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TEDMED – a recap

Better late then never. I’m here, still at my computer, with calculus homework undone, to tell you about TEDMED. As could be inferred from the earlier calculus comment, it will be relatively short, but I wanted to share my pictures and experiences.

I met with Taylor Milsal from Milsal + McCaull a couple of months ago, and we started talking about my project. She mentioned that she was a director at TEDMED, and asked me to send her an essay about what I wanted to change in science legislation (What became the erector set of the 21st century). She then sent it off to Jay Walker, who personally invited me to be his guest (A.K.A. get in for free – Yay! More free stuff!) 


This, is the opening screen for the Hive. It was this awesome space with couches, chairs, television to watch the talks, and free food (The best! I am a student after all. Even in high school we love free food). This was where I spent most of my time. The best part of TEDMED is getting to meet all the amazing people that go. Taylor introduced me to Danny Hillis, Lesa Mitchell of the Kauffman foundation, Zubin Damania (who’s hilarious), Catherine Mohr, and… Tim O’Reilly among others! (I was pretty excited for that one). Thank you so much to Taylor, who helped me navigate the mass of people in TEDMED and worked so hard to help me. If you are ever looking for a marketing or sales person, I highly recommend you contact her. I witnessed her in action, and she knows everyone. I mean everyone!


The crowds I had to navigate. Very stressful. I’m not going to lie. I spent a chunk of time fake texting on my phone because I didn’t have the nerves to talk to people.


I spent some time on the talks, though I wished they had been more science focused. I recommend checking out Laura Deming’s talk, as well as Peter Attia’s. Attia’s talk left me in tears. His account about not judging medical patients really forced me to think about my own biases.  I left with an amazing experience, some kick-ass business advice, and a 1lb stack of business cards that took me 3 hours to reply to. Not bad if I do say so myself 


Me and Lesa Mitchell



Exciting news guys – After everyone at TEDMED told me to, I got a twitter account! Yay for me! I’m only 4 years behind the time. It’s going to be such a great tool for advertising, and getting my project out there. It’s so handy, so easy to use from my phon-

I don’t get it. Why is twitter so hard! I don’t like it!!!! In case you haven’t noticed, I can’t fit my thoughts into 140 characters or less! Twitter won’t even accept my name – I’m 3 letters over the limit! I’ve had it for a week and here’s the progress that I’ve made.

I have:

Made 3 tweets (twitted 3 tweets? tweeted 3 tweets? So redundant…)

Followed 52 people/ organizations. More than 50% of which have science or bio somewhere in their name

And have gained a whopping 8 followers – so basically, I’m famous

I don’t understand how people have their pages covered in tweets! I don’t the energy to do that! How am I supposed to be interesting in 140 character increments all day! It’s hard enough not falling asleep in school!!!!

Well anyway, you can follow me here at I will try to be interesting and entertaining. Expect lots of retweeting (I discovered this option on my phone and it’s most exciting. I’m still not even sure what most of the buttons on the twitter app mean, but I finally figured out how to tweet from my phone, so maybe I can up the ante from 1.5 tweets a week)

Thiel Fellowship Finals – The Real Version, please ignore earlier versions

Sorry. I realize the post I published earlier had some factual errors. Please ignore it, and here is the correct one.


Ok Ok. I know I’m a little bit on the tardy side for writing this post. I’ve been extrodinarily busy lately. We’re hoping to open up HiveBio in the next month (More on this to come), so everything has been eating up my time like Pac-man. But away from what quickly approaches whining territory, and back to the amazing trips I took.

The finalist weekend was one of the best weekends in my remembered experiences. For the first time, I wasn’t the youngest in the room. I don’t mean to get all mushy on you guys, the emotional equivalent of a smashed pumpkin, but it really was incredibly inspiring.

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. 40 nerds were standing around in a hotel lobby…

They were all standing in a pack in the lobby, but it seemed easier to break in than usual. Everyone was warm and excited to meet other people.  After the appropriate time of tentative socializing, we departed in a mass cloud to the Bart station. I flitted around, trying to meet as many people as possible.

