Founder’s Day

Since we just passed the midpoint of the semester I have been very busy, which is why its been a while since my last post. First we had pacing break and then I was busy with midterms and presentations, but now things are settling back down again. Last week was very busy for me with two tests along with my IPD (Integrated Product Development) midterm presentation all over the course of 3 days. So when I finally finished my presentation on Friday, I was excited to be done with everything and get to enjoy my weekend.

It also happened to be Founder’s Day, which is when Lehigh celebrates the founding of the University in 1865 by Asa Packer. I went to the ceremony which is in the Packer Memorial Church on campus. They honor student leaders, faculty, and donors along with Asa Packer. Afterwards everyone moves to the lawn in front of STEPS where the Marching 97  (our marching band) plays while you eat free food. You also get a free shirt for attending.

It was a nice way to start the weekend after a long week, but it was sad to realize that it would be my last Founder’s Day at Lehigh. I’m glad I got the chance to enjoy it.

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Bioengineering Labs

Each of the three different bioengineering tracks here at Lehigh has an upperclassmen lab requirement where you learn the different techniques relevant to that track. For the Biopharmaceutical track its the Integrated Biotechnology Lab (BIOE 343), the Bioelectronics/Biophotonics track has the Integrated Bioelectronics/Biophotonics Lab (BIOE 331), and for the Biomechanics and Biomaterials track we take the Integrated Biostructural Mechanics Lab (BIOE 357) which I took last semester.

That sounds really complicated, but in it we learned how to culture mammalian cells and some other basic techniques for testing and analyzing them. Its a three hour lab that you have twice a week up on Mountaintop campus, but it was one of my favorite classes because we got to do hands-on work. Since its a class of only about 10 people for 6 hours a week, we also got a chance to really get to know some of our fellow BioEs.

Immunofluorescence stained cell

This is one of the best pictures from that lab. We did a lot of immunofluorescence staining, that’s when you use an antibody that has a tag on it that glows when you hit it with a specific color of light. The antibody would bind to some specific molecule that we wanted to look at and glow, so we could see where that molecule was in the cell. The green are actin filaments, structures that provide structural support to the cell. The blue is the nucleus and the red are focal adhesions, where the cell attaches to the surface that its sitting on.

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S’mores and Aliens

Lehigh University Joshua Pepper

Joshua Pepper

On Tuesday night, the Gryphons (Lehigh’s version of RAs) for Campus Square (the on campus apartments I’m living in) hosted the Search for Extraterrestrial Life Under the Stars. An astronomy professor, Dr Joshua Pepper, came to talk to us about his work in looking for planets that could support life while we made s’mores. Every so often the Gryphons organize these kinds of events so that you get a chance to get together with the people living in your building and get more involved in the community. They also usually have free food.

It was interesting to learn about something completely different that’s going on at Lehigh that I probably never would have heard about otherwise. We talked about how they look for planets that are Earth-like and could therefore support life of the kind that we’re used to. These are planets that we won’t be able to reach in the foreseeable future, but with telescopes we can learn more about them and if life could exist there. It was a nice change of pace, especially during exam time.

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Celtic Classic

Believe it or not, Bethlehem is home to the largest free Celtic festival in North America. My parents came up this weekend for the third year in a row so we could go to Celtic Classic. It takes place around this time every year right on the other side of the river. The festival includes the US National Highland Games Championship, which is basically a bunch of very strong men in kilts throwing really heavy things. Its a lot of fun with Celtic music, dancing, and lots of kilts. My parents were even talking about how they’re planning on coming back next year even though I’ll have graduated.

We spent most of the weekend going between the 6 different stages to listen to music. I also watched some bagpipe bands in the opening ceremony, a few of the Highland Games competitions (throwing cabers, stones, and a bale of hay using a pitchfork), and the Border Collie herding demonstration. Over the course of the year there are a few different festivals in Bethlehem and it can be a nice break from homework and studying to spend a few hours enjoying the music and events.

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Rossin Junior Fellows

The Rossin Junior Fellows (RJFs) are a group that you hear about as a first-year or prospective engineering student at Lehigh. Basically they are a group of students, with a few from each of the engineering majors, that work in community outreach, mentoring of peers (particularly first years), and recruiting prospective students. I became an RJF at the end of my Sophomore year and have been at a few different events since then.

Some of the activities that I have done as an RJF are the Explore the Majors fair (to help first-years figure out which engineering major they want to declare) and Open House for Bioengineering so that prospective students could hear from current BioEs about what the Lehigh program is like.

Last Friday I helped out at Broughal Engineering Day: a program the RJFs put on every year to bring a class of 8th graders from Broughal Middle School, which is right next to our campus, to Lehigh to do fun, engineering related competitions. They were divided into teams of four and worked on three competitions: building boats out of aluminum foil and pipe cleaners to see which one could hold the most pennies before sinking, building the longest bridge that could support a small weight made out of only dried spaghetti, toothpicks, marshmallows, and tape, and answering trivia. My team didn’t win, but they had a lot of fun with the competitions and got to see how exciting engineering can be.

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Integrated Product Development

IPD logo

IPD is a capstone program that all bioengineering, mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, and supply chain management majors have to complete as part of their degree. Each student gets assigned to a project with 4 or 5 other students to work on in the Spring of the Junior year and the Fall of their Senior year (although Supply Chain majors are only required to take the first semester). Each project has an industry sponsor who has some idea for a product, process, or improvement that they want the group of students to work on. Through the course of the project you work together to come up with a concept that will address the problems that the sponsor has and then develop it by looking at the customer needs, the manufacturing, and the financials, among other factors.

Its a long and difficult process and there are always challenges that come up, but IPD offers a unique experience to work with a group to learn about and try to solve a real problem. By project is working on developing a device that can disinfect the valve on IV sets using ultraviolet (UV) light for B Braun. When we started working on this project, none of us really knew much about the disinfection of IV valve or how UV light could be used, but we have learned a lot over the course of the project, both about IV disinfection and how to go about engineering a solution.

Since we’re working with a company all of our work is confidential, but if you want to learn more about the IPD process leave a comment or check out the IPD website

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Dr Drew Endy Lecture

A couple weeks ago Lehigh hosted two lectures from Dr Drew Endy. Dr Endy earned both his Bachelor’s and Masters degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Lehigh in 1992 and 1994. He went on to get a PhD from Dartmouth in Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering and was then involved in setting up the Bioengineering departments at both MIT and Stanford, where he is now a professor. In the talk that I went to he talked about his research in engineering biology and reverse genetics.

Basically he works on figuring out how we can write out DNA to create an organism that has the traits that we want. The problem is that, even though we have sequenced a lot of DNA, we still don’t understand what most of it does. So a lot of his work has been taking the DNA of simple organisms and taking out the regions that we don’t understand and looking at how this affects how well it is able to grow to try and learn what those sequences of DNA do in the cell. He talked about how this technique would help us learn what each gene does more quickly.

A lot of his research is focused on looking at DNA as program that you can write code into. He has been researching the development of standard DNA blocks that can be combined. These blocks have defined biological functions and could be put together to engineer a biological organism. As he explained, this not an easy process, but could allow for some amazing advances in the future.

I also found a comic that he made a few years ago to try and explain synthetic biology to others that you might want to check out called Adventures in Synthetic Biology

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