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Written by Shail Shah, Edited by Iris Wu
UC Berkeley’s Audio & Education Design Challenge, sponsored by Bose and Autodesk, took place on Oct. 22, 2016. Shail Shah was on one of the two winning teams.
I was excited to take part in the Berkeley Audio Design Challenge for a few reasons. First, it was my first “hackathon” or design sprint challenge. I’ve never had the experience of taking a design from concept to prototype to pitch within such a short time. Not unsurprisingly — it was really tough!
Second, I was deeply interested in the prompt; I’m kind of a hi-fi audio fanatic. I have a handful of speakers around my house which I designed and built. I like audio because to me it’s a beautiful intersection of engineering/physics and art/creativity.
Third, I was drawn to the target of the challenge — designing an educational tool. I like to be involved in educational extracurriculars, especially focusing on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education. As an undergraduate, I volunteered at Richmond High School building electronic bicycles with students after school, and while I worked in Michigan I participated in a program organized by SAE and Toyota, which focused on bringing automotive engineering into the fifth-grade classroom. I benefitted a lot from strong mentors and access to opportunities when I was younger, and I want to be sure I can do the same for others.
A big factor in my team’s success during in the Challenge was how well we worked with one another. We were diverse in that we came from different academic backgrounds, and we had a good spread of seniority (there were two upper-classmen and two lower-classmen). Throughout the challenge, I organized the team’s efforts, leading the brainstorming activity and delegating the workload.
It was pretty nice being able to apply the skills we are learning in the M.Eng. program — not just technical, but also leadership — directly in a fast-paced team-project environment.
One of the biggest coaching moments in my team followed our initial pitch to the judges. My team had essentially made an entire curriculum for our product, and because of that we had trouble conveying a clear message to our judges. Before the judges announced the finalists, I worked with the team to decide what our key story was, and we revised our pitch.
Honestly, at the time we weren’t expecting to make it past the first round.
I just wanted to work through the pitch as a teaching moment, so that we could all learn a little more from the experience. Fortunately for us, we did have a chance to present the revised pitch. I think the succinct user experience we made in the final presentation, along with the allusions to the depth of the curriculum we had thought of, made our product the most compelling, and led to our success.
I’m so happy I got to take part in the Design Challenge. I really appreciated the mix of students that turned out, and how we got to work with people who we don’t usually interface with on campus. Pairing M.Eng. students with undergraduate teams worked really well; I definitely benefitted from the creativity and the energy of my teammates, and I also enjoyed the leadership side of the challenge. Based on the experience, I started looking for more interdisciplinary team projects, and have joined other design challenges across campus. I hope there’s another M.Eng. Design Challenge in the Spring!
M.Eng. Student Perspective: Berkeley Audio Design Challenge (pt. 1) was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
By Clarice Cho and Giselle Diaz
“I just go for it.”
Often times, it’s just that simple.
Since graduating this past May, Job Shiach has devoted all of his attention into getting his startup NLYTN Beauty — pronounced “enlighten” — off the ground and running. NLYTN Beauty is focused on developing precision antibiotics to combat skin based infections caused by bacteria. That process has just been speed tracked thanks to Job’s acceptance into the prestigious CITRIS Foundry, a startup accelerator that will provide NLYTN with the resources it needs to expand and grow, including lab space and funding.
Now that NLYTN has been accepted to the CITRIS Foundry, Job has been able to move his startup into its new lab space at the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, also known as QB3, where he will be fully equipped with the resources he needs to pursue NLYTN’s goal of alleviating bacterial infection, beginning with one that affects nearly everyone: acne.
Job and his brother, Jacob, are working full-time at NLYTN, making progress on creating precision antibiotics using bacteriophage technology — viruses that infect bacteria only. Using this platform, they are able to model a person’s microbiome — the bacteria and other microorganisms living on their body — identify the problematic bacteria, and produce a phage cocktail against that specific bacteria, leaving the rest of the microbiome intact.
Job explains that being able to preserve the microbiome is essential; killing the entire microbiota can impact a person’s immune system, mood, and metabolism.
These side effects are not only unpleasant, they are unnecessary. Job believes that with NLYTN’s platform, people will change the way they approach solutions to acne and other illnesses, cutting out the side effects that often come with medication. Acne, a non-life threatening condition, is a prime example of the impact that adopting precision antibiotics can have on individuals and on society.
Acne is caused by the bacterium Propionibacterium Acnes, a generally commensal species that can become aggressive, typically around puberty. Current acne treatments force users to sacrifice their health for their beauty and are widely ineffective and harmful. Current treatments can result in side effects that range from dry, irritated skin at best to liver failure and birth defects at worst. Among the most popular current treatments are broad spectrum antibiotics, which can be effective, but also eliminate most of the microbiome and can lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria, further exacerbating the very serious antibiotic resistance problem.
It is the goal of NLYTN Beauty’s skin care division to educate people about the microbiome’s role in their health and beauty. Doing so means recognizing the fact that an alternative to broad spectrum antibiotics must be reached, which can benefit individuals looking for clear skin. Moreover, focusing on specific bacteria will help the public at large by no longer contributing to medicine’s dependance on general untargeted antibiotic medicines. These medicines do more harm than good; while they may initially alleviate a person’s condition, over-reliance on antibiotics leads to the creation of super bacteria, which no longer respond to antibiotic treatment.
When probed about the inspiration for the company, Job explained that he’s always been fascinated by medicine and finding solutions to complex problems.
“My brother and I used to sit down and have sessions where we’d think of a random disease and do research [on that disease], then try to find a solution to it. One of the diseases was multi-drug resistant tuberculosis — and antibiotic resistant bacteria in general — and this [company] is kind of what grew out of that…we were really excited about it so we ran with it!”
Job’s affinity for problem solving helped him thrive in academics, in spite of challenges. After completing his undergraduate degree in biology at Kansas State University, coming to Berkeley for Bioengineering meant that Job needed to expand his academic focus from biology and genetics to include mathematics and programming as well.
“At Kansas State I did empirical research; I learned through observation and experimentation about protein function and molecular pathways. And I loved it! As I grew as a scientist, I began wanting to build biological systems, and that led me to the field of bioengineering where I’ve learned to use empirical observations to build and create exciting biological products, like the ones we are making at NLYTN.”
Though the shift in his studies at UC Berkeley was “a big contrast” from what he had done during undergrad, the combination of classes — including business ones — prepared him for managing a startup.
“On the tech side, I learned how to engineer biology, and that was really hard for me because I didn’t have the math [skills] before. On the business-marketing side, I was able to use the business skills we learned to bump up our marketing [and business plans], and that’s how we were able to get into CITRIS Foundry and QB3.”
And his hard work keeps paying off. Not long after moving into QB3, Job learned that he attained exceptional Principal Investigator status, which is the first step towards conducting studies on humans, and one step closer to bringing NLYTN to market.
Joining QB3 has brought Job’s start up process full circle. After a long year of building up NLYTN’s brand, Job will be able to return to his primary interest: lab work. “It was challenging for me to move into the business side of it, he says, “I’ve been here the last year essentially, doing things like building the brand, and marketing, and connections with potential investors and anything else, and the business plan.”
Now that NLYTN has found a home in QB3, Job is able to switch his focus from advocating for his brand and pulling in investors to working on the science behind NLYTN.
“I am at my core, a scientist. Now, as the director of research and development, I’m excited to get back into the lab and get back into the science, which I love so much.”
To learn more about NLYTN, and the role of the microbiome in your health and appearance, visit NLYTN online, here.
NLYTN Beauty: Beating the Bacteria Behind Acne was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.