University Research Foundation: Stories

Microbial Design Studio
Biological Design and STEM Education

Orkan Telhan
For the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, Microbial Design Studio was used to design a special diet using traditional Turkish simits.

Dr. Orkan Telhan, Associate Professor of Fine Arts in the School of Design is interdisciplinary artist, designer, and researcher whose investigations focus on the design of interrogative objects, interfaces, and media, engaging with critical issues in social, cultural, and environmental responsibility. Dr. Telhan believes we are in the midst of a biotechnology revolution, where bioinformatics tools and biochemical automation drive ever-increasing abilities to design and synthesize novel organisms. Much like the Digital and Electronics revolution before it, the results of the Biotech revolution will ultimately account for an out-sized portion of the world economy and will touch nearly every enterprise in some fashion. Consequently, bio-literacy is emerging as a critical component of educational preparedness. Despite the growing need for increased bio-literacy in a wide range of academic fields, it is still difficult to pursue biology education safely outside of a traditional and well-equipped biological laboratory.

This research, funded through the URF Research Grant Program, focused on developing a low-cost platform that can be used to teach principles of life sciences and biological product design. The focus was on developing a teaching tool version of the platform that can simplify the process of genetic engineering and microbial design and can be done safely outside specialized bio labs and at informal learning institutions such as maker spaces, science centers, and museums. The project resulted in two prototypes and testing of a low-cost platform with juniors and seniors at String Theory Schools. The project allowed Dr. Telhan to raise significant extramural support and use the initial findings to apply for two new NSF grants (one obtained, one pending) while building productive collaborations with Singh Center for Nanotechnology, Penn Graduate School of Education, and Penn Biology.

Histories and Futures of Global Health:
Bridging Scholarship, Practice, and Critique across the Social and Medical Sciences

Ramah McKay
Dr. Ramah McKay, Assistant Professor of History and Sociology of Science in the Department of Anthropology

Dr. Ramah McKay, Assistant Professor of History and Sociology of Science in the Department of Anthropology, is a socio-cultural and medical anthropologist focusing on the politics of health and the making of transnational medical economies. Over the last three decades, global health has emerged as both a conceptual frame for organizing concerns with health inequity, disease treatment and prevention, and health systems management. Today political realignments, emerging environmental challenges (and attendant changes in food security, infectious disease, and access to clean water and arable land), mass displacement, and persistent humanitarian challenges are prompting global health actors, scholars, and observers to ask how existing global health paradigms will confront new problematics in human health around the globe.

Through URF Conference Support Grant funding, and leveraging funds from the SAS Dean’s Office, Wolf Humanities Center, and Drexel University’s Center for Science and Technology Studies and Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages, Dr. McKay organized a daylong public symposium, “Speculative Futures” addressing these historical and contemporary dynamics of global health. Approximately 50 attendees, including students, faculty, and members of the public saw presentations by 12 scholars and practitioners in the field (from six countries) and a roundtable of historians of science and medicine. Plans for a publication based on the presented papers are currently under discussion and select recordings of the presentations are available on the Slought Foundation website.

Acute Kidney Injury after Lung Transplantation
Fundamental Clinical Epidemiology, Molecular Markers, and Prediction

Michael Shashaty
Dr. Michael Shashaty, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Michael Shashaty, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, focuses on epidemiologic and translational research on the risks for and mechanisms of acute organ dysfunction, primarily acute kidney injury (AKI). AKI is a sudden episode of kidney failure that causes a build-up of waste products in the blood and makes it hard for kidneys to keep the right balance of fluid in the body. AKI typically happens within a few hours or a few days after an event like lung transplant surgery. For example, AKI occurs in up to 70% of lung transplant recipients, with many developing moderate to severe AKI. There are currently no specific AKI therapies for this population and there have been no studies describing molecular mechanisms that might serve as targets for AKI prevention and treatment.

Dr. Shashaty’s group has shown that there are biomarkers for mechanisms associated with AKI. Using a URF Research Grant, Dr. Shashaty’s group, including three undergraduate students, studied the association of these biomarkers with AKI after lung transplantation. Utilizing a Penn lung transplant cohort with existing clinical data and plasma specimens, they collected additional AKI-specific clinical data, initiated prospective urine specimen collection, and tested both candidate mechanistic biomarkers and markers validated for AKI prediction in non-transplant populations.

Steven Tinney: Mesopotamia
Cities and Maritime Networks 2500-2000 BCE

Steve Tinney
Steve Tinney, Deputy Director, Penn Museum

Steven Tinney focuses on bringing Sumeria online as a gateway to early Mesopotamian culture. He and his team are establishing a world-leading digital environment enabling broad interdisciplinary research and integrating all aspects of archeological enquiry. The outcome is a platform, including landscape analysis and visualization of the third millennium BCE environment encompassing both Ur and Lagash and extending to the contemporary mouth of the Persian Gulf.

The platform serves as the prototype for museum supported archeological data archives; other archeological sites can utilize the open-source system, which will be freely available on Git Hub, extending the analytical material for an ever-increasing visualization and understanding of ancient Mesopotamia and beyond.