On the weekend of April 2-3, 2022, MindFuel hosted two parallel hands-on workshops to support and assist the teams participating in the 2022 Tech Futures Challenge (TFC) program in building their STEM skills and developing their prototypes and projects. Altogether, there were 61 participants, including 36 students, 7 teachers, and 16 mentors and seminar leads. 

Five teams were invited to participate remotely on April 2nd, in our Robotics & Automation workshop which consisted of personalized sessions led by mentors and subject matter experts. The sessions were directly applicable to each participant’s self-identified areas of interest and need. These sessions were:

  • App development in Thunkable – Christina Wong and Domhnall O’Hanlon, Thunkable team members 
  • Coding in MIT App Inventor – Kushan Wickramarachchi, mechanical engineer, Standens IMT 
  • Scrum and Project management – Prince Chibueze Egbukwu, founder, Athena digital studios

Meanwhile, the five TFC teams working on synthetic biology projects and preparing for the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition attended an in-person workshop co-hosted in partnership with Synbridge at University of Lethbridge over the entire April 2-3 weekend. 

The first in-person event offered by MindFuel in over two years, this workshop was a rare and greatly welcomed opportunity where students and teachers acquired the foundational knowledge and skills in synthetic biology that are necessary for building viable and impactful real-world projects. The rich and immersive learning experience involved hands-on laboratory techniques and protocols that were taught with great skill and much enthusiasm by Laura Keffer-Wilkes, SynBridge manager and Instructor at University of Lethbridge, and workshop co-host. 

The participants enjoyed being in the lab and provided great feedback, such as: “I especially appreciated learning how to use lab equipment because I have never been in a lab situation. Getting an opportunity to work in a lab of such advancements has improved my skills in problem solving. Overall, the lab experience was truly fascinating.” (student, Calgary, AB). Another student from Lethbridge, AB said, “The mentorship we received from Dr. Laura Keffer-Wilkes was unprecedented!!”

In addition to the lab activities, the teams were also offered the opportunity to enhance their practical knowledge and project skills through a series of interactive and engaging seminars led by experienced STEM mentors and entrepreneurs, and covering topics such as:

  • Designing genetic circuits – Emily Hicks, President, FREDsense Technologies
  • Introduction to bioinformatics – Luke Saville, PhD student, University of Lethbridge
  • Basics of wiki development – Andrew Symes, engineering student, University of Calgary
  • Visual design principles – Patrick Wu, UX designer, Blackline Safety
  • Effective science communication – Julie Legault, CEO, Amino Labs
  • Safeguarding biosciences – Chris Isaac, Program Officer, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Bio Policy
  • Modeling for synthetic biology – Robert Mayall, CTO, FREDsense Technologies
  • How humanity influences science – Sydnee Calhoun, MSc student, University of Lethbridge
  • A scientist’s journey – Justin Pahara, Research scientist, Government of Canada

The seminars were well liked too, as attested by one of the students, University of Lethbridge comment: “All of them were very helpful and insightful, and gave me a better grip on some aspects of the project and helped me get back into the rhythm of the lab.” 

The STEM workshops provided the TFC participants with lots of tangible learnings and everyone had an exciting and overall positive experience. Said one of the synthetic biology team members from Canmore, AB: “I enjoyed the experience immensely. My team is exponentially more prepared to prototype our project and we gained lab skills. As well, my knowledge of synthetic biology increased.” And one of the mentors and seminar leads shared that “Overall it was a fun, positive experience. The students were super engaged and eager.”

Thank you to the teams, mentors and advisors for attending, as well as to our partner Synbridge.

We look forward to the final Prototype Competition on May 28th, and seeing all the hard work the teams have put into designing their prototypes. 

The MindFuel Team.