Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Thoughts About 20.109

As I've mentioned in my previous posts, I learned a ton over the course of the semester. Not only did the modules contribute greatly to my overall understanding of science, but the class did a lot to improve my communication skills as well. Even incredibly groundbreaking research would go to waste if you are unable to communicate effectively.

In module 1, we modified the DNA of a cell to elucidate aspects of homologous recombination. I currently UROP in the Runstadler lab, which teaches the first module in 20.109 for the Spring semester. When I first learned that our module 1 was about a subject that I was unfamiliar with, I was initially a bit bummed out. If I had taken 20.109 during the Spring, I would have "learned" about a module that I was already very familiar with. But having taken the Fall module 1, I was very happy to have learned about DNA engineering in terms of homologous recombination. This was a subject that I had never really learned about, and significantly shaped the research proposal Xander and I presented. It seems quite cheesy to say so, but I was glad to have learned about something new in 20.109 this semester rather than stay comfortable with subject matter I already knew.

In module 2, we optimized a synthetic biology system by introducing single amino acid mutations. Although the mutants we actually generated failed to improve the system, this was probably my favorite module. Once again, the concepts of biological systems I learned about influenced the microbiome aspects of my research proposal. Research in synthetic biology has the ability to perform really awesome tasks with living systems. Although we investigated a seemingly trivial bacterial photography system, investigating the inner workings of biology and applying them to engineering was just, for lack of a better word.

Although the shortest one, module 3 investigated the ability for biology to assemble more efficient dye sensitized solar cells. I went into this module not knowing a thing about biomaterials and what the hullabaloo about carbon nanotubes was all about. After all the work we've accomplished, I learned a new aspect of a very common idea in the class: that with clever techniques, one can manipulate biological systems to perform certain tasks.

I think what makes this course particularly awesome was its interactive nature. Rather than a conventional lecture-recitation-exam format, it was so much easier to communicate with teachers and ask questions. I also really appreciated how many instructors there were. Everyone on the 20.109 staff really complemented each other to provide the best academic experience for the students. If you count TA's and guest lecturers, the instructor:student ratio turns out to be somewhere near 2:1. I wish all other MIT classes could follow this format. I feel that all of my peers that took this course gained a very similarly satisfying educational experience. Because of those reasons, 20.109 is probably the best class I've taken at MIT so far in terms of usefulness of material and overall learning experience. Once again, I don't have any images that can summarize my blog post. So here's a video of cute hedgehogs.


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