Blog Posts



1) What is iGEM? How did you find out about it and what was the application process like?

iGEM, International Genetically Engineered Machine, is a synthetic biology competition in which over 300 Universities participate from around the world. Held inBoston, iGEM celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016 and was first started at MIT. The competition encompasses high school, undergraduate and postgraduate categories, making it a diverse student cohort. iGEM, however, is no ordinary competition. Overthe years, it has created an engaging community of students that want to change the world’s outlook on synthetic biology by creating innovative solutions to complex scientific problems, thereby raising awareness of its advantages.

I first found out about iGEM through a coursemate who took part in 2014. I was so drawn to experiencing it that I did some background research and contacted the PI from Sheffield’s 2014 team.  Coincidentally, two PhD students were looking to set upa team at this time and after several weeks of email-based conversation and a tough recruitment process, we had a full team of 10 undergraduate students, 10 postgraduate advisors and 3 PI’s.

The application process was straightforward – email for an application pack and you were sent a link to a google form. If successful, you were then invited to a panel interview.

I was fortunate to have had a diverse group of students to work with, from Bioengineering, Control Systems and Robotic Engineering, Genetics, Biomedical Science, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Chemistry and Economics.

2) What is the focus of your project? Why did you decide to go ahead with this? (Inspiration/ objectives)

When coming up with ideas for our project, we decided to look at problems that needed solving. We looked at problems in environment, energy, healthcare and medicine. We chose to tackle antibiotic resistance by building a biologically engineered reporter system that detects a biomarker in blood called lipocalin-2, which is an indicator of bacterial infection. Our objective was to build a diagnostic device that tells the difference between a bacterial and a viral infection. If a patient can be diagnosed for a bacterial infection, prescription of antibiotics can be justified as being needed. If a patient has a viral infection, antibiotics will not help and resistance will be promoted for no benefit. We decided to go ahead with this, primarily based on how important it was to tackle and control before it gets out of hand. Our Policy and Practises team interviewed healthcare specialists and patients facing antibiotic resistance. WHO has declared antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to global health.

3) Who are the members on your team? Is it a multi-disciplinary team? What role do you each play in the team? Is there a designated leader? Best and worst part of the experience so far?

Members on my team are students from a variety of departments at the University – a truly interdisciplinary team! There is no such designated leader as we have advisors working on different aspects of the project, as well as unofficial wet lab and dry lab leads. However, responsibilities are spread out amongst the entire team due to the nature of the project.

4) How long have you worked on this/ when is the deadline?  Are there any challenges you’ve come across in the early stages of the project? Do you have a funding limit?

We started having team meetings right after the team was put together in March. We met every week from then until the summer, which is when we rigorously started working on it 9-5 for 10 weeks.

5) When are you going to Boston?! Excited? Do you have to do any prep work for this? What are you most looking forward to during your time there?

We went to Boston on the 27th of October and have just returned. We presented our project there and won a gold medal. We were also nominated for Best Diagnostic Project in the top 5.



Suzie & Ricky – by Elizabeth Kapasa

A little bit about me

Currently, I am pursuing a PhD joint between Sheffield, Leeds and York Universities because it is the White Rose funded joint DTC for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (DTC TERM) – This is under the department for Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds. I did my undergraduate degree in Biomaterials Science and Tissue Engineering (MEng) at the University of Sheffield, so I spent my first year of my PhD in Sheffield where I began the public engagement with the children’s book project.


Picture of me at the book launch at ‘Engineering Imagination 2015’

How did we create a Children’s Book?

jkAbout 2 years ago, I was chosen to lead this University of Sheffield Women in Engineering Project to write and publish a children’s book to inspire primary school children to want to become engineers, rather than doctors, teachers, athletes etc. ‘Suzie and Ricky: The Crash Landing’ is about how the children find a friendly engineering team to help their newfound alien friend return home. 

