geekStarter Teams Updates – March 2018

Wondering what has been going on with the geekStarter high-school teams over the past few weeks? Here are some recent updates they have sent us. Read on…

Having already planned how to combine autonomous behaviours with a human operator so our robot could predict and avoid collisions, we started research into behavioural algorithms. At the same time, we begun training on roles and responsibilities for the development of the FR competition robot. We want to use this robot to test our collision prediction and avoidance solution that we are aiming to build. To support algorithm development and testing, we also completed mini-bot builds. With the planning complete, our team split in two. The FIRST robot team began designing the competition robot, while the geekStarter team continued learning behavioural programming and started working with sensors.

Are you ready? NEXUS team members inspect their robot

NEXUS team members inspect their robot

The FIRST team had 6 weeks to design, order materials and build the robot. They used Computer Aided Design (CAD) to model the robot’s physical components and estimate the raw materials required for building it. Based on this, they decided to use Aluminum and ordered all the materials included the electronics systems and propulsion components. Meanwhile, the team continued to use CAD to refine and get the final dimensions of the robot’s components in preparation for cutting and shaping the Aluminum parts. The actual construction started in week four of the six week period allowed for build. With the build stop date approaching, the team knuckled down, finishing up at 10 pm on the last day, February 20th.
As the FRC robot build progressed, the geekStarter team evaluated different sensors for object detection and object tracking, and eventually settled on using infrared sensors and acoustic sensors, respectively. Typically, acoustic sensors have a high background noise and work inconsistently. Therefore, the team set out to prototype and compare different algorithms for filtering out noise and improving the reliability of the acoustic sensors. In the end, the team was able to choose an algorithm that worked consistently and was easy to implement. This algorithm was then added to the sensor processing unit of the competition robot, and was tested during the robot’s autonomous mode at the FIRST Canadian Pacific regional competition in Victoria on March 13-16, 2018.
The team is now keen to apply what they learned at the competition in Victoria to improve the performance of their robot and prepare for the 2018 FRC Canadian Rockies Regional on April 4-7, 2018, in Calgary.

Our team is trying to develop a way to speed up and make plastic sorting more efficient in recycling facilities, using synthetic biology. Having encountered numerous obstacles with our idea of “bio-tagging” plastics, we have been spending a long time in the research and outreach phase. With help from our diligent team mentors, Lisa Oberding and David Lloyd, we’ve recently managed to overcome some of these obstacles, and our research and project planning advanced.

Returning OLS team members present their project ideas to the rest of the team

Returning OLS team members present their project ideas to new team members at school workshop in February

OLS syn bio 2017-18 team is looking forward to hosting geekStarter's 2018 HS Jamboree on May 26

OLS syn bio 2017-18 team is looking forward to hosting geekStarter’s 2018 HS Jamboree

At the school workshop on February 2nd, our mentors helped us come up with a solution that might work. In short, our plan is to build four different genetic constructs, utilizing PET-hydrolase enzymes AND Hydrophobin molecules in tandem, to selectively tag PET plastics for sorting purposes. At the moment, our mentors are helping us design and order the constructs, and we expect to have a more concrete plan and wetlab protocols in place by the end of March. We registered to compete in the 2018 iGEM Giant Jamboree in October in Boston, and will do our best to build a great project until then.
​​We are planning a bio-painting event at our local artsPlace, together with Amino Labs, to bring awareness about our team and to give educators in the Bow Valley a look at possible ways to introduce synthetic biology into schools. We are also preparing for an upcoming interview about our project with the local newspaper Rocky Mountain Outlook, and are looking forward to hosting geekStarter’s High School Jamboree on May 26!

Self driving car: The hardware has been built and assembled and we are now ready to upload the code. We 3D printed the white plastic roll ourselves! We aim to get a few of these cars operational and then ‘race’ them. The race results will be used to modify the code for optimal speed and control!