We arrived at ChezJJ and I ended up next to Karan Sikka. We talked for about 15 minutes, and then the social games began. We had two minutes to answer random get-to-know-you questions. I talked to Kettner, who originally disgruntled me quite a lot by questioning the credibility of my project. After reflecting on it though, I came to realize he wasn’t trying to shoot me down, just give me advice.

After the usual buffet breakfast activities, we meandered over the Hotel Marriot. Andrew Brackin was leading the way (though many checked his assuredness with Google maps.) We sat down at tables by numbers, and proceeded to hear the orientation – the catalyst of many jokes throughout the weekend as well as some useful information. I worriedly looked over to see that Mom had sat at the table with the Thiel committee, but based of their expressions, she didn’t seem to be berating their educational model.

And then  – the scavenger hunt began. I was with Taylor Amarel, Rachel Phillips, Nelson Zhang, Abody Aljoudi, and Charles Yu. At the beginning, we were extraordinarily competitive. Looking up pictures on our phones, running and solving puzzles frantically. We rushed to statues and parks, slowing bonding close together. (The grand irony of the job distribution was that I had the map – a paper map even! I actually did quite a good job of getting us around, with only one mistake)

After about three hours, we headed to the ferry terminal for a snack. Imperceptibly except on reflection, we had started to bond and become friends. We got to the water, and I happily lead us off the left. Just one building down – I continued to promise. We chatted along the way, me with Nelson, Taylor, and Rachel, and Abody trailing behind. Me and Taylor kept insisting that it was only one building more. “The next one. You can see it.” After a mile or so, we realized we had been heading in the wrong direction. We quickly harkened back. We fell upon the free samples at the ferry terminal like wild animals. There were more clues after that, but our motivation had decreased exponentially, and we mostly focused on getting back to the meeting place.

When we arrived again at Next Space, confusion arose at the sight of yellow police tape. What had happened? As we got in the news shocked us –a shooting?! I talked to Nikita, who retained the shock from hearing the shots, and benevolently relinquished one of my many oranges. We started to socialize, and I ended up next to Laura Demning and Riley Ennis. As Riley explained cancer immunology project, I attempted to occasionally ask and impressive question, but amounted to barely more than a conspicuous eavesdropper.  I eventually left to talk to Cessi Bakshi (name has been changed) and Christopher Olah, a current fellow, about the state of the US meritocracy. Cessi told us about how she immigrated to the US, was homeless for a period of time, and couldn’t even speak English in fourth grade. Because a teacher offered to tutor her, she managed to work her way up. She remains undocumented, but is working the help change immigration legislation.

As the official time ended, we were offered to attend a party at Connor’s house (a next of Thiel fellows).  But I had heeded Kettner’s advice, and realized the imminent need to file a provisional patent. Upon earlier information that Taylor had filed a patent, I hijacked him to help Cessi, Rachel, and me. We headed back Cessi and Rachel’s room, and had a party of our own. I actually enjoyed myself immensely in that stressful, studying-for-finals kind of way. We disperse at 2:00 am, though I worked until 3:00 in my room.

The next morning I woke up to have my interview, and slathered cover up on to try to hide my lack of sleep. I nervously headed up after a snarffed breakfast, and waited at the chair outside the door.

They began by asking me what I would make absurd in 10 years (Like how the idea of pagers is absurd now). I answered with some thing about how we needed to include biotechnology in medicine, and the rest of the interview followed as such. I felt like it went pretty well, they were laughing and didn’t seem to frown at ay of my answers. At the end, we joked about the gorgeous view from the office, and I headed down triumphant to breakfast number 2 (When in doubt, always more food).

