Jump-Starting Biotechnology Careers for Boston High School Students

New STEM outreach program, led by BU and funded by the Department of Defense, will introduce underserved students to the emerging field of synthetic biology

By Kat J. McAlpine

Synthetic biology is revolutionizing the field of biotechnology, yet many people aren’t sure what it is. Associate Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) wants to change that by engaging future scientists—namely high school students.

The US Department of Defense is on board with that idea. It has awarded a $2.3 million, three-year grant to Densmore and collaborators at BU, who will use the funds to run outreach programs that provide underserved high school students with access to pioneering biotechnology companies and a crash course in all things synthetic biology.

So what is synthetic biology? It’s an area of research that designs and fabricates new biological parts, devices, and systems, often directly inspired by computer hardware and software, as well as the parts and inner workings of living cells, organisms, and other natural systems.

Over the next three years, Densmore and BU collaborators will engage more than 600 Boston-area high school students, 100 teachers, 40 undergraduate students, and 10 graduate students in short courses on synthetic biology, research rotations, hackathons, workshops, and an international synthetic biology design competition.

The Brink spoke with Densmore to learn more about the program and his passion for recruiting young people into pursuing STEM careers.

For the full story and Q&A on The Brink, visit https://www.bu.edu/articles/2021/jump-starting-biotechnology-careers-for-boston-high-school-students/