Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona, United States
Graduation date: Spring 2022
GCSP | Summer 2021
Genetically Engineering the Microalgae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to Sequester Arsenic from Contaminated Groundwater: ASU International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition ProjectArsenic contamination in groundwater is a serious problem in local rural communities: ~20.7% of wells in Arizona exceed the safe concentration of 10ppb. Prolonged exposure to this contamination can cause cancer, vascular damage, and liver failure. As part of a larger effort for the iGEM summer competition to introduce bioremediation genes into the chloroplast of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, this project will focus on proteins that sequester arsenic and other metals, producing cleaner, safer groundwater.
Mentor: Christopher Plaisier
Featured project | Summer 2021
Emma Lieberman is a biomedical engineering senior in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program who is presenting water decontamination research conducted with Assistant Professor Christopher Plaisier in the FURI Symposium. Lieberman worked on her GCSP competencies in part through opportunities with the ASU iGEM Competition team and research with Plaisier and Assistant Professor Benjamin Bartelle.
What made you want to get involved in GCSP?
I was originally drawn to the Grand Challenges Scholars Program my freshman year. I like that it gives undergraduates the opportunity to contextualize everything we’re learning in the real world, and helps us consider how to provide value through our work.
How will your engineering research project impact the world?
For this project, I was a member of ASU’s team participating in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) annual competition. iGEM puts a lot of emphasis on addressing local issues ethically. As a co-captain for the team, and the head of our human practices efforts, we explored how prolonged exposure to high arsenic concentrations in water can have devastating effects on people, livestock and the environment. Hopefully, this project and the proposed filter design and implementation method we developed will help people have better access to safe drinking water. This would help people in rural communities to maintain the integrity of their environment and live healthier lives.
How do you see this experience helping your career?
Being a member of GCSP will help me show my dedication to improving lives and providing value to our society through biomedical engineering. Participating in the iGEM competition has been an amazing learning opportunity. I’ve learned a plethora of skills that will help me immensely in my career — not only wet lab skills, but also project planning, leadership and research skills that I am excited to utilize in future projects.
What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?
Dr. Plaisier advised us to design our protocols thoroughly, check them with others and run them at least once before we needed to. This was great advice. No matter how thoroughly you think the protocols are researched, there is always something that will come up when you’re in the lab. It’s also helpful knowing that the cloning issues, lab setbacks and failed experiments happen to everyone, and can almost always be solved with a little more time, research, meetings with advisors and trial and error.
Why should other students get involved in GCSP?
I highly recommend other Fulton Schools students become involved in GCSP regardless of their engineering major. It is encouraging to be part of a community that is so optimistic about improving lives with our engineering skills. I also recommend that students become involved in future ASU iGEM teams. This year reignited our team and we hope to take an active part in this annual competition for many years to come!