I checked my phone, and my friend Matthew Scholz had emailed some IP lawyers he knew to see if any of them could look over my application. Gary Myles of Merchant and Gould offered to look it over, so I sent him the mess that constituted my draft. That evening he sent my a 27 page document. “What’s this?” He had turned my 3-page, 3AM patent into a 27 page provisional that actually made sense. He has spent his Saturday to do Pro Bono work for a girl he didn’t even know! (Right now he’s continuing to help me Pro Bono.   I recommend buying stock in some chocolate companies, because I owe him and other friends and mentors a lot chocolate.)

The next morning began the nervous energy of the lightening talks! We changed into our nice clothes, and frantically rehearsed (and in some cases wrote) our pitches. We nervously ran over to Yerba Buena, and met Mike Gibson along the way. We joked around with him, walking in slow motion and singing “The Final Countdown”, but soon, we entered the stage. We waited nervously in the dressing room, and I rehearsed my pitch while listening to variations of inspirational songs (much Disney was involved).

Photo Credit to Matt Scholz, my amazing mentor/ friend.

We walked onto the dark stage, and waited our turn. The nervous energy was almost crackling in the air. I stepped out on the stage. I gulped a deep breath of air, and began. “Imagine a world where you can prick your finger and if you have a certain disease, a light turns on. I’m making that dream a reality.” Two minutes! How can you fit everything you want to say in two minutes! The timer blinks distractingly, whispering it’s siren song of distraction “45, 44, 43”, “Genetic…. Genetic catalyst”. I recovered quickly, and bolted to freedom.

But at the same time, as I nervously sat in the back of the auditorium, I wanted to do it all over again. Get back on that podium. Tell them why they should support me. Explain my vision. Because I want the chance to tell as many people as possible. I’m like the parents with a new baby, happily showing it off to every befuddled passerby.

Zach Hamed ended with an amazing speech, heartwarming, and emotion raising. We then scrambled off to our tables for the Mentor Match! This part involved Cafe Style interviews where the mentors would walk around and talk to who they were interested in. We milled around, inhaling boxed lunches, nervously worrying that we would be left like the fat kid being picked for baseball teams.

I happily welcomed my first mentor to the desk as soon as they shuffled in, and from that point on, my table was packed. I actually had people circling by – trying to find a place. I only had one moment where I was alone.  I got lots of advice, and gained new ideas as well as made new connections.

We ended with an emotional closing circle. Put a bunch of super passionate kids in a room, add high stakes and little sleep, and normally you get a Hunger Game’s like match up. But I didn’t even register competition. And this is from the girl that breaks a sweat from concentrating on board games. We really felt like a family. I would happily invite everyone of them to come live with me (Ok, I actually did invite my roommate Laura Ball.) I left feeling reinvigorated in a very tired way. Seeing other people doing what they loved, helped to convince me that I really do love what I’m doing. I think all of us have the small doubt in the back of our mind “What if I actually hate this. Then I’ll have studied for 20 years and for what?!” I mean, what if I miss my calling as a professional hip hop dancer? Or opera singer? (My friends would argue that I have no calling towards these careers as they involve being able to sing and dance. I think I perform a great version of “I’ll make a man out of you”.)

With Regards,


P.S. I didn’t get the Thiel Fellowship this year. I’m figuring out how I can finish my research, as well as the parent supported IB program. I’m a little disappointed of course, but the Finals were an amazing opportunity. I’m really happy to have gotten this far. And as a friend told me, “A No is always a Maybe until it’s a Yes”


Hi guys, this is going to be really quick because some undone Spanish beckons angrily at me from my desk. I just wanted to post a quick link to the HiveBio website. Bergen McMurray has done an amazing job of designing the logo (so cool!), and it has more information about the lab and how to become a member. And wow, it also has a link to the Microryza page. So another opportunity to donate. Please?! Just $5. I know I’m pulling the radio pledge drive tactic here – annoy the money out of them, but we’re past 50%!

