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Georgia Tech workshop well received
Lambert students embrace engineering
Georgia Tech assistant professor Mark Styczynski talks about bacteria growth with students Wednesday at Lambert High. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Erica Williams is thinking about attending Georgia Tech after she graduates Lambert High in May.

A workshop Wednesday at her school further piqued her interest in studying biomedical engineering.

“I figured this is good because it relates to that and I can get more information, so I can choose what I’m doing next year,” Williams said. “It’s a hands-on experience and it just gives me more insight to what it is … this is helping me figure out what it’s all about.”

The workshop was led by Mark Styczynski, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering.

He and a team of graduate and undergraduate students worked with Lambert teacher Janet Standeven to give a brief introduction to synthetic biology.

Students were able to participate in a few activities and watch a brief video about quorum sensing, when bacteria work together toward a common cause.

The workshop was the first step in recruiting students for the iGem competition, short for International Genetically Engineered Machine.

Senior Ryan Servas said Wednesday’s workshop could help him decide his future.

“Because I might want to go into organic chemistry, or I could work with more biology-type stuff,” he said. “It’s cool to be able to see people who have real-life experience in working with this stuff.”

It’s opportunities such as Lambert’s iGem team that Styczynski said create a future for the field.

“I’m amazed that they’re able to do all of this in the context of a high school,” he said. “This is absolutely amazing. I’m quite jealous, actually.”

Standeven said students from the two workshops held Wednesday will decide if they want to be a part of the county’s first iGem team, and likely the only one in the state.

The synthetic biology competition is held in the summer. It was previously open only to colleges, but last year was expanded to include high schools.

Styczynski said part of the goal for colleges involved with iGEM is to help high schools build their teams.

“She has an iGEM team five times the size of ours, so that’s great,” he said of Standeven’s squad. “We’re going to try to help them out as they go along and enter their first competition.

“What really excites me is to see that the class is like 75 percent girls, because this is an endemic underrepresentation in science and I come from engineering where it’s even worse.”

Standeven said Styczynski and his team will return later in the year, and she hopes to take the iGEM team to Tech for some more training.

“In the spring we will form the actual team,” she said. “It’s exciting.”