Sci Comm Tips From An iGEM Judge

Formal judgement in any context is nerve-racking. Scientists, familiar with being judged, rely on others to evaluate (and hopefully accept) everything from a PhD thesis defense to grant proposals and peer-reviewed journal article submissions. The frustrating part is not knowing exactly what the judges are looking for. Sure there are requirements and guidelines to follow—but how are the judges going to interpret them? It would be a whole lot easier if we could just peek into their minds. Unfortunately for most, that fantasy isn’t likely to turn into reality.

Photo of iGEM judge Preeta Guptan at the 2019 Giant Jamboree.

But if you are part of an iGEM team, today is your lucky day! Last year, our own Preeta Guptan volunteered as a judge at the 2018 iGEM Giant Jamboree, and in today’s article you will get her insider’s perspective about what iGEM judges look for. She shares some tips to help you excel in the iGEM competition—and effectively communicate about science in general.

Preeta is an External Innovation Manager at Promega, which means she seeks out and investigates technology that might be valuable for Promega to license or acquire. The opportunity to scout up-and-coming synthetic biology advances was one reason she wanted to be an iGEM judge, but curiosity was at the core of her decision. Preeta and the other judges bring their unique perspectives and experiences to each iGEM project and team they evaluate. Here are some suggestions from Preeta:

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Creating Sonic Sculptures with Artist-in-Residence, Joe Willie Smith

Joe Willie Smith’s instrumental art installation is a collaborative experience of sound and color.

Joe Willie Smith has always been a creator. As a young child growing up in Milwaukee, his mother encouraged him to make art and find beauty in the everyday. Following years of work in printing and graphic design (including posters for Gil-Scott Heron and Chaka Khan), Smith began channeling his inspiration and creativity into building playable “sonic sculptures” out of found objects. “They’re not all considered instruments…sometimes I just make soundscapes out of them,” Smith says.

As the artist-in-residence for the Promega Fall Art Showcase, Smith set out to create a sonic sculpture from collected items from the Promega campus. He planned to perform on the instrument at the opening of the Art Show, but his creative process led to something much more—a collaborative experience in sound and color.

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Seeds of Change Award Recognizes Commitment to Local Community

Nicole Haselwander and Stephanie Shea accept the Seeds of Change award for Promega.

Community Shares of Wisconsin presented Promega with its Seeds of Change award for our workplace giving efforts. The award is presented to a local business that shows innovation, growth, and commitment to Community Shares of Wisconsin. Over the past 15 years Promega and our employees have collectively contributed more than $717,000 to Community Shares work! Our 100% corporate matching helps employee gifts go twice as far to member nonprofits and the community.

Charitable giving programs and paid time off for community service are examples of Promega’s commitment to corporate responsibility. Learn more at https://www.promega.com/responsibility #corporateresponsibility

Nicole Haselwander and Stephanie Shea were on hand at the Community Change-Maker Awards hosted by Community Shares of Wisconsin to accept the Seeds of Change award on behalf of Promega Corporation. “It was an incredibly inspiring and uplifting program,” says Stephanie.

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Promega Named One of Madison’s Best Places to Work

Promega Corporation today was named one of the “Best Places to Work” in the greater Madison area in Madison Magazine’s annual survey. Promega ranks fifth in the category of large companies with 101+ employees. The “Best Places to Work 2019” list includes 30 local workplaces.

“We are honored to be recognized among these great Madison companies that clearly value their employees and put people first,” says Gayle Paul, Director of Human Resources Operations at Promega. “Nurturing a work environment and culture that allows each person who works at Promega to realize their full potential benefits not only our business and customers, but also each employee, their families and our community as a whole.”

Are you looking for your Best Place to Work? Explore the career opportunities on our website.

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Promega Wins Economic Development Award

The CEDA awards program of the Wisconsin Economic Development Association recognizes businesses, projects and organizations that are making significant contributions to Wisconsin’s economy. Last week Promega won the Business Retention and Expansion award. short.url/aBcXyZ

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The Surprising Life of Bones

Schematic of bone producing and reducing cells osteoblasts and osteoclasts.
The cells that make and degrade bone.