With regards,

Katriona </p

The Erector Set of the 21st Century

We have reached a critical point for creation. A few hot spots bloom with innovation, but for the most part, our youth sits at home with Mario Kart and first person shooter games. Science education consists of baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, and kids lose interest in any science before they even realize what it is. Instead of embracing technology, we have started to fear the exciting advance we’re making. Newspapers write articles about “Bio-Hackers running Imageloose, threatening our livelihoods, our children” yet, a mentally disturbed man can buy an AK-47 and we can’t even pass an assault weapon ban. The public fears the wrong things entirely; most can’t even accomplish the bio-catastrophes they dread. We regulate and restrict things in the name of protection, yet we these little labs are more likely to make a glow-in-the dark gold fish than a bio-weapon.

We should be convincing kids to play with science, to foster innovation from an early age. The US fast falls behind other countries, but we can help change that. A 6 year old can extract DNA from a strawberry, a 10 year old can try their first experiment with algae. High school and college students should be encouraged and able to test their ideas, but they can’t even order a plasmid online. We need to make simple, and safe biology tools more open and available. We have a safety ranking system for biology, so why is Bio Safety Level 1, “suitable for work involving well-characterized agents not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans, and of minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment”, so restricted? Biotech companies don’t even want to deliver simple things like buffers to DIYBio labs. They’re too worried about getting sued.

These materials need to be widely available! Biotech stands poised in the same boom potential as tech and computers 20 years ago, but the difference lies in those with computers versus those with plasmids. We are going to fall behind and lose the potential for innovation if people cannot interact with Biotech. I envision a world where I can go to Amazon, go to the Bio category, and order some plasmids to run my experiment.

As a high school student looking to test an award winning project idea, I spent months looking for a lab to test my idea. After more than 100 emails, and 20 meetings, I found an internship, but I still couldn’t test my idea. What about all the other people that have biology ideas? I got inspired to open a Seattle Bio-Hackerspace, HiveBio, with my co-director Bergen McMurrary. We want to help make biology more accessible to the community. Because E. coli is fun! We need the legislation to change. In the 20s 30s, kids built crystal radios, in the 50s and 60s they built models, my parents played with Erector sets. DIYBiology can be the Erector set of today, but we have to change the legislation to help it and give the youth of today a creative outlet that will propel our society to a better world.Image

The Maker Movement

This is a repost of an entry I did for the Edlab group blog

The Maker Movement

Brighton 2012 Mini Maker Faire via Dan Lockton

Normal people can make cool stuff too. The Maker Movement is a growing movement of people deciding to build stuff, rather than buy it. Not necessarily to save money, but for the fun. It signifies a movement of backyards, garages, and weird hours. Some projects are serious, soon to make their way to the commercial market – like people who do DIY biology experiments in their garage; while others are pure whimsy. We’re talking giant talking giraffes, real life super hero suits, and fire breathing dragons. Yes – dragons! Maybe my childhood dream of having a pet unicorn is possible after all, as long as I don’t mind that it’s made of aluminum.

The Maker Movement has some general components:

