Among them was a team from Carnegie Mellon University. The CMU team was named one of four regional finalists from a field of 43 teams that competed in Pittsburgh, and now it’s bound for Boston to compete in the iGEM World Championship Jamboree at MIT, Nov. 2 – 5. Using a kit of interchangeable biological parts and a fundamental knowledge of synthetic biology, the CMU team created a biosensor capable of measuring cellular activities.
Humans have been manipulating Mother Nature to engineer more desirable results for centuries. Farmers and herders have long done selective breeding of plants and animals to produce more useful hybrids. And many will remember, from junior high science classes, Gregor Mendel, the monk who took heredity genetics to a new level, beginning with cross-pollination of pea pods back in the 1800s.
When it comes to synthetic biology and molecular engineering, what’s old is new again – especially in this “century of biology” when the discipline has more potential than perhaps ever before. Going far beyond better livestock or crops, synthetic biology today can help people lead healthier lives, improve the environment and humans’ impact on it. Synthetic biology is ripe to be shaped by today’s young masterminds, and competitions such as iGEM are giving it a kick start.
Learn more about synthetic biology and the big things happening at the most minute of levels at iGEM jamborees by watching the video below, featuring some key players who were excited about the Americas East Jamboree in Pittsburgh Oct. 13- 14. And then watch the Our Region’s Business segment featuring members of the CMU team who will be representing Pittsburgh at MIT this week. You can also read my earlier post about iGEM here.
ImaginePittsburghNow.com interview at iGEM, Duquesne University Oct. 13-14
Our Region’s Business segment featuring members of the CMU team
Embarking on the 2012 Tour of Europe with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) reminded me a bit of an old movie directed by David Wolper. It’s called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium – a comedy about a group of tourists on a whirlwind tour of seven countries in 18 days. If you saw my itinerary for the tour with the PSO, you’d know why I can relate.
Just reading our trip itinerary is exhausting. Not unlike the tourists in that 1969 comedy, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) President Dewitt Peart and I will are zipping through several western European countries over the next three and half weeks. All the while, we’ll be leveraging the PSO tour to once again market our impressive Pittsburgh region to potential investors and influencers. This is a great platform because Europeans really relate to the PSO – one of the world’s elite orchestras. The PSO has rock star status in Europe, and this status opens doors for the PRA to introduce the region, using our musical ambassador as a “calling card” and one example of the quality that’s synonymous with Pittsburgh – in the concert hall, the board room and beyond.
To begin the trip, I took advantage of one of this season’s last nonstop flights between Pittsburgh and Paris. Fear not, that service is only going on winter hiatus; it returns in full force next May. I was thrilled to see a full flight, including a number of travelers using connecting to other global destinations in India, the Middle East and elsewhere. The more that business and leisure travelers from the region use this flight, the greater the likelihood that it will remain an option. Beyond convenience, it’s a critical asset for Pittsburgh to have in order to compete as a global business destination.
My first stop is Bilbao – Pittsburgh’s sister city in Spain. The similarities are almost eerie, including a tunnel that opens onto a spectacular view of the city, surrounded by rivers. The Guggenheim Museum sits majestically on the banks of the Nervión River, and visitors mingle all around the charming city.
My first meeting on the tour is with my good friend Alfonso Martinez Cearra, director of BM30. This organization is similar to our Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and Alfonso’s position is akin to that of Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky. Alfonso is a big supporter of Pittsburgh and has visited our region quite a few times to explore collaborative opportunities and best practices between the two cities. I asked him about his impressions of the region. Our work ethic, he says, is memorable. It’s very similar to that of people in Bilbao – dedicated, hard-working and eager to create success. And he loves our rivers — certainly common ties that uniquely bind Pittsburgh and Bilbao as sister cities.
After a series of other meetings during the day, I caught up over dinner with Eloy Alvarez, the chair and secretary general of an organization called Orkestra.Eloy visited Pittsburgh earlier this year and is keen to work with our region on energy initiatives – especially those related to our universities and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in the South Hills. He is quite an engaging man and well respected in Spain. He’s also very pro-Pittsburgh.
Now we’re in San Sebastian, along the coastline of the beautiful Basque Country. Our first visit is with an organization called Vicomtech where we meet with project managers who are working on technology projects. Several of these individuals are huge fans of Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, another of our regional assets that make us attractive in the global market.
While there I was pleased to have lunch with my friends from Sempere Componentes, a marketer and distributor of railway parts and components. They have been working in the Pittsburgh region for several years and count the Port Authority of Pittsburgh as one of their key clients.
