Wellesley Summer Researchers Have Completed a Prototype Program Which Will Be Entered Into the 2015 iGEM Competition

July 31, 2015
Wellesleys Human Computer Interaction Lab

Two years after its remodel, Wellesley’s Human Computer Interaction (HCI) lab continues to facilitate some serious innovation. And, for the past two months, the lab has been filled with student researchers working on projects on various topics, from the human genome to 3D interaction techniques to synthetic biology. One team of students is preparing for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition.

The iGEM foundation is an international organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology. The iGEM competition, which is one of the foundation’s three main programs, started in 2004 with only 5 teams. Since then, the competition has continued to grow; in the 2015 season there are 280 teams competing from over 30 countries. Wellesley first competed in 2011 in conjunction with Boston University and has entered a project every year since.

This year’s project, under the direction of Orit Shaer, associate professor of computer science, is a collaboration with the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California. The students are developing a digital component for one of the museum’s interactive exhibits intended to teach users about fundamental concepts of biology. This exhibit allows users to take on the role of a scientist designing and engineering helpful bacteria for scientific missions in extreme environments. Settings include such far-off locations as Mars, Antarctica, and the deep sea. This program will work in conjunction with a wetlab at the museum. The team has completed a prototype program which will be taken to the museum in August to be tested by actual users. Assuming the project is successfully implemented, the final exhibit will open next February.

The competition itself will be held from September 24-28 in the fall. All of the participating teams attend an event called the Giant Jamboree, where they present their work before a global audience and a panel of judges. In the past the Wellesley team has won several awards, including a Gold Medal at Regionals and the Best Software Project Award. Wellesley has shown consistent excellency in these competitions and this year’s entry looks to be no exception.

"Doing research in the HCI lab this summer has been an extremely rewarding experience—from working through the product designing process with the other research assistants to meeting with other prominent HCI researchers, I have learned so much,” said Vivien Chen '18. "I am very grateful for the opportunity to work at the HCI lab this summer and I would definitely recommend others to participate in Wellesley summer research!"

-by Jennifer Lyon-Mackie '18