How did you get interested in cell ag?
It started my senior year of highschool; I was taking an independent study class and I wanted to do something with biochemical engineering. We had to do a final project and I had absolutely no idea what to do, so I reached out to one of my friends who was a biology major in college and was asking her for help finding a topic. She told me to check out the book Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro, so I read it and got absolutely hooked. I refocused my whole project to be about cell ag and spent the whole year writing a pseudo review paper on it.
How did you find out about New Harvest?
It was through the book! It mentioned New Harvest and Isha and Natalie a lot, and I really admired all the work that they were doing. I was orbiting around the space for a couple years and ended up with New Harvest over this summer – it was kind of funny how it happened. When everyone was in quarantine and doing all those Instagram story prompts, Georgia Tech had one where you had to describe your major, your future job, things like that with GIFs. New Harvest had just made their first GIF, so I used it and tagged New Harvest because I figured people wouldn’t know what it was.
So New Harvest really found you?
Yeah it was totally accidental! Meera DM’ed me, and we started going back and forth talking about how there weren’t that many cell ag GIFs, and she suggested that I make more. I had never made a GIF before but I said yes. I made 3 or 4 different GIFs throughout the summer, and by the end of the summer she offered me an internship. I didn’t even really realize I could intern at New Harvest until I started talking with Meera and Michela, and I realized I loved everything that was going on here.
How do you manage your time between your internship, school, and research?
I’m pretty much just going all the time, but I think it’s a great time to be doing what I’m doing. Most of my research is just waiting, you do about 30 minutes of work and wait 4 hours for the cells to grow. I really get a lot of work done just while I’m in the lab waiting, plus a lot of my classes are virtual and asynchronous, so I can just watch lectures whenever.
What’s the research that you’re working on?
Georgia Tech doesn’t have any cellular agriculture research yet, which is really sad and I’m hoping to change that in the next couple of years! Right now, I’m working with a chemical engineering professor who does oligosaccharide synthesis research. My current research project is working on figuring out a biocatalyst and synthesis pathway for the compound LacNAc, which is a starting place for a lot of oligosaccharides. It’s not directly cell ag related, but it’s important medicinal research that also helps me develop skills like cell culturing and protein purification that I’ll definitely use someday.
Why did you choose chemical engineering?
I actually chose chemical engineering when I was in 4th or 5th grade. My dad worked for UOP Honeywell, and even though he wasn’t a chemical engineer, he knew a lot of them. I knew I loved chemistry so I talked to them about the difference between chemical engineering and chemistry, and I learned how chemical engineering involved taking something small that already exists and turning it into something that can actually be used on a large scale. I was drawn to that sort of large-scale change.
Why Georgia Tech?
I almost didn’t apply to Georgia Tech because they don’t really recruit from the North and it wasn’t a school that a lot of people from my high school looked at. My dad told me to apply because UOP recruits from there all the time, so I looked into it and realized their chemical engineering program was in the top 2 in the country and I knew I had to apply. It was definitely a transition moving from Chicago to Atlanta – it’s 75 and sunny but people are putting up Christmas decorations – but I really love it here.
Has interning at New Harvest changed how you view the cell ag field?
It definitely made me realize how interconnected everything is. I was just thinking earlier today about how a lot of people who have gone into cell ag messaged people randomly on LinkedIn or Facebook and got a response, and that got them involved in the field. I didn’t realize until I started talking with more cell ag people how common that was, and I really love that about the community. It’s like a single large network that I’m really glad to finally be a part of.
Where do you hope to see New Harvest grow while you’re here?
Something I think hasn’t gotten much attention yet is bringing in students. Cell ag has really become established enough as a field that people can be applying to college or picking their majors thinking “I want to do cellular agriculture,” but it’s hard for them to find out about it. New Harvest is definitely in a great spot to start getting more students involved, and I hope that’s something that can happen soon. I’ve already been doing a little bit of it with making New Harvest TikToks – someone actually commented that they saw some of our content and were going to look into cell ag – and I would love to see the field more formally broadcasted to prospective new people.
After you graduate college, are you planning on working in cell ag?
Whatever I do, it’ll definitely be cell ag. I haven’t quite figured out if it’s going to be more researched based or more industry based; I have so much admiration for the fellows who’ve spent years getting a PhD, but I don’t know if I could quite do that. There is something super appealing about the research side, but the industry side is also really interesting coming from an engineering background. I still have time to decide that, it mostly depends on what specific chemical engineering discipline I want to focus on – reactors, overall processes, catalysts, that sort of thing. It’s up in the air for now, but I know it’ll be cell ag!