When you’re a student, the rare day off during the week is glorious and second to only a surprise snow day. The day before feels like a Friday; you get to sleep in and usually you spend most of the day hanging out with your friends or binge-watching Netflix. On Election Day, however, eleven juniors and seniors spent their free day traveling from Greenwich to Boston and back. In the Lyft on the way back to South Station, I asked Jess, Nina, and Sophie if our visit was worth the travel time. Their shouts of “are you kidding?” and “uh, yeah!” were both affirming to me and startling to our driver. So what was worth it?
I am fortunate to know a biomedical engineer named Josiah at Emulate, a company that makes organs-on-a-chip. When I was in Boston visiting last year, Josiah gave me an impromptu tour of Emulate’s space. It was cool – a large, open office with a lab running parallel in an innovation park along the seaport. Josiah and a team of colleagues agreed to host a visit from eleven of our juniors and seniors interested in biomedical engineering. The team gave an engaging presentation about their company and their technology. We met two of the five dogs on staff. The CTO even stopped in for a quick pep talk. And then?
We put on gowns, hairnets, gloves, and booties and entered a pressurized air chamber to blast away any dust we might still have on us. The scientists and engineers showed us the chips and let us practice injecting dye into them. They showed students what experiments they were running, how they interpreted the results, and took questions about the process. In addition to high-level questions about the company’s technology, students also asked about what colleges the employees went to, their internships, and what they needed to do to work at a company like Emulate. Students learned as much from these conversations as they did from the visit.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the visit happened at the end. We de-gowned and headed into the company’s flex space – students know a Design Studio when they see one – and the seniors pitched their science project ideas to the scientists and engineers. All of the employees gave their input on each pitch. They also made it clear that they want to hear back from our students later in the year and would be happy to be available for questions along the way. This is both generous and a unique opportunity for the five seniors who were there.
And for the juniors? Grahame said his favorite part of the trip was “talking to engineers who had already graduated college and working in careers what I want to.” Nina? “Wearing the suits! But also, actually going into the lab and experiencing what they experience on a daily basis.” Jess said “it’s the whole interactive experience that I enjoyed. It was unexpected, but really cool to see inside.”
Before we visited the lab, Ben and I took the students to Brattle Book Shop, a used book store a block or so from the Boston Common. I thought it would be a quick stop on the way to lunch, but we ended up running late because our students spent an hour browsing.
Grahame bought a handful of books about the American Revolution. Adi and Sophie were in awe of the rare book section upstairs. Rich loved how small some of them were. I bought cookbooks. On the train home, we compared our haul and talked about the trip. Ben even struck up a cafe-car conversation with a professor at Brown wearing a Star Trek t-shirt. He listened to our description of the lab and offered contact information for our senior research students. Sofia and Flora wrote him letters last week.
Thank you to Emulate for providing photos of our visit: