Nazarbayev University students explain how to win a gold medal

We previously wrote that from 9-13 November 2017, three senior students from School of Science and Technology, Valdemir Kim, Mariyam Akizhanova and Yerkezhan Kalikanova presented their project “Bioremediation of hexavalent chromium using Chlamydomonas reinhardtii” at the international iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) synthetic biology competition and won gold medal. They are all members of the NU iGEM team.

Today we will talk more about the NU iGEM student club, founded by senior students. It indeed could be called educational, because  Nazarbayev University students have opportunity to develop skills and acquire new knowledge in the field of synthetic biology.

According to Valdemir Kim, the president of the club, it all began in 2013, when students gathered the team, came up with the project and presented it in Boston. However, they failed to win a prize. Therefore, after coming back home, they began to study details of the international competition’s format and requirements. At the same time, they started teaching students molecular and synthetic biology methods and techniques and to assist in conducting scientific experiments and writing projects. This is how the student club NU iGEM was formed.

– Preparation for the contest always starts with the selection of ideas for the project. Then everyone defends their project and the best ones are presented to the professor. The professor, in turn, gives pieces of advice on improving the chosen project, considering the uniqueness and relevance of the problem posed in it. Thus, in this project for example, students learn a concept of conducting scientific research projects, from setting tasks and goals to studying similar studies, searching for theoretical and practical materials, etc., says Mariyam Akizhanova.

In addition to the preparatory analytical work, students acquire skills by doing laboratory work, practicing standard protocols of research and deviations from them. This kind of practical work helps to see the full picture of the conducted research, to master the methods of collecting biological materials, their application, cause-effect relationships, and to develop further experiments so as to achieve the desired result and research objectives.

Due to the constant use of theoretical and practical skills, students develop strategic thinking, which is a key tool necessary for doing research work. Thanks to the club, students also learn and practice how to write grants, set budgetsand plan reagents procurements for subsequent projects.

NU iGEM currently has 13 students-biologists as its members and there are plans to invite students majoring in IT programming, robotics and engineering since  the new project requires a complex scientific and systematic approach. The students’ team has already applied for iGEM 2018, thus more fascinating work and new achievements lie ahead.

As senior students, Valdemir and Mariyam have already made a decision to continue their education at Nazarbayev University School of Medicine (NUSOM), become surgeons and continue research work. One of the key factors in the choice of NUSOM was the possibility to get medical education in accordance with American standards, at home, without leaving their relatives. The second important factor was that NUSOM students have an opportunity to go to the University Medical Center (UMC) clinics on internships.

It should be noted that one of the strategic goals of Nazarbayev University is creating a model for healthcare services, which includes students’ education at NUSOM, science work at the research center National Laboratory Astana and practical use of new developments at UMC clinics.