  • It’s a movement of the young, not the old “when I was your age” bankers/lawyers/doctors that we often associate with success. Everyone from little kids to grad students. Us folk that aren’t stuck with normal working hours can spend more time after-school, in between classes, etc. on our cool projects. We’ve also grown up with the idea that we can make things. “Make Magazine” has a special “kids” section. Kids of all ages can sign up for Google and “Make Magazine’s” 30 day long, onlineMaker Camp. You can sign up for emails and receive cool talks, demos, and more information on how to be a Maker. But you can tailor it to your own time, because everything can be accessed after the talk “happened”. (I think this is a key component for those of us who think 12 noon is early in the morning. *Cough *Cough – too much “How I Met your Mother” last night.) Oh – and it’s free. You can even participate in “fieldtrips” through Google Hangout; a slightly cooler version than Skype from my completely objective third party opinion. Because I definitely did not broadcast myself air-guitaring to someone by accident. In school now, students of all ages can compete in robotics competitions. They work on a team to build a robot to the theme of that year’s competition.  This year the theme was basketball, and the teams designed robots to shoot hoops. That might be useful considering the last time I tried to play basketball I dropped the ball on my head.
  • It pulls from the community using resources of neighboring people. The Maker Movement focuses heavily on hackerspaces.  Hackerspaces are comprised of community centers, garages, and basements that people equip. Members pay for the cost of materials and then can use the equipment and expertise of the other makers there. At Noisebridge in San Francisco, they offer a wide array of classes throughout the day. They range from cooking classes, to German lessons, to a workshop on the Linux operating system. FamiLab in Orlando hosts a YoungMakers program, where they encourage and mentor students in making their dream projects. This program spawned the previously mentioned fire-breathing dragon.
  • It puts STEM to use in a tangible way, not the “will the plants grow if we water them with Pepsi” way you find in schools. Part of the definition of the Maker Movement is actually making things you can touch and use. Bill Gates just started out as a nerdy high-school student who made computer code in all of his spare time. And I’d say that the development of Microsoft is about as useful as things can get. General Electrics asked for the advice of DIY makers using Facebook. They want to see the designs of model airplanes and airports. Through “Make Magazine” you can buy an Arduino kit that allows you to start building computers. All at your own house.
  • It allows you to be creative, in a way you may have left behind in preschool with finger painting. Through Adafruit, you can buy kits and books to help teach yourself. Self-guided education is the education for the future, and allows you to use your creativity and adapt the curriculum to your interests. And it’s just fun. After all, everyone has a small part of them that wants a fire-breathing dragon in our garage. (Or maybe that’s just me.) At the World Maker Faire this coming September, “Make Magazine” advertises attractions in everything from fashion to art to food to technology.  Some of my favorite attraction descriptions are: “The Life Sized Mousetrap”, “Iconic Cupcake Cars”, and “The Nerdy Derby” – a derby race with cars built from Legos, wood, golf balls and more. But without rules.

So, who are these makers of the 21st century? The big names of the Make Movement consist of: Dale Dougherty, the founder of “Make Magazine”, a magazine with tons of cool DIY projects, “Radio Shack”, who just launched a new site for radio shack product DIYs, and “Adafruit Industries”, an online store for Makers. But, most Makers start out as kids and college student playing around with “fun stuff” in their garage. Then one day, they might discover something huge that allows them to invent the next iPod. The Maker Movement of socially challenged kids hitting it big changed into a movement of the people. The “makers” of the past were people like cobblers, dressmakers, bakers – people making out of necessity, not for glamour or fame. The Maker Movement has slowly moved into a movement for the people – the maker movement. Yes, you still have a chance at becoming a gazillionaire, but now people everywhere are making. From fashion bloggers dip-dyeing their own jeans, to a cash-strapped teenager fixing their own T.V, everyone “makes”.

So don’t feel the pressure to invent some amazing creation that speaks, cooks brownies, and can win jeopardy. Make just for the fun of not having to pay, for something to do on the weekend with your friends, or because you found a free DVD player on the street. We all can make things, so seize the opportunity, and have fun.


Help fund us! Click here

This is just a short post because there is more to come, but here is the link to our crowd-sourcing page! It’s been live for around 3 days, and we’ve already raised 25%. Any donations you’re willing to make, even $5 dollars helps. That’s the price of a latte! Do you like community science enough for a latte? A video will be coming soon, and we hope to get more pictures of the lab space up soon. With more money, we will be able to get to a safety level 1 lab! This means that we can work with Bacteria, because we’ll have a sink and non absorbent floors.

Note: This is not lethal bacteria. No bio-weapons will be made, or considered, or even thought of. Level 1 means we can work with materials “not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans, and of minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment” (CDC,1997) I repeat. Not known to cause to disease. There are many different versions of E. coli, the ones we would work with are more like legos of the bacteria world. You just add your brick (gene) to the E. coli brick.