Ross Shep's self-driving car

Ross Shep’s self-driving car

Indoor FPV drones: The soldering and electronics hardware are nearly ready. We will then program the flight controller and should be ready to fly. We aim to build an indoor race circuit with pool noodles and organize a school event to showcase the drones.
Ross Shep's FPV Drone

Ross Shep’s FPV Drone

Rocket with self deploying parachute and gas sensors: From our research we learned that there are big differences between various carbon dioxide sensors, and it took us a while to figure out and finally order the hardware for this project.
Open house:  We had a very popular open house showing at the beginning of March, with many parents and families coming through the school and talking to our team. We had a drone flying around, and showed off the ball following tank, as well as our JD humanoid dancing robot. It was a very successful event!

Our project aims to engineer bacteria for breaking down fats in fatbergs. Our mentors, Emily Hicks and Robert Mayall, helped us design our genetic construct, which has been ordered and is now being synthesized. The construct includes the DNA code for an enzyme called lipase, which will break down the fat. Once our construct is successfully put into the bacteria, we will have a workshop with our mentors and run tests to see if it works. We have also reached out to our local waste water treatment plant, to arrange a time to talk with them about our project and current practices and concerns.

NDC team members learn how to plate bacteria at school workshop in February

NDC team members learn how to plate bacteria at school workshop in February

Our team has registered to compete in the 2018 iGEM Giant Jamboree. It will be our first time! The giant jamboree will take place in Boston on October 24-28, 2018, and we are doing a lot of fundraising for it. We recently held a Pi Day fundraising event where we have invited our local newspaper. We’re also planning a parents lab night and a synthetic biology “day camp” for grade 6 students, and looking forward to the high school Jamboree in Canmore!
NDC team members demoing targets for the Pi Day fundraiser

NDC team members demoing targets for the Pi Day fundraiser


Work on the Bear Decoy Robot, the Football Tackle Dummy, and the Magnetic Levitation Train has been on hold over the past few weeks, while we focused on various competition-related activities.

FPMHS team member tinkering with the robot

FPMHS team member tinkering with the robot

After they finished building their robot and shipped it to Victoria, the First Robotics team traveled there on March 13-16 to compete in the FR Canadian Pacific Regional competition. Once finished their competitive season, the VEX teams started preparations for the School Open House on May 9th and the Community Robotics Day on May 12th. The school was chosen as a beta test group for a new VEX system, and we are proud for being the only school from Alberta that was selected. The team decided to use VEX components to frame the robot being built for another competition in which we will participate, Skills Alberta.
Absorbed: FPMHS team members working on their robot

FPMHS team members working on their robot

The Ted Harrison design thinking team met with our mentors Himika Dastidar and Dennis Kim for an introductory workshop on February 25th. The mentors talked to our team about the scientific process along with how it applies to moving a project from an idea to a prototype. They also used the opportunity to sit and discuss next steps with our groups in a one-on-one setting.  These discussions helped our groups focus on what to do next and how to keep their ideas moving forward.

Team mentors Himika Dastidar and Dennis Kim during an introductory workshop at Ted Harrison school

Team mentors Himika Dastidar and Dennis Kim during an introductory workshop at Ted Harrison school

One of our groups is currently focused on using viruses to fight cancer. Through their discussion with Himika they were encouraged to look into current research. As a result, they are now completing a summary paper on what is currently being done in this area of research, with the goal of narrowing down their focus.
The group working on osteoporosis had a very good talk about this medical condition with Dennis, as they were having a hard time deciding whether to look at prevention or rehabilitation. Dennis was able to provide them with some guidance into where to focus. He also talked to them about the specifics of osteoporosis so they could gain a better understanding of what they should be looking for when doing their research.
Our robotics group is still working on learning to code as they feel this will be useful in both programming their robot and creating a controlling device that will allow an operator to send commands remotely to the robot. Their final goal is to create a semi-autonomous robot that can clean litter and garbage over large areas such as schoolyards and city parks. They are hoping to build into the robot the ability to sort garbage, recycling and composting.

Board brainstorming session from the 2018 Lethbridge iGEM HS team

Board brainstorming session from the 2018 Lethbridge iGEM HS team

Over the past few weeks, we held recruitment nights at the University of Lethbridge for interested students, and have recently finished recruiting our high school team for the 2018 iGEM season. After some initial brainstorming, our team members have narrowed our project ideas to the following top three: desalination, detection of tick-borne diseases, and detection of contaminants in medical marijuana. We will be choosing our project within the next couple of weeks and are also planning on contributing to the next issue of BioTreks.