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.
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.
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
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
This semester I’m starting my fourth and final year here at Lehigh, which is both exciting and a little terrifying. With a new semester comes new classes, and since I’m a Senior I had a lot more flexibility in my schedule for this semester so most of my classes are electives. This is what my schedule looks like for the semester:All Bioengineers are required to take a class called Integrated Product Development (IPD) as a capstone project the second semester of their Junior year and the first semester of their Senior year. I’ll give a more in depth post about IPD soon, but its basically a yearlong group project where you work with other engineering students on a company sponsored project to develop a product. This (ENGR 212) is really the only class that I was required to take this semester. I’m planning on graduating after this semester so I’m taking Ethics (PHIL 105) this semester rather than the normal Bioengineering Ethics which is only offered in the Spring.
My other classes are electives: Cell Biology (BIOS 367), where we learn more specifically about the mechanisms inside the cell, and Inorganic Biomaterials (BIOE 325), where we learn about the use and selection of metals and ceramics in medical devices, are both Bioengineering electives. You are required to take 12 credits in approved bioengineering related electives, but have the freedom to choose those that interest you. I’m also taking Politics of Science (STS 124) just because it sounded like an interesting and relevant class that I could take because I had extra room in my schedule.
If you want more information about the requirements for the different Bioengineering degrees offered at Lehigh check out the program page.
I found out that acceptance packets went out for the Lehigh class of 2018 went out earlier this week. I got really nostalgic at first and thought about how excited I was when I got my acceptance letter – it was like I finally felt like I was an adult and I was moving on to bigger and better things in the world. Then it hit me how that letter came to me two years ago and yet it feels like it was just the other month.
I think I’m starting to understand what my mom was always telling me that the older you get the faster time seems to go. Already, I’m almost half way through my undergraduate career. It’s so easy to think that it hasn’t been that much time and I still have so much to learn and do. While that is true, if I actually go and think back, I have learned more about studies and life that I ever thought could be possible in two years.
My high school was pretty much a bubble, where I thought that all I had to do was get good grades, do some extra curricular activities, and that was it. While Lehigh could definitely be argued to be its own little bubble, the amount of opportunities to learn and explore yourself and the world around you are infinite. This summer, I will be participating in research for the first time — half way across the world no less! at Universiti Teknologi Petronas in Malaysia. I don’t think when I got my acceptance letter that I ever thought I would be capable of embarking on an adventure such as this, and some days I still can’t believe it. But it’s things like this that really make me appreciate how many this school offers its students, and how many more opportunities I will be able to take advantage of! It’s an incredibly exciting, and slightly terrifying, prospect that I can’t wait to explore!
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of volunteering through the Society of Women Engineering to participate in the annual CHOICES program. Every year, Lehigh invites middle school girls potentially interested in science or engineering to the mountaintop campus where for a whole day we do fun experiments. I worked with the program last year and I just loved seeing the students getting excited about thinking about STEM fields, or just watching them get excited about science in general. Last year, I was able to volunteer in the morning and helped out with some of the smaller experiments and ice breakers but unfortunately had to leave for lab before the day’s grand finale project – the egg drop. This year, I had a test in the morning, so I was finally able to experience the egg drop first hand.
The girls were all broken up into teams still from the morning. They were given $12 to buy materials and given a half hour to come up with a design proposal for the best way to cushion an egg from a 30 foot drop off the side of the Wood Dining Hall. The girls who I were working with got extremely into the project — they may have only been in eighth grade but they were completely into the design process. Their ideas were extremely well thought out and they even were able to bargain a little bit when buying materials. It paid off, because their project won for originality and their egg didn’t break on it’s fall! Meanwhile, I got to watch these girls, who were all from different middle schools and had just met that morning, work together, bond, and ask for each others phone numbers to stay in touch. It was a truly rewarding experience and I can’t wait to volunteer with the program next year!