The University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program Celebrates Its 15-Year Anniversary

The University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program began with its first cohort of students in 2002, and its 14th class graduated this May, with the BTC Institute serving as a major partner since its inception. The 15-year anniversary highlights the success the program has garnered over the years, with over 300 alumni successfully completing the program between 2002 and 2017.

Kevin Conroy, JD led the panel discussion

To celebrate and acknowledge the program’s 15-year anniversary, a panel discussion was held in March of this year on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus at the Wisconsin Institute for Medical Research (WIMR).  A panel of alumni and faculty, led by Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences, addressed the question: What are the future education needs of the biotechnology industry in Wisconsin? Continue reading

Biotech Manufacturing: A Good Machinist is Critical for Your Laboratory Reagents

Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.

Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.

It can be easy to forget that Promega is a manufacturing business. The company’s cGMP Feynman Center on the Madison campus has been described as looking more like a retreat than a factory. But hidden within the well-designed walls of Feynman, as well as in other facilities on campus, technicians operate hundreds of machines that manufacture, dispense and package Promega reagents day in and day out. Keeping those high-tech machines running at peak performance is critical, requiring immense skill, precision and even artistry. That’s where Promega Machinist Technician Travis Beyer comes in.

“I get to make stuff,” says Travis who is not afraid to show his enthusiasm for his craft while describing the best part of his job. “There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.”

 I get to make stuff. There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.

The da Vinci Center, another artfully designed building on the Madison campus, houses the Promega machine shop where Travis does his work designing or improving on parts for newer manufacturing equipment or reverse engineering broken or worn parts no longer available for older equipment that still serves its purpose. He makes every machine part imaginable from drive shafts to sensor brackets to filling forks, and his work is critical to manufacturing businesses like Promega, where a downed piece of equipment can cause costly production delays.

An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.

An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.

As he explains, not many manufacturing companies the size of Promega have a fully capable machine shop. They usually send out their work, meaning longer lead times and more expense. But, as its distinctive architecture suggests, Promega is not like many other companies. Continue reading

Biotechnology Youth Apprentice Madhu Gowda Wins GRAND PRIZE at the Capital Science and Engineering Fair

Madhu presents her work.

Madhu presents her work.

Imagine the pleasure Barbara Bielec, the BTC Institute’s K-12 Program Director and co-coordinator of the Dane County Youth Apprenticeship Program in Biotechnology (YAP-Biotechnology), felt when reading this recent message from Sharon Tang, one of our apprentice’s mentors:

“I am unbelievably proud to let you know that Madhu won not only first place for the biological science projects, but also the GRAND PRIZE at the Capital Science and Engineering Fair this weekend! She was at the fair from 7:30am until 4:30pm presenting her work done in our lab and did a fantastic, eloquent job speaking about her project. This was such an impressive honor – she won among over 20 competing students in the region, earned a cash award, and will be competing as a finalist at the Intel international science fair in May. I’m sure she’ll tell you, but I am just over the moon and wanted to share the news as well. Attaching a photo I took of her in action.”

A second year student in the program, Madhu is a senior at Middleton High School. Since November, 2015, she has been working in the lab of Dr. Susan Thibeault in the Department of Surgery, Division of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Continue reading

Meet Sue Wigdal, Senior Quality Assurance Scientist on the Spectrum Team

29160613_lPromega will introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines–from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Sue Wigdal, Senior Quality Assurance Scientist. Continue reading

Travelogue Galapagos Part II: An Incredible Experience in Paradise

In 2014, Promega created a special incentive to reward field science consultants who help the scientific community take advantage of our on-site stocking program. The winners had to meet ambitious criteria to receive 2 round-trip tickets to anywhere in the world, a week of paid vacation and spending money. Our four winners will share photos and stories about their journeys on the Promega Connections Blog.

