HiveBio’s Sheep Brain Dissection Class!

I’ve been super busy and haven’t had time to post much lately, but I still want this to be interesting and somewhat science/ entrepreneur-like! So I decided to replog some of the posts that HiveBio’s amazing social media director (Anna Batorsky) wrote. This one can be found on hivebio.org here

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This afternoon eight members of the community participated in HiveBio’s first run of the Sheep Brain Dissection class. Co-Founder Bergen McMurray led the class through a description of the different regions of the brain and explained how the different cell types connect and function within this amazingly complex system.

Eight members of the community are ready to get their hands dirty to learn about neurobiology

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Bergen McMurray (cofounder) highlights brain regions

 

 

 

 

Bergen explains which areas of the brain are responsible for locomotion, sensory perception, speech, learning, emotions, and why the connection between right and left brain is so important. She also discusses how neurobiology is studied and how neurological diseases were discovered and treated.

Peeling away the outer membrane

The class was routinely encouraged to comment and ask questions. Several discussions focused on oxytocin, the “happiness” chemical in the brain, and the evolution of sexually dimorphic nuclei in the hypothalamus, and how research on this interesting but controversial topic may progress.

HiveBio would like to thank all of our students today for participating in the sheep brain dissection class and contributing to our discussion. See you next time in the lab!

Forum on Innovation in Medical Education

In early October, I took off from school to fly down to Guatemala. I was one of 5 “prodigies” invited down to speak at the business and medicals schools of Universidad Francisco Marroquin, and then attend a forum to improve medical education. My parents waited anxiously by the phone, convinced that I would get myself murdered or lost (Ok, I did get lost multiple times. Blocks away from the hotel…)

I was flying in with my friend David Darymple, the youngest person to attend the MIT graduate student, and who is mapping the brain of a nematode with grant money from Peter Thiel. At the airport we met up with two of the other “young people”. As we waited for the caffeine to hit our bloodstream, I frantically tried to read the ebook they sent us on my phone. (I actually read the wrong chapter. Oops)

Possibly as a side effect of overcorrecting on the caffeine, I paced the plane isles. As I stepped into an empty row to avoid the glaring flight attendant, the boy asked me, “Are you going to the forum? You seem weird enough to be on of the five.” That was how I met Daniel Himmelstein (who I am apparently in a blog war with right now). Daniel is a 23-year-old graduate student in bioinformatics at USF. Also attending was Riley Drake, a Thiel Fellow, and Juan Batiz Bennet, the founder of Athena. It seemed a good omen when I bitched about the overrating of Aristotle with Juan.

We began the next day at 7:30 AM! As any young scientists, we all arrived at breakfast minutes before 7:30, quickly stuffing our faces with pineapple and black beans.  Because of the gang violence in Guatemala City, we were driven eight blocks to the university, passing gates with armed guards on the way out of the hotel, and into the university.  The campus was stunning. Situated in a ravine, it felt like living in the rain forest. Fruit trees, birds, flowers, the campus bloomed with energy. Consuming some more caffeine on the way, we headed off to speak to the medical students. We decided to introduce our selves, and then do a Q&A session forum style. The students were amazingly attentive, and asked excellent questions. We were then whisked away to meet the retired president of UFM, Juan Carlos, before eating lunch with the current president and high up faculty.

Talking to Juan Carlos felt movielike. It was both humbling and inspiring to meet with someone of such jaw dropping intelligence and eloquence.  When I asked what we could do to help, he told me, “Teach the students to ask the right questions…”. His speech was halting from his advanced ALS, but no less wise. As we walked to lunch, I remained silence, trying to preserve the imprint of his words onto my brain.

At lunch, we alternated by gulping down food, and talking about our views on education. We more or less agreed that dynamic group learning was a key to education. It was so disconcerting to be filmed while eating! After looking through some pictures that friends took, I reaffirmed my particular skill to be captured with my mouth wide open and mouth closed.

Then we had some free time before our personal interviews (Find mine here). We spoke to the business students that afternoon, and one of them later sent me a really interesting essay on citizen science.  We rushed off to an amazing dinner, before the “prodigies” stayed up until 4 AM talking.

