NSF IGERT winners

DBI hosts event for students who worked to solve Fraunhofer CMB challenge

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10:09 a.m., May 31, 2013--The Delaware Biotechnology Institute hosted a reception Tuesday, May 28, to announce the winners of the Innovation Rotation, a competition sponsored by the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (NSF IGERT) in which University of Delaware graduate students worked to propose solutions to real-world problems posed by industry -- in this case, by scientists at the Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biotechnology (CMB).

The activity was supported by the NSF IGERT program titled Systems Biology of Cells in Engineered Environments (SBE2). This interdisciplinary doctoral traineeship program involves faculty from five colleges with expertise in complementary research areas that intersect with the theme of systems biology in engineering environments.

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The Innovation Rotation was built into the UD course “Ethics, Business, and Communication for Life Scientists and Engineers,” a course that is cross-listed and serves starting Ph.D. students from 10 departments and three colleges.

The course offers a theoretical and practical knowledge of ethics and business skills related to the bioscience industry. It helps students develop communication skills needed to discuss ethical issues that can arise when making business decisions that affect various stakeholders (scientists, stockholders, regulators, patients, strategic partners) in different ways. 

A centerpiece of the course was a team-based, problem-solving exercise that required students to propose solutions to a technical challenge posed by scientists at the Fraunhofer CMB, located in the Delaware Technology Park adjacent to the UD campus.

The teams were required to develop a potential solution, write a business plan around the solution and present their work to Fraunhofer scientists. 

"The course provided an excellent opportunity for graduate students to come up with novel potential solutions to a real life technical problem faced by our scientists,” said Stephen Streatfield, director of scientific affairs. “Students had the opportunity to interact directly with Fraunhofer scientific staff and discuss both economic and technical aspects of the business. I think the exchange was very useful for both sides."

Judging the projects and selecting a winning proposal were the Fraunhofer scientists and the course instructors -- Scott Jones, professor and chair of the Department of Accounting and Management Information Systems in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics; Kelvin Lee, Gore Professor of Chemical Engineering and director of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute; Stephen Bernhardt, Unidel Andrew Kirkpatrick Jr. Chair in Writing in the Department of English; and Tom Powers, assistant professor of philosophy. 

The winning team consisted of:

  • Stephanie Luff, a doctoral student in biological sciences and IGERT Fellow;
  • Lisa Sawicki, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and IGERT Fellow;
  • Matthew Ralston, a master’s degree student in bioinformatics and computational biology; and
  • Amalie Tuerk, a doctoral student in chemical engineering.

As part of the Innovation Rotation, the IGERT Fellows from the winning team will be invited to pursue and implement their solution at Fraunhofer. These students will also receive one extra semester of support from the SBE2 IGERT program.

“The course focused on important topics many scientists often neglect, making for an enriching experience of personal and professional growth,” Luff said, adding, “The collaborative team project working with Fraunhofer CMB helped to further solidify my future career goals.”

“In my 30 years teaching, this multidisciplinary, cross-college course was one of the most enjoyable,” Jones said. “The students were bright and highly motivated. I am looking forward to next year.”

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