Furthermore, the work we have done in the third module of 20.109 has also opened my eyes into realizing how even the most unexpected aspects of nature can accomplish amazing feats that humans, as sophisticated as they seem, simply cannot do. I am still surprised that the functional battery lying close to me right now was actually developed with the help of a bacteriophage. I really look forward to sharing what I did in Module 3 with anyone else who wants to learn more about Biological Engineering in order to show them how one of the beauties of his field is the way in which it merges so many disciplines in addition to biology to address issues that can have huge societal impacts. It is fascinating to work with millions of years of evolution present around us in order to try to solve the problems that humans cannot currently or may never be able to fully solve on their own.

Being a Biological Engineer, just like trying to get through 20.109, may not be easy, but is certainly rewarding.  There is nothing like being a Biological Engineer who can use their creativity to play around with nature and be at the forefront of innovation that is leading to a better tomorrow. 

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