Then next day, waaaaaaay too early in the morning, we headed on a bus to Antigua. On the way there we discussed the drug war and violence in Guatemala City. We parked our stuff in the hotel, and then Matthew Scholz (my uber mentor/friend) rushed off to the market before dinner.  We walked through the crowded stalls as Matt butchered Spanish and I explained what he was trying to say. We got some weird some weird fruit, and then ran back in the rain. Matt really wanted to try the little taxis called tuk-tuks, so we hopped one back to the hotel. I started getting worried and more worried, we were heading out of the city! I frantically glanced around, trying to find a way to get out, WE WERE BEING KIDNAPPED. I tapped Matt and whispered my concerns, “Matt. Matt. I think we need to jump out here”. He calmly pointed out the hotel around the corner, and I sheepishly got out.

(To be continued…)

HiveBio's New Home

I apologize for the short notice here. I’m just recovering from “dying” of an undiagnosed illness, and attending a forum on innovating medical education in Guatemala. (More on that later. In the meantime check out https://www.ufm.edu/) But yes come! Bring friends and family. Put up posters at work. And now you can sign up for membership! Following October 18th, we are open for experimentation! We hope you’ll join us!

HiveBio is Opening!!!!!

Come one and all, through rain and snow, we’ll give you quite the biotech show. You’ll eat and drink and mingle around, we’ll keep you all from making a frown. So don’t you fret, the day has come, HiveBio’s time has begun!

So now you all hate me for that ridiculous “poem”, but you should all come check out HiveBio anyway! Bergen and I are super excited to speak, and the whole team is buzzing with energy (That wasn’t even intentional. I’m just on fire today)

Ashoka Seattle Youth Summer Camps

Hey everyone, I’m now back from England and Spain (A post on a cool DNA exhibit I saw in London will come soon). Lots has happened since I last posted. Bergen McMurray and I got nominated for Women to Watch in Science for the LSINW conference, where my friend Adina Mangubat won! Bergen and Elizabeth Scallon, our Chief Safety Office, manned a booth at the LSINW conference where everything went swimmingly. I’m considering some radical alternative-high school choices for next year (more on that later). HiveBio applied to Social Innovation Fast Pitch accelerator, we’ll hear more on July 19th. Right now I just wanted to let you guys know about a cool summer camp opportunity I was emailed about. Ashoka Youth Venture offers 5 day summer camps, where “youth” learn to how to structure their business plan, build a mobile app, and can earn $1000 in seed funding for their social business venture! I will be (and am) exorbitantly busy this summer (and forever probably) so I won’t sign up, and I highly recommend you do! Or tell someone else about it. Talk to you soon,

With Regards,

Katriona

20 Billion Under 20 Book Excerpt

Stacy Ferreira and Jared Kleinert recently asked me to write an excerpt for the book their writing called 20 Billion Under 20. You should check out their website here. I just thought I’d share what I wrote with you guys:

Everyone wants to learn the secret things that will make their business successful; make them famous; make them money. When I read a book about science or business, I often find myself wishing they had condensed their message into bullet points, rather than 400 pages. I’m not sure I have any sage advise worth climbing a mountain for, but I can give you bullet points:

  • Just ask – the worst that happens is they don’t reply (perseverance)
  • Believing you can, makes things much easier than believing you can’t (open-mindedness & faith in yourself)
  • The one who is rejected the most is accepted the most (don’t fear rejection)
  • Yes – two people are more productive than one (teamwork)

I was asked to write three pages, and I might get in trouble if I delivered three bullet points instead, so I will enumerate along with some harrowing stories of me saving babies and battling dragons (Look, you’re interested now).

I first heard about genetics when I was eight. The human genome project had come out two years before, and people were entranced with the idea of genes and DNA. I became fascinated with the idea. DNA was awesome! I watched documentaries, read books, and started coming up with my own theories.

But when I was 12, I discovered astro-particle physics. After learning about anti-matter, I thought biology was lost to me for good, I forgot about DNA and exchanged “Genome – the autobiography of the species in 23 chapters” for “The Science of The Impossible”. I spent three years engrossed in black holes, and reverse radiation – but just in theory. I did no more than think, and my plan revolved around going to work somewhere with a particle accelerator. I had the same dream as ever other child – I planned on getting straight A’s, keeping up extracurriculars, going to an prestigious school, and working my way up in a lab. In middle school, if you have a project idea, you’re told, “How creative sweetie” and that’s that. No help, no mention of science fairs. You’re treated like a pet that does something cute – novel, but we all know that it won’t repeat it (my dog certainly won’t. His trick capacity lies with in the 60% of times he sits when you ask.) Middle school science tortured the tired teachers, waiting for retirement, and making sure their kids suffered with them. Regardless, I continued my love affair with science, something I know many don’t get to do.