Today’s travelogue is Part II of the adventures of Amy Parman, a regional sales manager, who used her award to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Day 7: Urbina Bay, Isabela Island & Punta Mangle, Fernandina Island – Today was another early morning wake up, this time to the soothing strains of Journey. We had a quick breakfast and jumped in the dinghy for an exploratory ride. We passed a tree full of so many pelicans covering the branches that they looked as though they could be fruit, ripe for the picking. Our dinghy slowly passed many more sea turtles, golden cownose rays, small eagle rays, marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs (stunningly red against the black lava).

We also came across several sea lions sleeping away the morning in a comfy mangrove branch bed. More striated herons were perched in the mangroves hunting fish below and three playful sea lion pups swam right up to our feet dangling over the dinghy as if to say, “jump out and play with us.” Bayron said they are likely around ten months old and their mother has left them in the protected bay while she goes out to fish.

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Sea lion pup in Urbina Bay, Isabela Island.

After the ride, we had a chance to snorkel for a couple of hours and did, in fact, swim right along with a very fast and playful sea lion. The sea lions were pretty big, and seemed even more so when we were in the water with them. It was quite the experience to have him dart all around us while we swam. Marine iguanas were also swimming with us and clinging to the lava eating seaweed off the rocks about eight feet deep. There were loads of fish all around and by now we’ve had a few shark sightings among the group. Interestingly, the shark species around the Galapagos, while numerous, do not regard humans as a food source. It has become a tour goal to find as many as we can and, while a challenge, we do catch glimpses of the hammerheads and reef sharks that are never too far away. Continue reading

Reflections on My Path from Academia to Industry

My career took a different direction than what I had envisioned in grad school, and that was a good thing.

My career took a different direction than what I had envisioned in grad school, and that was a good thing.

About a year ago, I made the move from academic research to the biotech industry. Leaving academia seemed like a huge risk to take, but it was a positive career change that I only recently realized was a long time in the making.

Before joining Promega, I was a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I worked on these fascinating enzymes that add nucleotides to the 3ʹ ends of RNAs, developed a Next-Gen Sequencing assay to measure their activities, discovered a bizarre and novel activity of one of the enzymes, and wrote a patent application.

I love science. Being immersed in a tough problem in the lab and then working as hard as I possibly can to solve it is so rewarding and satisfying to me! I really enjoyed my research project, but I found myself interested in a variety of other science topics. The thought of having my own lab where I worked on the same types of enzymes for 30+ years made me anxious. Why did I feel that way? I attributed it to apprehension of the hard work it would take to establish a lab and get tenure.

Meanwhile, at UW–Madison, we had begun a campus-wide discussion to brainstorm about solutions for sustaining the biomedical research enterprise in the US. I attended almost every meeting and, overall, was left with an ominous feeling. Many scientists clearly loved their work but were frustrated and discouraged by the prospect of losing (or never getting) funding. Is this what I really wanted? I reminded myself of my enthusiasm for science and convinced myself it would be worth it once I had a lab up and running and was mentoring my own students. Continue reading

Travelogue Galapagos Part I: Realizing a Lifelong Dream

In 2014, Promega created a special incentive to reward field science consultants who help the scientific community take advantage of our on-site stocking program. The winners had to meet ambitious criteria to receive 2 round-trip tickets to anywhere in the world, a week of paid vacation and spending money. Our four winners will share photos and stories about their journeys on the Promega Connections Blog.

Today’s travelogue is Part I of the adventures of Amy Parman, a regional sales manager, who used her award to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.32178451-dec-12-image-1-600x400-web

Day 1: Seattle to Miami – Today we tied up a few last minute details, tested the satellite phones, checked that Grandma and Grandpa had all the info and resources they needed for anything that should arise while we were inaccessible (the manual we left was slightly thicker than War and Peace, and way less interesting), loaded up the car, put on the out-of-office alerts, kissed the kiddos good-bye and headed to SeaTac for a red-eye flight to Miami. We’re off!