Standing, walking, running. When was the last time you gave your skeleton a second thought? How about when that car barely missed you in the parking lot? Or a deer ran in front of you? Maybe you just missed a car door opening on your bike ride today?

Your bones were involved in your response to that sudden shock/surprise, but not the way you think.

You may have jumped, swerved or hit the brake pedal (congratulations on the excellent reflexes) and yes, bones were involved in all of those actions. But a new article in Cell Metabolism reveals that bone is the essential component in initiation of that response.

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Experimenting with Resilience: Lessons from Grad School

Today’s blog is guest-written by Susanna Harris, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


It’s one thing to hear that everything is going to be okay. It’s another to know it and make it that way.

Susanna and her lab mates at a recent bar night
Photo provided by Susanna Harris

At the end of a lab meeting where I had outlined my last of six years getting my PhD, my advisor announced she would be moving the lab from North Carolina to Massachusetts in about six months. Just when everything had settled into place, this announcement turned my bookshelf of plans on its side once again. Suddenly, I didn’t know what would happen next.

I chose to go to grad school partly to challenge myself to accept uncertainty. When I started my PhD in Microbiology in 2014, I thought this would mean reading new papers and adjusting experiments accordingly. As it has turned out, the real challenge has been to constantly get back up as life and graduate school knock me flat on my ass. Yes, I needed strength to power through, but even more than that, I needed resilience.

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Striking Fear into the Heart of Cardiovascular Disease Using Zebrafish and NanoLuc® Luciferase

Representative images of ApoB-LP localization in zebrafish across developmental, genetic, pharmacological and dietary manipulations.
Credit: Figure 5.D of The LipoGlo reporter system for sensitive and specific monitoring of atherogenic lipoproteins by James Thierer, Stephen C. Ekker and Steven A. Farber.
Article licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Cardiovascular diseases, or CVDs, are collectively the most notorious gang of cold-blooded killers threatening human lives today. These unforgiving villains, including the likes of coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and pulmonary embolisms, are jointly responsible for more deaths per year than any other source, securing their seat as the number one cause of human mortality on a global scale.

One of the trademarks of most CVDs is the thickening and stiffening of the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is characterized by the accumulation of cholesterol, fats and other substances, which together form plaques in and on the artery walls. These plaques clog or narrow your arteries until they completely block the flow of blood, and can no longer supply sufficient blood to your tissues and organs. Or the plaques can burst, setting off a disastrous chain reaction that begins with a blood clot, and often ends with a heart attack or stroke.

Given the global prevalence and magnitude of this problem, there is a significant and urgent demand for better ways to treat CVDs. In a recent study published in Nature Communications, researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Johns Hopkins University and Mayo Clinic are taking the fight to CVDs through the study of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), the particles responsible for shuttling bad cholesterol throughout the bloodstream.

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I Have My Luciferase Vector, Now What?

Choosing and Optimizing Transfection Methods

Here in Technical Services we often talk with researchers at the beginning of their project about how to carefully design and get started with their experiments. It is exciting when you have selected the Luciferase Reporter Vector(s) that will best suit your needs; you are going to make luminescent cells! But, how do you pick the best way to get the vector into your cells to express the reporter? What transfection reagent/method will work best for your cell type and experiment? Do you want to do transient (short-term) transfections, or are you going to establish a stable cell line?

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Manipulating Koala Microbiomes Using…Poo Pills?

“Koalas – mum and baby” by Amanda Penrose is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

In recent years, it’s become a well-documented fact that koalas are about as picky as they are adorable. These beloved Australian marsupials have evolved to become ecological specialists: consumers that feed primarily on a single organism, or small number of organisms. Eucalyptus, their organism of choice, encompasses approximately 900 species, most of which are native to Australia. To the koala’s benefit, the leaves of eucalyptus trees are difficult to digest, low in protein content and their chemical composition contains compounds that are toxic. This makes their competition for eucalyptus with other species virtually nonexistent.

That’s not to say there isn’t competition amongst themselves. Of those 900 species of eucalyptus, koalas are only really known to feed on about 40–50 of them, and of those 40–50, they tend to limit their diet to around 10. Depending on their location, however, some koalas will only stick to one preferred type, which can lead to trouble.  

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