Just before lunch, they found out that I carry a small soft toy around with me as a mascot. I call it European Frog. Yes, I have a very silly side. Frog has been around the world with me – a companion when I’m traveling for business without my husband. In fact, Frog has more air miles than my husband does. Once my friends from Sempere Componentes saw that I had Frog with me, he was invited to la comida. However, he’s not used to a Spanish business lunch and took a siesta in the back of the car all the way back to Bilbao.
I love working with these guys, and they love Pittsburgh. I hope to see them back in our region soon to discuss next steps.
So ends my visit to the Basque Country. It’s always a great pleasure to visit and work with the people here. The region is doing well compared to other parts of Spain, and I strongly encourage Pittsburgh region companies that are looking at opportunities across the pond to give the Basque Country a second look. The PRA has made inroads here and can make the necessary introductions. Just ask.
I’ll check back in again with further updates. Until then, cheers!
For previous updates from “where in the world” Suzi Pegg may be, click here.
Back the ‘90s The Wall Street Journal dubbed Pittsburgh “Robo-burgh,” highlighting an emerging sector that combined the best of our region’s strengths in computer science and making things. Today, robots are making their way into everyday life (think Roomba or the suite of products for babies created by our region’s own 4moms) and local companies like Aethon and Seegrid Corp. are manufacturing real commercial robots right here.
Sure, the nominees wowed us with robots that are doing science on Mars, dancing around on four legs and entertaining us in WALL-E and other movies. But it also brought back plenty of memories, especially when I got to introduce the presenters: CMU professor William “Red” Whittaker, CMU President Jared Cohon and Henry Thorne, robot inventor and entrepreneur.
I came to Pittsburgh 30 years ago, when robotics was in its infancy (the university’s Robotics Institute had been created just three years earlier – the first of its kind in the world). Any notion that it would one day become a regional industry seemed far-fetched at best. Dr. Whittaker took me for a spin in an autonomous Humvee on Flagstaff Hill. It was actually more of a crawl than a spin; we went about three miles an hour. Yet Red insisted that someday vehicles would drive themselves across the continent and in city traffic. In 2007, his CMU team won a first-place, $2 million award from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for doing just that.
Henry Thorne, a prolific inventor and robotics patent holder, came back to Pittsburgh in the late ‘90s to develop “personal” robots. I took a TV camera out to his house to do a story on his “Tug,” a little two-wheeled robot that could tow a cart around a room without any sort external guidance. (In those days robots depended on a metal strip on the floor or some other external system to know where they were.) The Tug went to the kitchen and brought us back a beer. That application never caught on, but about ten 10 ago, Henry founded Aethon, which has placed more than 100 Tugs in hospitals around the country, automating a one-time manual delivery process. Since then, he and partner Rob Daley have gone on to found 4moms, which is one of our region’s hottest robotics companies.
DARPA has just announced that three of our region’s robots will get yet another chance to compete in a competition that will push the edge of robotics. CMU will field two teams in a new Robotics Challenge, in which robots will perform complex, physically challenging tasks as they respond to disaster scenarios in human-engineered environments, such as nuclear power plants. The “home teams” include “Tartan Rescue Team,” headed by Tony Stentz, director of the National Robotics Engineering Center and research professor of robotics, and “Team Steel,” led by Christopher Atkeson, professor in the Robotics Institute and Human-Computer Interaction Institute, to receive funding in the competition. A team from a Robotics Institute spinoff company, RE2 Inc. of Pittsburgh, also was selected.
As we wrapped up the awards ceremony I couldn’t help but wonder, “What will they think of next?” Then I realized I was actually in the room with many of “them” — the people who are inventing this future. And many of these leaders live right here in our region; they’re our neighbors. We’re home to the Robot Hall of Fame, and the innovation that’s behind it. Congrats to all the inductees.
Classical music and global marketing: the two really can strike a harmonious chord. And that’s what is about to happen across the pond – in such western European countries as Spain, France, Germany and more. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance are taking the region’s artistic and business investment assets on tour, Oct. 22 – Nov. 11. The tour marks the seventh year that the two organizations have embarked on this unique collaboration. The music of one of the world’s elite orchestras helps open doors for introducing the Pittsburgh region to international business investors and influencers. The PRA then further engages with them to discuss foreign direct investment in southwestern Pennsylvania – a place that’s already home to 385 firms based abroad that employ 53,000-plus people in the region.
Leading the charge and leveraging the orchestra as a symbol of the region’s quality – relative to living, working and doing business – is PRA Global Marketing Vice President Suzi Pegg. An expat Brit and a native of Sheffield, England – ironically a sister city of Pittsburgh – Pegg is also leveraging her continental roots vis a vis the decision to personally invest in Pittsburgh in 2000 as a place to live and work, American style. Today, in addition to being a proud Pittsburgher, Pegg is on her way to becoming a U.S. citizen.