Day 2: Miami to Guayaquil, Ecuador – Today (Was it day? After a red-eye, who knows?) we arrived in Miami in the very wee hours. We snagged a quick breakfast and a hotel right in the Miami airport which rents rooms for the day, which was our first experience with an hourly hotel—ahem! Our nine hour layover included lunch, mani/pedis and a much needed nap. We boarded our flight to Guayaquil and made full use of some particularly goofy-looking, newly-purchased neck pillows. My husband created a little excitement as we boarded the plane—he couldn’t find his passport as the flight attendant was readying the flight doors for departure. Our local seatmates and two flight attendants helped to find it quickly as it had slipped between the window seat and the floor. Phew! The flight was smooth as a wet seal and we arrived in Guayaquil to find the Hilton shuttle waiting for us. We checked into our room and grabbed some midnight sangria and flautas while we listened to an awesome Ecuadorian jazz band in the hotel bar. This trip is off to a fabulous start! Continue reading

The Wide World of Bioprocessing: Science for the Greater Good

My former research career was spent in academic laboratories, and I don’t have first-hand experience in the world of bioprocessing. However in my current job as a science writer/copy editor, I create product information and literature about products that are useful to bioprocessing engineers and technicians, and thus wanted to learn more about this diverse area, where discovery and processing of biomaterials results in better therapeutic drugs, better biofuels and even healthier foods.

Bioprocessing is a combination of biological science and chemistry, and a burgeoning science field. Burgeoning is an understatement. Exploding is a much more apt description.

This 2011 Science magazine careers article defines bioprocessing thusly:

“Bioprocessing is an expanding field encompassing any process that uses living cells or their components (e.g., bacteria, enzymes, or chloroplasts) to obtain desired products, such as biofuels and therapeutics.”

Continue reading

How’s That for Wellness?

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just trying to find a fun activity to do with a coworker, a 5K run/walk can be a fun event for all.  Promega recently hosted its 7th annual 5K run/walk and had more than 155 participants at the Madison, WI,  location.  The event was a fun activity for everyone to get out, get active and be social. The event also helped raise over 160 pounds of food and over $115 in cash that was donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

As a nation, we have become more focused on our health and wellness than ever before. Nearly everyone is trying to drink more water, be more mindful of what they eat, and it’s hard to look around the room without finding someone wearing a fitness tracker to keep track of their daily steps.  Health and wellness has also become increasingly popular in the workplace. According to Health Fitness Revolution, the top benefits of a Workplace Wellness Program are as follow:

  • Fun
  • Improved Productivity
  • Happiness
  • Sense of Community
  • Lower Healthcare Costs
  • Sense of Accomplishment
  • Improved Physical Fitness
  • Weight Loss
  • Less Stress
  • Healthier Habits

At Promega our focus on wellness as an organization is no different. We recognize that being active and taking care of your health, and your family’s health, has an impact beyond how you feel.  Because of that, we have a wellness or fitness center in each of our facilities to make staying active and fit more convenient. We also believe that wellbeing extends beyond physical health and have a campus that features native gardens with walking paths and dedicated meditative spaces to encourage total wellness. Promega strives to be a leader in health & wellness initiatives that enable our employees to become the best version of themselves. We don’t do this for a potential monetary return on the investment, but because we truly believe that by becoming the best version of yourself, our employees also become the most fulfilled.

 

Next-Generation Genomics Education: Educating and Preparing the Next Generation

Students pursuing their interests wit h hands-on activities at BTC Institute.

Students pursuing their interests wit h hands-on activities at BTC Institute.

The BTC Institute has many partners in creating educational opportunities in the molecular biosciences. In recent years, we have worked with the Dane County School to Work Consortium (DCSWC) to create a unique, one-semester class aimed at giving high school Juniors and Seniors interested in scientific research and health careers a chance to explore how concepts they have been learning about in their biology and biotechnology classrooms are used in the laboratory.

To take it one step further, these laboratory experiences are tied to the Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health. The Challenges provide a framework to help students understand worldwide concerns, including ways in which biotechnology can be applied to generate solutions to these problems. Students are encouraged to place scientific challenges within social and socioeconomic contexts which, in turn, make some solutions more appealing than others. This holistic approach provides the “real world” milieu that is so sought after in academic endeavors. Continue reading