From left to right: interns Michael, Dang, Josh, Sage and Greg.

About the company:
How do you get rid of unpleasant insects without spraying disruptive chemicals? The team at NovoClade has a solution and it starts with the pests themselves. By genetically modifying harmful and invasive bug species, many of them can be sterilized when they’re young, thus reducing their numbers without the use of toxic chemicals that have a negative impact on the environment.

In 2020, NovoClade’s CEO Siba Das hired two R&D interns through the SciTech Internship Program to help them build and develop a prototype for their solution. This spring, he returned to SciTech and hired five students to continue the work.

During their internship, this batch of students were responsible for designing and building a prototype device to release the designed insects for biocontrol. In addition to other tasks, they also gained hands-on experience working in a startup that is pioneering a new technique in pest control.

Meet the interns:
Das was on the lookout for candidates who were obsessed with this question: “How do I best engineer devices for real-world applications?” He found Aerospace Engineering Major Dang Do, Biomedical Engineering Major Josh Do,  Biochemistry Major Michael Gelaw, Biology Major Sage Patchett and Biochemistry Major Gregory Shobert and offered them a chance to answer that question.

The independence they were given to accomplish this task was especially exciting, Dang recalled. “We are free to discover and deploy our existing skills on the project and work on whatever designs that we are comfortable with as long as it meets the end goal.”

Working together to reach their goal was also a major plus. “Being able to connect and collaborate with other peers is my number one takeaway,” Dang added.

“My experience at NovoClade involves much more collaboration with individuals outside of the engineering field,” Josh agreed.  “Usually, the design process involves research into existing solutions and bouncing around ideas with the people I work with. My coworkers with a strong biology background have been invaluable with their unique insights and design considerations.”

Working closely with the insects themselves, Sage put her biology skills to work and was responsible for rearing fruit flies and transferring them to new tubes in the prototype once the adults started emerging from the pupae.

“I learned how to make fly food and the injection protocol,” Sage explained. “Injections involve collecting fly larvae and lining it up on a slide to prepare it for injection, which has been my favorite task so far because it’s the most complex and interesting process where we get to use some fancy and cool equipment.”

Meaningful Takeaways
Even though their internships are still underway, all the students agreed that what they’ve learned so far has already made an impact.

“Through my experience at this internship, I’ve learned that the simplest solution may often be the most effective and reliable one,” Josh said. “Additionally, through trial and error, I’ve found that a little planning upfront saves a lot of time when fabricating and assembling the prototype.”

“I got to improve and learn some substantial technical skills that will be beneficial for me in the future, for instance, working on SolidWorks sketch, using the laser cutter, water jet (etc.)” added Dang.

“My biggest takeaway is that it is completely possible to start my career in biology as an undergrad!” Sage concluded proudly. “I didn’t think I would find an experience like this that directly relates to my field, so it is cool to be able to learn so much and get hands-on experience working with genetic engineering with an environmental cause.”

Get involved!
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