Watch the video below to hear from Pegg – in her delightful British accent, which hasn’t faded in Pittsburgh – about what she’s up to in Europe with the PSO; what she’s doing independent of the PSO in strategic places such as the U.K., Portugal and Luxembourg; and what she hopes to accomplish for the region.
And keep watching ImaginePittsburghNow.com and our other social media – Twitter and Facebook – where we’ll answer the question “Where in the world?” with updates about Pegg’s global efforts to promote her picture-perfect Pittsburgh.
(You can also read posts about previous PRA-PSO partnerships here.)
Pittsburgh has inspired and enabled great achievements by pioneers in environmental justice, medicine, art and sports. You can learn more here, but a sampling is below.
Kenya-born Wangari Maathai was a global leader on environmental and anti-poverty issues. She earned a master’s degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh and received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
A native of Springdale, a community along the Allegheny River just 18 miles northeast of the City of Pittsburgh and a 1929 alumna of Pittsburgh’s Chatham University, Rachel Carson was a marine biologist, conservationist and author. Her book, Silent Spring, is credited with advancing the global environmental movement. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of its publication.
University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine for polio – one of America’s most frightening public health crises – on March 26, 1953 in Pittsburgh. Widespread use of his vaccine is expected to globally eradicate this crippling disease.
Pittsburgh Pirates Right Fielder Roberto Clemente‘s breathtaking skills as a hitter helped the Pirates win two World Series. A native of Puerto Rico, Clemente was the first Latino in U.S. baseball to receive Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP awards and to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Pittsburgh-born leader of the pop-art movement beginning in the 1960s, Andy Warhol blurred the lines between art and life, commerce, film and celebrity. “The pop idea was that anybody could do anything.” Warhol is also often remembered for his quip, “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Pittsburgh is home to The Andy Warhol Museum, the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to one artist.
Born on Pittsburgh’s North Side in a neighborhood now called Allegheny West, Gertrude Stein was a writer, poet, art collector and feminist. She spent most of her life in Paris, nurturing such now-famous avant-garde artists as Matisse and Picasso, and expatriate American writers during the first half of the 20th century.
A native of Guatemala, Luis Von Ahn is a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor and MacArthur “Genius” grant winner. He pioneered crowd-sourcing and the reCAPTCHA software used to digitize books and other printed text. His latest venture is Duolingo, a free language-learning website and crowd-sourced text translation platform.
Born to Portuguese parents in Mozambique, Teresa Heinz is an American businesswoman and philanthropist. She chairs The Heinz Endowments and Heinz Family Philanthropies, which help the Pittsburgh region thrive economically, ecologically, educationally and culturally.
Called “the father of modern transplantation,” Dr. Thomas Starzl, was the first to perform human liver transplants. A physician, researcher and organ transplant expert, Dr. Starzl has called Pittsburgh his home since 1981.
An American entrepreneur and engineer, George Westinghouse is the inventor of the railway air brake. This device enabled trains to be stopped – for the first time – with fail-safe accuracy by locomotive engineers and was eventually adopted on the majority of the world’s railroads. Westinghouse was also a pioneer of the electrical industry and one of Thomas Edison’s main rivals. A transplant to the Pittsburgh region from his native New York state, Westinghouse and his wife, made their first home in Pittsburgh in 1868.
There’s more than meets the eye to the buildings that dot Pittsburgh’s picturesque skyline and populate its neighborhoods. Many of them — 83 to be exact — are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified-structures commonly called “green buildings” because their design, materials and operations are easy on the environment and energy usage.
Fact: Pittsburgh – once notoriously tagged “hell with the lid off” because of its environmental pollution– registered three of the first 12 LEED structures in the United States. Fast-forward to today when some 75 percent of new buildings in the city are pursuing LEED certification. And more than 20 million square feet of real estate is part of a groundbreaking, high-performance building district that aims to dramatically reduce energy and water consumption, reduce transportation emissions and improve indoor air quality by 2030.
Green is definitely a way of life in Pittsburgh, the new “Emerald City.” But we’re even moving beyond green by designing and constructing “living buildings” that produce as much energy as they use and that capture precipitation and treat their own wastewater – leading to water independence. One such building is the new Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory, the site for today’s One Young World breakout session on “Sustainable Cultivation: Growing Greener Communities Across the Globe.”
Recently, Architectural Record was so impressed by Pittsburgh’s green leadership, that it featured the city in a series on “Transforming the American City.” And we’re on the cover, too. If you can’t make it to Phipps and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes for this afternoon’s breakout, you can read about it in an online version of the magazine. The article also features a sampling of some of our other green building gems. Several are in town and worth checking out while you’re here.