Tuesday, November 3, 2009

IGEM Jamboree 2009

I arrived back in Waterloo from MIT about 15 hours ago now. I'm a little bit behind in school work right now, so I can't really do the Jamboree/conference/competition justice (not that I could ever do it justice in a single blog post), but I thought I'd type up some assorted thoughts anyway...
  • Road Trip (1): It's a nine hour drive. A couple of the more experienced members of the team chose to pay for flights instead.
  • Road Trip (2): Toll roads... everywhere.
  • MIT vs Waterloo (1): I've had an unhealthy admiration for MIT for a very, very long time so a lot of the people who knew me assumed I'd be disillusioned by this trip.
  • MIT vs Waterloo (2): They both have those ugly abstract sculptures that are just beams welded together and painted a single colour; however, MIT's are bigger, blacker, and placed in the open while Waterloo's are small, orange, and pushed off to the side. Lesson: if you're going to have a Big Ugly Statue, you might as well make it Big.
MIT has ugly statues too! Ours are still uglier.
  • Hotel (1): The Marriott. Not to be confused with the other gazillion Marriott's in Cambridge.
  • Hotel (2): Once we found the Marriott, it was surprisingly swank. I'm more used to hostels and motels, but the Marriott is a genuine hotel.
  • Jamboree (1): We missed breakfast on the first day. Never miss breakfast if you want to be alert for six morning lectures on synthetic biology. It's painful.
  • Jamboree (2): The Osaka team presented their work on gene art; Valencia mock-interviewed themselves about voltage-controlled light-emitting cells (that were controlled using a laptop sound card); Pavia, Wisconsin, and Uppsala Sweden presented various ways of using biology to solve energy/environmental problems.
  • Jamboree (3): The lunches provided by MIT catering made up for the lack of breakfast. Never has grilled roast beef and pasta tasted so good (with a side of a bun and a godly brownie).
  • Jamboree (4): I saw several talks in the information processing track on Saturday afternoon. I found them more understandable than the morning talks; being fed and interested in the information processing category helped substantially. The Bacterial Decoder project (Illinois) and Satisfiability problem sover (MoWestern Davidson) were particularly cool.
  • Jamboree (5): The 4:30 PM timeslot on Saturday had a few interesting-looking presentations. I passed up the chance to see the MIT and Freiburg software presentations to go to the John Hopkins' talk about their Build-A-Genome course.
  • Poster Session (1): Tom Knight's presence greatly excited a couple members of the team.
  • Poster Session (2): I talked to a few groups about their projects. Nobody really discusses modeling.
  • Hotel (3): Staff are dressed for Halloween. This is probably the only day when plastic weaponry can be freely brandished in the lobby. Then again, it is the States, so maybe they do allow rifles in hotels.
  • Hotel (4): The team from Brussels meets us in the lobby and provide an audience for our practice presentation.
  • Hotel (5): No. Cheaper by the Dozen is not a good movie.
  • MIT vs. Waterloo (3): The campus is surprisingly dead. I feel like there's some cool stuff lurking around, but without any students around it feels like any other conference center. Also, our section of Cambridge is a ghost town over the weekend.
  • Jamboree (6): I didn't see the Alberta presentation, but other members of the team were quite excited by it. They were working on a toolkit for artificial genome construction. This somehow included a "Lego DIY biofab robot". I'm not quite sure how this all worked, but I plan on reading Alberta's wiki soon.
  • MIT vs Waterloo (4): Woke up really early to get breakfast on the second day. It was worth it. Bagels, muffins, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt parfait's, fruits... I can't believe they ran out on the first day.
The MIT nerd crossing sign.
  • Jamboree (7): Another day, another twelve presentations. Waterloo's own presentation about our chromosome engineering project was an obvious highlight.
  • Jamboree (8): Bristol's presentation, which immediately preceded ours, included some pretty cool modeling software. They eventually won the modeling award.
  • Poster Session (3): More posters... it's a bit frustrating that they're all spread out, there were a couple of teams that I wanted to talk to that I just never saw.
  • Poster Session (4): Technically, I could have found posters by looking up the teams in the provided poster list. I think I lost mine.
  • Jamboree (9): the iGEM Canada meeting was quite interesting. It'll be interesting to see how attempts to organize the Canadian teams unfold. There's currently a Facebook group.
  • Hotel (6): The hotel had no free wifi, but it did have a single room with three computers (the "business center") where I could check email and (more importantly) accept a job offer. Collectively, the iGEM teams hogged the business center.
  • Social Event (1): More free food (hosted by Jillian's).
  • Social Event (2): Also free pool, bowling, and ping pong. What type of a bar has a bowling alley?
  • Social Event (3): There was also a dance downstairs. I have never seen so many dancing scientists and engineers in one place. More awesome.
  • Jamboree (10): Finalist presentations. I liked Heidelberg's presentation about developing standards for mammalian synthetic biology. The biologists also swooned over the idea of a universal endonuclease (Freiburg) and Cambridge's pigment-producing E. coli biosensors.
  • MIT vs Waterloo (5): The city and campus came back from the dead on Monday. MIT looks a lot more like MIT when it has students swarming over it.
  • Jamboree (11): Cambridge won the grand prize. Heidelberg was the first runner-up and Valencia was the second runner up. Alberta won for "Best Foundational Advance".
  • Road Trip (3): Parking cost a little over ninety dollars from Friday until Monday.
  • Road Trip (4): The return trip was still a nine hour drive.

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