Science Academy Students Tour MIT

IMG_1769 (2) (1)Manan Manchanda ‘19
Kyle Beck ‘19
EE Staff Writers

On Tuesday, April 5th, students in Science Academy, supervised by Dr. Goodman, traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts to tour MIT and the Langer Lab and discover several ongoing projects at the world-famous biotechnology and materials laboratory. This was an amazing experience for these students as they were given the opportunity to tour a top-tier institute and learn from a variety of students and professors, ranging from undergraduates to postdocs and even Dr. Robert Langer himself. The trip consisted of a tour, followed by several presentations about  different projects in the Langer lab, experiments and machinery demonstrations, and a chance to meet and converse with Dr. Robert Langer.

Upon arrival, the students were greeted by an MIT graduate student who gave them a tour of the campus. The students got to see several famous research centers and MIT buildings, including the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, the Koch Biology Building, and the Barker Engineering Library.

The students also saw the Athletic Building and what it was like to be an MIT undergraduate working in the library and study areas.

The tour also showed a variety of practical jokes and pranks that were played by students in previous years, such as a fire hose being used as a water fountain, a pickup truck being perched on top of a building, and a police car hanging next to a ceiling in one of the campus centers. The pranks showed just how smart and creative MIT students are, as the Science Academy students could not figure out how they pulled off the stunts. Students were also able to ask questions regarding the admissions process and what life is like as an undergraduate at MIT.

Most of the trip consisted of several presentations, experiments, demonstrations, and explanations of various research projects happening at MIT. Many of these projects were focused on drug delivery.

Drug delivery refers to the methods, systems, and technologies used for moving a pharmaceutical medication, or drug, into the body in such a way so that it performs its therapeutic effects, limited to a specific part of the body. There were several lab students and postdocs who discussed different means of drug delivery.

After the tour, the first demonstration was to take place. With lab coats and safety goggles, the students were escorted to one of the laboratories, where they were advised not to touch anything as they were about to witness and learn about the first research topic.

Matthias Oberli, a postdoc who earned his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, talked about painless vaccination through ultrasound and cavitation. Cavitation is a process where tiny bubbles are formed within another medium, in this case, water. A vaccine could be delivered using this technique by inserting the vaccine, or a protein, into the small cavities, which would then travel through the skin and into the bloodstream.

Following this, a presentation was given by Aaron Anselmo about finding new ways of delivering drugs, such as proteins and genes, across complex natural barriers in the body such as the intestine, the lung, and the skin. His presentation focused on the creation of an encapsulation around a drug so that the drug would be activated in certain chemical environments, such as acidic or basic environments.

He gave an example: a drug being delivered to the intestines. Since the intestines are slightly basic, the drug would be coated so that the drug is protected in acidic environments but is released in basic environments. Similarly, another drug could react in acidic conditions, like the stomach. Anselmo insisted that this could be groundbreaking technology with regards to drug delivery because specific regions of the body weren’t targeted until now.

The students were especially awed by a demonstration that showed the encapsulation of a fluorescent dye within a polymer, led by Evan Rosenberg and James Sugarman, both technical associates at the Langer Lab.
After a long, discussion-filled lunch break, students were also able to witness the work of a machine that filled well plates with extreme precision. It was operated by Piotr Kowalski, a postdoc at the Langer Lab.

The machine was able to fill 96 wells on a single well plate with amazing precision. This could be used for experiments needing consistency within trials. The machine was operated by a computer program that could be used by anyone. Worth over half a million dollars, this was a serious laboratory tool.

Finally, students were able to meet Dr. Robert Langer, the founder and head of the Langer Lab. He talked about his personal life and how he got interested in biotechnology and engineering. Afterwards, a question and answer session followed, which included questions regarding current research projects, high school academic performance, and how Dr. Langer was able to achieve his goals in relation to the Langer Lab. Dr. Robert Langer also commented that his biggest achievement was his students.

For the final presentation, students were educated on creating new biodegradable polymeric delivery systems which will ultimately be absorbed by the body. Many freshmen have done a lab experiment involving borax and glue, creating a substance informally known as “oobleck”. Oobleck is more like a solid when moved around, and more like a liquid when left alone.
The polymers to be used in this drug delivery system were actually the opposite. This was so that when the drug-containing polymer was injected into the skin, it could flow through the syringe, as a liquid, but then reform and attach itself to the inside of the skin, as a solid, releasing the drug over a long period of time whilst biodegrading.

For the final exploration activity of the day, the students were greeted by Kevin Kauffman, who gave them a tour of the various lab rooms, ranging from level 1 to level 3 labs, depending on the risk involved with handling the substances in that laboratory. The students got to see several machines and devices, such as advanced centrifuges, spinners and mixers, and even gas-controlled chambers for extremely controlled chemical reactions. Students were even able to view cancerous HeLa cells under a microscope.

Undoubtedly, this trip was just the beginning to the career and academic discovery for these students. The trip was succinct, yet powerful, as it connected everything that the students have been learning at science academy to the real world, and they were given exposure to top research projects at one of the world’s highest commended biotechnology research laboratories. Perhaps some of them may want to visit again someday, or even work towards being a member of the Langer Lab in the near future.
The freshman students of the Science Academy would like to thank Dr. Goodman for chaperoning and putting together this special experience as well as Trumbull BEI for funding this trip. We would also like to thank Dr. Robert Langer and all the other MIT collaborators for giving us an experience we will never forget.


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