This children’s book is a fantastic and creative idea aimed to reach young children aged 8 to 9 years old. We specifically chose this age because a national study showed that children decide whether they like and continue further studies in science and maths between the ages of 10 to 14 years old. So we hope to plant this idea before children finally make their decision.

Our society has slipped into unhelpful gender stereotypes, and I love being a part of a like-minded team that wants to help inspire young children (girls in particular) to see STEM subjects as an opportune job option alongside the other popular jobs like being a doctor, lawyer, athlete etc. That is why we chose Suzie and Ricky to co-star the book, so that in the story, every child has a starring character to associate with. We took particular care in working with the illustrator on creating Mike the alien, who we hope will be a friendly and lovable character the children can sympathise with. We hope throughout the book the children see themselves alongside Suzie and Ricky, who are eager to find a team of engineers to help get Mike back home and want to become engineers themselves too! Through the book we explain the role each engineer plays in helping Mike cope on Earth and to build the rocket in order to illustrate the variety in engineering disciplines. Finally at the back of the book we have profiles to give each engineer a real, tangible personality. Then the book ends with the key, intriguing question to make the children think . . . “What kind of Engineer will YOU be?”

What to take away from this?

I could not have dreamed how far this project has come – To everyone involved, I cannot thank all of you enough. It has been a genuine joy bringing the book to kids. As many of you will know, they ask the greatest, funniest and most curious questions. I remember one group of children in particular. They were asking questions about what I do, to which I explained that I am a bioengineer and I’m working on a PhD project to grow bones. The jaw of this one boy literally dropped like a cartoon and he paused for a moment before putting his hands on his head over his eyes and exclaiming “You’re like…breaking the laws of physics!” 

Public engagement is a great way to get out of the workplace and remember why we do the work we do, and reignite that passion, curiosity and excitement for that work. The most exciting thing about this project is that the story is not over yet.


Snapshot from the IET Programme ‘Engineering Our World’.

I was interviewed by ITN productions for the IET programme ‘Engineering Our World’, where we took the book into a local school to read and do related activities.



Feel free to contact Elizabeth via email ( or twitter (@elizabethkapasa)

Blog Posts


By: Natasha Patel

Second Year Student

October 2016

If you study engineering, you might be used to shocked responses and apologies when you tell people your chosen degree or share the fact that you have more contact hours in a day than some have in a week. You might struggle to explain that there are many different fields within engineering without receiving a yawn or a confused look (my parents still don’t really understand my degree subject). Engineering students get a bad reputation for having no life and living on caffeine; and while some of us might enjoy popping into a coffee shop on the way to lectures, labs or the library I want to show you a day in the life of a second year Chemical Engineering student with time for societies, relaxation and fun.


Early morning, the alarm comes on before the sun comes up and it is time to get up (or hit snooze a few times). Next, it’s time to get dressed for lectures and have breakfast, I know a lot of people tend to skip breakfast in favour of waking up later but to me, it’s essential to have the energy to focus all day.

Before long it’s time for the dreaded 9am lecture. I started the day with a two-hour particle science lecture. I pull out printed lecture slides to take notes and annotate. The professor included industrial links and occasionally brings in guest lecturers from industry to keep you interested. The industrial links really help you to see why you’re signing away a few years of your life to lab reports; a light at the end of the tunnel.

At 11am we had a break and in a busy day of lectures anytime you have a break in the day it’s lunch time. Time to talk to your course mates, catch up on any work and much needed relaxing and energy boost. Whether you bring food from home or visit one of the many places you can buy lunch, this is the most important part of the day. After the short lunch break, it’s time for another two-hour lecture, this time; mass transfer. Following the intense lecture, we get a second break in the day. During this time my friends and I discussed a few questions from the previous lecture, and of course ate more food (we really need the energy).

In the afternoon I had a tutorial in which we had time to go through a sheet of questions based on the topic of the lecture. There were PhD students there to help you on how to approach questions and topics. It’s always a good idea to practise questions and to apply the topics covered in lectures and being able to do this with help available was very useful.

