Tag Archives: innovation

UFM Innovation in Medical Education Forum

More information on my trip to Guatemala coming soon (once I make up part of my sleep deficit)

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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

Hackerpaces

So I’ve been talking a lot about Hackerspace on this blog, but I just realized I should upload this essay I wrote on them. This was part of my application for the Thiel Fellowship for the prompt “Tell us one thing about the world that you strongly believe is true, but that most people think is not true. If this belief shapes the way you live, tell us how.” As a member of the public school system, sometimes I marvel about the fact that I still like science. Lab’s turn into assembly lines where creativity is debilitating because of lack of materials and time. One of my hopes for Hackerspace like BioCurious, Genspace, and soon to be HiveBio, is that they can help get kids interested in science. People will be able to actually play around, because honestly, biotech is just awesome!

Ok, here goes the essay…

Our society leaves the talent of youth unharnessed. We place a higher emphasis on age than innovation. Some of the best ideas in our day and age stemmed from “kids” who still get excited with new ideas. We need to encourage innovation, giving more opportunities for young people to explore their ideas, rather than telling them to wait “until they’re older”.

Everyone has memories of being told, “because grown-ups know best”. That galled me as a 6-year-old, and it only festered with time.  Science fair projects based on friction seem fun for 11-year-olds, but no one’s supposed to even think about fission until long after college. When I started looking for lab prospects last summer, the dearth of opportunities for youth shocked me. Even in Seattle with a huge pool of biotech companies, only one summer biotech program existed for teens. One woman even told me, “You have a great idea, but you often seem to forget you’re only a high school student.” Science depends on new ideas competing for novelty, because being the second person to invent the iPod doesn’t really matter.

Clearly then, people with ideas need to be encouraged, no matter their age.  People under 21 have sparked some of the leading innovations in our time. Facebook stemmed from college fiddlings. Bill Gates cofounded Microsoft at 19, and started programming in middle school. Yet our society keeps youth waiting until years after college before they are supposed to pursue with ideas. Entrepreneurs I met while networking, like Cindy Wu of Microryza and Matthew Scholz of Immusoft helped inspire me to follow my dreams, encouraging me to apply for the Thiel Fellowship. But I’m one of few. For the rest, society must nurture innovation from a young age.

We need to encourage young people to share their ideas, and when they’re good enough, work hard to turn them into something. Furthermore, we need opportunities for young people to actually have access to new technology – to work with their ideas and experiment. Public School science mostly consists of a few pathetic kits, and uninterested teachers. It shows kids that science equals baking soda and vinegar or boring, outdated textbooks, just when they start to find their interest.

Hackerspaces like Noisebridge in San Francisco help to inspire innovation, but we need places all over the country.  Hackerspace, community spaces allowing for experimentation without formal background, exist for computer science, but are blaringly absent for Biology and other, less technology orientated sciences. 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. People can test out their ideas without the threat of high-pressure venture capitalists breathing down their necks. And most importantly, people can start on their ideas right away, without trudging through a fifteen-year system of school, and entry-level jobs.

Youth have untapped potential to change the world – if only given a chance. I refuse to accept the fact that I can’t come up with ideas, or start a business because I’m “still a kid”. The enthusiasm of youth kindles innovation and fuels passion, but ideas aren’t considered without a degree and thirty years of age. We encourage every child to play sports, but we need scientists much more than one more NFL player.. The ideas around youth need to change, and more opportunities for them to explore their ideas need to be created. We need creativity safe havens for ideas to prosper and grow. Not just for them, but for the sake America’s place in the world.

BioCurious

BioCurious

With Regards,