Undergraduate Education

CCC faculty are developing and teaching innovative courses that introduce students to the field of Cellular Engineering and its “Big Ideas,” while also teaching them the habits of mind and skills needed for a successful career in Cellular Engineering.

Undergraduate Course Offerings:

Introduction to Optical Engineering for the Biological Sciences - BIOL 667/CHEM 667 (SFSU)

Course Description: Through participation in this course, students learn essential skills in optical design, instrumentation and fabrication. The course provides students a hands-on introduction to advances in low-cost computing, digital cameras, optics, Python programming, image processing with OpenCV and microscope design. Each student builds a low-cost (~$20 in components) lens-less holographic microscope capable of capturing and processing images of plankton. Students then use their microscope to conduct an original research project. Example projects include; determining the effect of environmental conditions on plankton motion, classifying plankton by measuring morphological features and altering the design to improve the performance of the microscope.

Experiments in Cell and Molecular Biology - Biol 351 GWAR (SFSU)

Course Description: A pre-existing course, that has been modified to integrate topics related to Cellular Engineering and the Framework for Cellular Engineering Education. In this course, students apply laboratory methods to research projects each year. Students learn standard techniques and methods in cell and molecular biology (like animal cell culture, light microscopy, electrophoresis, immunodetection, RNA isolation and qPCR, etc). Labs use engineered tools to show or monitor change in cellular activities, behaviors, or gene expression. These tools are explained and read about, for example students learn about the use of aequorin and GFP as protein sensors for calcium detection and gene expression reporting, or use of probes like sybr green in qPCR to monitor specific gene expressions under experimental conditions. Included in the course is a general lecture on responsible scientific practice and scientific ethics. This lecture includes defining terms like fabrication, falsification and plagiarism in scientific research and discussions on examples from cases posted on the Office of Research Integrity website or in current popular science news articles.

Biophysics - BIOL627 (SFSU)

Course Description: A pre-existing course, that has been modified to integrate topics related to Cellular Engineering and the Framework for Cellular Engineering Education. This course now introduces students to quantitative modeling of cells and also includes two modules focused on cellular engineering concepts: 1) designing cell structure and 2) how cell structure influences cellular function. The course also now includes a discussion of ethical considerations in both biophysics and cellular engineering research. Other topics in this course include physical description of free energies and driving forces, energetic and timescales of biological processes, interactions of biomolecules, diffusion transport and signaling, protein DNA and membrane structure, molecular motors, cooperative binding, membrane potentials and excitability, and regulation of gene expression.

Undergraduate Summer Course

This course is designed to provide students an inclusive and intensive research experience on cellular engineering and cellular decision-making. The course goals emphasize the development of skills across biology, engineering, and computational disciplines to prepare students to enter into modern scientific research programs. The course is open to undergraduate, Masters, and junior PhD level students.

2019 Course structure:

The inaugural two week “Summer of Cells 2019” Cellular Engineering Summer Research Course was hosted at San Francisco State University. The course met daily from 9 am-5 pm, with participating students working on teams to complete research projects. Postdoctoral fellows or senior PhD students from CCC labs served as project leads, guiding participating students in their research.

The 2019 project themes were: (1) optogenetic control of cell migration: students found that immune cells use the rate of polarity factor production to make decisions about when to form protrusions and how frequently to change direction; (2) decision-making in Physarum: students studied how the morphology of the slime mold Physarum and its cytoplasmic flows allow this giant single-celled organism to solve complex optimization problems; and (3) microfluidic manipulation of Stentor: students designed new microfluidic devices to cut single Stentor cells into multiple pieces to further our knowledge of regeneration and cell decision-making, and they developed staining procedures to visualize Stentor structure. Both of the Stentor projects are being continued and will lead to publications from CCC Faculty Sindy Tang’s lab and will include the participating students as authors.

Summer and Year-round Center Research Experiences for Undergraduates

One way the Center is expanding awareness of Cellular Engineering and introducing students to the potential for interesting careers in this field is by hosting undergraduates research experiences in Center labs. Undergraduates at SFSU have robust and ongoing opportunities to join Center labs to conduct original research. In addition, students from institutions outside of the Center may gain research experience through participating in summer research programs. Summer students are recruited for these research experiences by leveraging existing programs at participating institutions. All Center undergraduates, whether year-round or summer students, are viewed as full members of the center, and are invited to take part in Center quarterly meetings, including the educational activities associated with those events, and the center-wide annual retreat, which is deliberately timed to allow summer students to take part. Undergraduates present their work as talks and posters at these events. By taking part in these quarterly meetings and retreat, the students get to know each other as a cohort, and also become familiar with the research, ideas, and culture of the center and its participating institutions.