The university day is now over and now there’s finally free time. First, you’ll want to relax from the hectic day, personally, I enjoy listening to some music, a few minutes of meditation or watching some funny videos online. After decompressing and relaxing for a while I will prepare dinner, or rather reheat leftovers from the weekend when I had the time to cook.

Later, there were a few hours to revise and do assignments. I know no one wants to do this but it’s a key, be it boring, part of the day. From personal experience I’ve found keeping on top of your work is preferable to drowning underneath it.

In the evening I go to Trampolining club. I think it’s important to spend some time participating in societies in order to stay happy, healthy and focused. Going to a society or sports club is beneficial to get your mind thinking about something other than the ideal gas law!

In the evening on my return to the house from trampolining club I spend what’s left of the day with my housemates, we watch TV, movies or just talk about the day’s events. However, if you’d prefer to head out into the city most places in Sheffield are open until the early hours and the night is still young. Remember, engineers can have fun too!





Blog Posts · News


By: Noye, 2nd Year Civil Engineering
October 2016

When you meet someone new at university, it’s considered just good manners to ask what they’re studying. The more I’ve been asked this question the clearer it has become that, even amongst engineers, a surprising number of people (in my opinion anyway) don’t know what civil engineering is. Even I must admit to not knowing until a couple of years before starting my degree.
So why is that . . . and what exactly is civil engineering?

We could try to blame our ignorance on the relative modernity of the term – relative meaning it was first used more than two hundred years ago, rather than a thousand. In fact, the first person to call themselves a civil engineer was a Mr John Smeaton born in 1724, who used the term ‘civil’ to distinguish his work from that of military engineers. His projects were things like bridges and canals which were primarily for the use of the people.[1] However, seeing as most of us were born a good while after this, I don’t think the newness of the term is a very good excuse.

We could – as we do with most things – find a way to blame the government. You’ve probably heard that there’s a shortage of engineering graduates, which isn’t ideal for a country wanting to grow its economy and raise living standards. The government and various STEM related organisations have been putting great effort into telling children about STEM, but surely it would be helpful to break it up a bit? After all, an engineer isn’t a scientist any more than an IT technician is a mathematician. While we’re at it, let’s throw in that there are different types of engineers. This is probably a decent excuse for not knowing what civil engineering is.

Honestly though, I think the biggest reason the average person doesn’t know about civil engineering is because most of us don’t ever feel like we need to know. A little morbidity here – we’ve all heard that you’re more likely to die in a car accident than on an aeroplane, but did you know that you’re also 35000 times more likely to die in a car accident than from a structural failure?[2]

But what is a structural failure? I’m glad you asked, because I’m just about ready to answer the question ‘What is civil engineering?’ and structures are a big part of it.

Now, if you wanted a textbook definition you wouldn’t be reading an entire blogpost – so I’m not even going to quote one. If I, as someone who decided to dedicate my student loan towards the study of civil engineering, was going to define it, it would go like this:

‘Civil engineering is the physical foundation of civilised communal living on any scale. It is the design, building and maintenance of infrastructure, as well as the natural environment.

Infrastructure is all about structures. It’s building homes, bringing everything we need for survival to those homes and taking the waste we don’t want away again; it’s the provision of roads to get us from one place to another, of railways to get us there faster and of tunnels to get us through a place rather than around; it’s what allows us mitigate the risks of living in dangerous locations such as floodplains and earthquake fault lines.

Civil engineering is therefore the structural framework for human beings to live together as we do.’

It’s strange to think about, isn’t it? That civil engineering is present in almost everything we do, and yet so many of us can’t define it. Personally, I’m glad I learned about it before I chose my degree. What a way to change the world – building it!

So my answer to why people don’t know what civil engineering is: Because you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

[1] ‘Civil Engineering: A Very Short Introduction’, David Muir Wood, 2012

[2], ‘Structural Failures’, accessed 22/10/16