I got to high school, and discovered with shock, that when you presented an idea, people actually listened to you! What was this thing called support? My dog’s hair characterizes every article of clothing I own. Prompting me to build a system that could dissolve dog hair – that if put in a washing machine, would not dissolve the rest of your clothes.

In a completely “practical move”, I decided to ignore all chemical approaches, and theorized an idea using gene targeting to identify the dog hair genes.  Aside from the obvious overkill problems (dog hair mostly consists of keratin, not DNA) I didn’t even know what an enzyme was, but I decided to do a biotech project.

My amazing biology teacher, Ingrid Dinter, directed me to the Northwest Association of Biomedical Research (NWABR) biotech expo, and they set me up with local graduate student at the University of Washington as a mentor. I eagerly sent him an email, and we met up near his lab at the University of Washington. He helped verify that my idea would work, and gave me some things to research.  Armed with only an eighth grade overview of biology, I spent hours online, decoding the I didn’t understand, “What is an enzyme-substrate complex?!” I used a friend’s college login, to get access to the scientific papers on my enzyme, because I couldn’t afford to buy every article I wrote.

Fast forward 8 months, 300 plus hours of work, 10 packages of gel Epoxy, and more than 200 different copper pieces, I walked out of the NWABR Biotech expo with a 1st place ribbon.

But wait. I had spent over 300 hours on this project. More importantly, I believed in the idea. I started looking for lab space to do proof of concept in. I talked to NWABR, Systems Institute for Biology, Seattle BioMed, and a litany of professors at the University of Washington, but now one could give me lab space. I was still 15 at the time, which legally meant I couldn’t be left unsupervised in the lab – a hard sell for any mentor to take on.

I got inspired about opening HiveBio through trying to find a lab. Despite over 100 emails and 10 serious meetings, I never managed to find a lab space. Two months after the expo, my project seemed a lost cause. I was sure that if I didn’t get something the next time, I would quit. When I met Cindy Wu, the co-founder of Microryza, I had told myself that is she couldn’t give me lab space I was done. I’d already talked to 10 different people, and had sent out over 80 emails. Cindy spent two hours spinning out idea after idea with me, taking me to different labs and friends. Cindy represents the idea of perseverance. She unknowingly convinced me to keep going. I spent the day knocking on professor’s doors, trying to get a chance to pitch. And it would make a great story if one of those professors offered me lab space. Well, they didn’t. But, I did increase me odds of acceptance. I knocked off 20 people that would reject me in the statistical standings. And three months later I was offered an internship at the Stoddard lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which has been an amazing experience.

But I wanted to open a space for interested people to test their ideas. What about all the other people that have biology ideas? I still didn’t have a space to test my idea. We need to encourage people to experiment with bio, not inhibit them. After reading a Discover Magazine article about DIYBio, inspired me to open up what would become HiveBio.

BioHackerspaces are community lab spaces allowing for experimentation without formal background.  It’s like a gym model of a biology lab. You pay a membership fee to use the equipment, you can take classes, and it’s also a community for people that are interested in the same things. Currently, it is nearly impossible for a bioscience enthusiast to gain hands-on experience in a lab without a formal science degree. This requires a level of income that creates an inappropriate gap between means and access to education. In addition, science education in US schools is often ineffective. By setting up places where people can work on their ideas without having it as their formal “work”, people start to innovate. These environments help to obviate the concept of failure, which is essential for innovation. Furthermore, many people are still afraid of biotech, especially DIY bio! We want to help expose it to the community and explain the science behind it, obviating fear the unknown. In addition, we want to challenge the current standard that bioscience only belongs in the hands of a few highly trained individuals. We believe that putting the tools of science in the hands of citizen scientist supports true innovation.

