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Melody Azimi: Undergraduate

Biomolecular Engineering
Degree Program: 
B.S., Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics
Los Gatos, California
Undergraduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz

Melody Azimi is a junior majoring in bioengineering and bioinformatics. This year, she was one of the youngest members of UC Santa Cruz’s student-led iGEM research team, which designed and orchestrated a unique project in synthetic biology as part of an international competition. Melody will be next year’s iGEM captain, and she spoke with us about what she has learned from her research, and what she is looking forward to next year.

For details on this year’s iGEM project, click here. 

What is iGEM, and what was this year's project?

iGEM is an international synthetic biology competition program in which a group of undergraduate students works on a project for the most of the year, and then they go to the Boston symposium to present the idea with a bunch of other people from around the world. 

This year’s project was called Vitrum. Vitrum works on trying to optimize the thermal stability of vaccines. This is super important because many places around the world don't have access to proper refrigeration. Vaccines need to be stored at specific temperatures, and when you can't have staple refrigeration, then those vaccines become inactive. Our plan in Vitrum was to break that cold chain, which is the transportation line from, for example, a pharmaceutical company all the way to their resource constrained area. By breaking that, you don't have to ever use a cold box to make it travel all the way there… It's just on a shelf and it can be used at any point and still be active. 

What was the iGEM competition like? 

It was really amazing to see all the people working on different projects from plastic, to canola oil, to making different kinds of materials biodegradable. It is just amazing to see what people my age can do with the resources that we have at universities. It makes you feel like we can really do something good for the future. I think we have potential to really save this earth from climate change and all of the things that are going to happen. 

You are next year’s iGEM captain. What are your hopes for your new team? 

We just chose our team and I think we chose an amazing group of individuals that are really passionate about science and want to help the world as much as they can. I guess for my team this year, I'd just like us to be really passionate about the idea that we pick, and that it will be something that is impactful. 

What is the main thing you have gained from participating in research?

Coming into iGEM, I was a really shy person and I was kind of in the corner and would only do things when I was asked to do things, but the amazing thing about iGEM is it's all student led, so anything that you put into it, you get out of it. I really had to learn to say, “no, I want to do this right now” instead of having someone come up to me and tell me what to do. That was really amazing because I think it made me more confident, and now I can apply those things to my new team and tell them, “It's all on you. You have to go and you have to put your effort in and no one's going to tell you what to do. You're going to have to figure that out on your own.” I think that I can bring that to different areas of my life now. 

What is your dream job?

I would love to go to med school and to apply the things I've learned here and truly help people. I want to be an OBGYN, or maybe take the things I've learned from medical school and work at a company where we can do clinical trials and work on a pharmaceutical project. 

What is your advice for students who are thinking about getting into research? 

It's such an amazing opportunity. You can't ever learn any of these things in the classroom. It's easy to just fill your mind with information, but to actually utilize that information and go into class and be hands on- it really gets you thinking. You forget a bunch of stuff that you learned in the classroom, but being able to actually understand what those things mean really gets you thinking and makes you a confident and skilled engineer.