Alberta’s Achievements at iGEM

Well, another year of iGEM is officially over. I was fortunate enough to see the Alberta teams do their final presentations over the five-day competition. It’s incredible to see how much they’ve improved since the aGEM competition just last month.

And as always, our high-performing Albertan teams have a few things to be proud of this year.

Medals

iGEM’s medal system represents how much the teams have accomplished during the summer. Medal rankings increase as the teams meet more requirements, based on a rubric given to them by iGEM.

The UAlberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge teams got Gold medals this year. The Notre Dame Collegiate and Lethbridge High School teams got Silver medals this year.

Track Awards and Special Prizes

The competition is split into 12 different tracks, focused on a particular subject. These include things like Energy, Environment, Diagnostics, or Manufacturing. The UAlberta team won Best Food & Nutrition Project, beating out 14 other teams in their track. They were also nominated for Best Integrated Human Practices, which recognizes exemplary work in iterative design and stakeholder engagement.

The Calgary team was nominated for Best Software, for their software aggregation service. Lots of iGEM software do very useful things but get lost in the void after the competition ends. The Calgary team’s software aggregates these programs so other teams can find them in one place.

The Lethbridge High School team was also nominated for Best Model in the High School division. To better understand how phages and bacteria interact, they built mathematical models. These models made good use of calculus, statistics, and probability to make their predictions. Considering calculus isn’t taught until Grade 12, these students managed to learn an incredible amount in a short time.

The Prize of All Prizes

And what about the Our Lady of the Snows team from Canmore? Well, iGEM’s medal system requires that teams complete all Bronze medal criteria before they can achieve Silver. Similarly, they need to meet all Silver medal criteria before they can get Gold. If you do a lot of Gold medal work but miss one Silver criterion, you only get Bronze.

So, unfortunately, due to a few administrative issues during the season, OLS Canmore didn’t get a medal this year. They did, however, get something much more valuable.

The Canmore team received the prestigious Chairman’s Award, thanks to their efforts on improving accessibility in science for persons with disabilities.

The Chairman’s Award recognizes the embodiment of iGEM’s values. iGEM is a collaborative, international community of passionate young scientists solving real problems. The judges nominate a team that deserves special recognition for their hard work, perseverance, and spirit. Only one team in the entire competition gets the Chairman’s Award each year.

The challenges of fine motor tasks like pipetting don’t have to be a barrier for people who want to do science. We can use technology to help level the playing field and hopefully, this means we’ll see more aspiring scientists regardless of physical ability.

For beginning this conversation in the community, the Canmore team embodied the true spirit of what iGEM is all about. The Chairman’s Award is well-deserved.

So congratulations, OLS Canmore, and to all the Alberta teams for your achievements this year. I am so incredibly proud of all of you.

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