Through Ellen Jorgensen of Genspace, my cofounder/ director Bergen McMurrary and me met, and started to create HiveBio. HiveBio is a community run organization with safety board officials, and elected directors among others, to insure safety. We have an educated lab monitor on hand to ensure safety and help advise members at all times the lab is open. Embracing the principals of open access to information, DIYbio seeks to demystify science through education. We offer a wide range of classes, from simple procedures, to more complex theories.

Before I met Bergen, I had planned on opening HiveBio in 2015, not 2013. When we first met, I was terrified of working in a team. I spent the first months writing and rewriting my emails, trying to make sure they weren’t insulting. I worried about giving up my vision, about losing my voice. I hated working in teams. But less then six months later, we’re opening the doors to HiveBio. Not only have we worked faster, Bergen handling the business and building side, me dealing with funding and outreach, but we work so much better together. We bring both of our backgrounds to make HiveBio better. Furthermore, I’ve made a great friend. And do the math. Two people will almost always be more productive than one. You will have to make some compromises, and give a little, so don’t jump in right away, but don’t shy away from teams. Teams have your back, and sometimes you need that support.

As a 16-year-old cofounding a BioHackerspace, I started to garner a lot of press. It started with an interview with Geekwire, and then KUOW starting talking about me. I got invited to TEDMED for free through my amazing friend of Milsal + McCaul, Taylor Milsal. My age fascinated people, and I was passed around from person to person. I feel honored and lucky to have these opportunities at my age, when other people more deserving don’t – but there is only so much astonishment I can take. Age should not be the determining factor. We use it as an easily quantifiable indicator, but many 40-year-olds act 16, and some 16-year-olds can have the maturity of 40. Some things do need to be gained by experience, and obviously I’m missing some things, but so is everyone else. I’ve experienced many things that others never will, and I’m missing out on others. I don’t want this to be a sob story about the troubles of being so young. Most of the time people are excited to help me, asking, “how can I help?”.

I’ve learned a lot about my ability to persist and push myself harder than I thought I could go. When I was building my original model, there was so many times I thought I was doomed to failure. Just reorienting it took me half an hour because of the complexity. I would be sitting in my basement, almost in tears, worrying that I was set up for failure. But somehow, I got through it. Now I approach everything thinking, “of course I can do it, I’ll find a way”. It sounds cheesy, but it’s on of the keys to my success. People laughed when I told them I was going to contact IMEC, but I thought I could, and I did. I believed I could find lab space, and maybe I couldn’t find it, but I could build it. If I had believed I had the capability to finish my model, I could have saved a lot of water rehydrating myself from all those tears.

Oh and also, all those people who said no earlier, I still keep in contact with all of them. In fact, one of them just gave me $100 for a recent crowdfunding project. When I was little, I hated being told no so much that I never asked for things. I had to teach myself how to put myself out there and risk rejection. Entrepreneurship is one large question – do you like me? Because your project becomes you. Whether it’s taking the form of funding, press, hiring, or what not, you constantly put yourself out there. I quit acting the first time I didn’t get the lead, but I’m learning how to keep going after rejections in all forms and varieties. I had to learn how to take constructive criticism, which seemed like an oxymoron. I had to learn, they weren’t necessarily rejecting me, or my idea, they just couldn’t help in the exact way I needed. Though sometimes, people will say NO. Well they say…

 

I received this image in an email I sent to an IMEC researcher asking to talk with him about a gene chip I wanted to use in my system. I sent him a four-paragraph email; he sent me this. Only this. So sometimes they will say no. Out of the 25 IMEC people I researched, three replied, one of them him. Later I talked with the head of their life sciences division tomorrow. Cindy once told me, “A No is always a Maybe until it’s a Yes”. One year ago, his response would have sent me into tears. I probably would have huddled up with “How I Met Your Mother” and chocolate, never thinking of the matter again. But forgoing the pity huddle manifested itself in a call. Trying something will always get you rejections that you’ll have to learn how to persevere through. If you can’t deal with rejection, you will never get to the point of acceptance.

And now I’m starting proof of concepts for my original biotech idea, and working on expanding it into a company – Medi.Rev. Bergen and I got nominated for Women to Watch in Life Sciences Northwest, and we’re only growing. I no longer plan to be just a researcher in an academic lab, and I’m finding much more to high school than a 4.0 and extracurriculars. I believe in what I do, and it makes me happy. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.