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Taipei American School Wins High School Grand Prize at iGEM Championship

By Kristen Lowman

This year, it was the team from Taipei American School (TAS) that won the High School Grand Prize at the 2017 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Championship in Boston. Their project, NANOTRAP, focuses on developing an effective mechanism for removing nanoparticles from wastewater before they enter rivers and oceans. Twelve TAS students traveled to this impressive event, where 265 college teams and 44 high school teams from all over the world presented cutting-edge scientific research projects, with 4500 people in attendance. In addition to the Grand Prize, the TAS iGEM team won Best Wiki and a Gold Medal for the completeness of their project. They also received nominations for the following awards: Best Integrated Human Practices, Best Poster, Best Presentation, and Best DNA Parts Collection. The TAS iGEM team successfully created a mechanism to trap nanoparticles in simulated wastewater treatment plant conditions. As particles break down and enter the water supply, they pose environmental and health risks for humans, plants, and aquatic life. Most wastewater treatment plants lack the ability to purge such small particles, so the TAS team has been working to clean nanoparticle waste by introducing a trapping mechanism into centralized wastewater treatment facilities. Students built a prototype and used computer modeling to simulate water cycling and timing. They synthesized new DNA and put it into bacteria; the bacteria then made either a membrane protein or a biofilm to trap nanoparticles. All of the research and work was completed in the Sandy R. Puckett Memorial Research Lab on campus. The iGEM team worked with students in the nanotechnology research class and used the scanning electron microscopy to observe nanoparticles. They also collaborated with the computer science and robotics department to print 3D biocarriers to use for the application of biofilm in wastewater treatment plants. The TAS iGEM team also moved beyond science and focused on other aspects of the issue, including government regulations, policies, and ethics. Students worked closely with the Dihua Waste Water Treatment Plant in Taipei and talked directly with professors at local universities and other experts in Taipei. At the Championship event last year, the TAS iGEM team won a gold medal for the completeness of their project (aimed at treating cataracts) as well as awards in the following categories: Best Education and Public Engagement, Best Mathematical Model, and Best DNA Parts Collection. In 2015, the TAS iGEM team won the High School Grand Prize (for their project on preventing tissue damage from chronic inflammation).

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