Tuesday, May 5, 2015

End-joining sea gulls to make solar cells

If anyone tells you that they can accurately define what bioengineering is in a few sentences, smile, nod, then proceed to tune them out for the next minute or so. Nothing they say in those few sentences can possibly have any value.

My admittedly limited experience with biological engineering has shown me that “bioengineering” is a discipline that is home to anyone – from those who want to cure cancer, to those who want to send bacteria to space; from those who experiment on mice, worms and/or flies everyday, to those whose only interaction with a living organism is a grunt-exchange with the grumpy grad student they pass on their way to the coffee maker.

A detour to how I became part of this spaghetti bowl of a field:

My road to being course 20 was not a straightforward one. I was not one of those “I knew I was going to be a bioengineer since I was a zygote” people, although I do admire their decisiveness (a trait that I very much lack). Choosing a major was a multi-step, multi-semester, long and tedious process for me. I started freshman year considering eight different majors. By the time it was time to declare, I had impressively cut my options down to… seven majors.

I decided to declare Course 5 (pretty much for no reason), then made an impulsive decision to switch to 2A. That lasted for two weeks, after which I told myself I should just embrace the mainstream and be Course 6 (ha!).

After a few months of the recurring joke in my friend group being “So what major is Lyla today?” I finally saw the light and declared Course 20. Why course 20? Well, what attracted me was that there were so many choices of things to do. So If I’m being honest, I don’t think I ever made a decision as to what I wanted to study. I just chose the one major that will allow me to continue fretting about not knowing what to study.

End detour.

There are so many directions to go into if you’re a “biological engineer,” it’s both really exciting and somewhat overwhelming. 20.109 perfectly exemplifies the extent of this diversity. In three short months we looked at gulls and bacteria and influenza and DNA and cancer and x-rays and solar cells and gold. It’s like 5th grade science class before they distinguished between biology, chemistry and physics… but cooler.

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