Women in Science: Biotech students win the Dean's Award

picture of Centennial College students Anushree Ranade and Deesha Daswani winning the Deans Award at the 2017 SETAS Tech Fair

In the name of diversity, inclusion, and unique perspectives, Centennial College actively supports women entering science and engineering fields. Two such students are Anushree Ranade and Deesha Daswani, currently finishing up our Advanced Biotechnology program. As a part of Biotechnology's practical experience, students would team up to create special capstone projects. The pair proved their skills and abilities with an unusual research project involving a part of everyone's morning: The toothbrush. The project would be shown off at our 2017 SETAS Tech Fair, where it would go on to win the prestigious Dean's award. Here's how they made it happen.

Coming to Centennial

"It's the future," Anushree says, explaining what biotechnology means to her. "Your medicine, your food and its advancement comes from researchers in a biotech lab. They create the best of everything. That's the future."

"We are using biotechnology in our day to day lives," Deesha adds. "We have genetically modified foods, genetically modified chips, genetically modified crops."

"I wanted to pursue a career in science, not in medicine, but another research field," Anushree says about her decision to pursue the career. "I came to Centennial here because I feel that they have the best programs in biotech."

"Science is something I love to work on and work with," Deesha says. "Moreover, the fact that I'm constantly using microorganisms and products derived from them is something that really interested me, and biotechnology is about using all of that."

Women in Science

While Anushree and Deesha encountered questions about entering a scientific field as women, they've overall had a positive experience.

"When I first chose science, my parents said they weren't sure I'd be able to go far, that it's a complicated field, with lots of competition and slow growth in the field," Anushree admits.

"This is something that is our future," she says, "because one day, all the engineers are going to depend on biotech."

"Being a woman means we also have competition from the opposite sex," Deesha says, "but still, if you have self confidence and are motivated, you know what you're doing, you're focused and oriented, then it doesn't actually matter what you're competing against. It is difficult to rise, but at the end of the day, you can."

The Toothbrush

Out of everything the pair has been learning in biotechnology, it's the practical laboratory experience that they like best.

"Here, we spend about two hours per course in the lab," Anushree says, "and I think that's the best part of it. Doing something practical is more fun, and you learn more."

The culmination of the program's practical experience, then, was a large final capstone project, where the pair got to demonstrate the skills they learned on a real research assignment, which was presented at the SETAS tech fair. They chose something simple, yet needed by everyone: The toothbrush, and how to keep it clean and hygienic.

"You start your day with the toothbrush, and it's an integral part of your dental and personal hygiene," Anushree says, explaining the project and their findings. "You can get storage cases for your toothbrush to keep it safe, and you think you're protecting it from microorganisms and stuff, but what actually happens is that when you brush your teeth and put the toothbrush right in the case, it creates a perfect environment for microorganisms to grow, if you don't allow it to dry. It's actually more harmful than it being unprotected. So we thought of creating a case with a silica gel layer to absorb the moisture, thus protecting your toothbrush."

"While we were working on the project, we went through our ups and downs," says Deesha. "We lost one of our samples midway, but we also had backup samples. We motivated each other, and said let's just do it, because it's something interesting and new."

A warm reception

Anushree and Deesha weren't expecting to catch much attention at the fair, but wound up surprised at their win.

"We had students from mechanical programs, going around with automated cars, and I was wondering if anyone would even come and look at our project," Anushree says, "because it's simply research, and people like to see visuals more than posters. But we were surprised that there were many people coming to us as well.

"A toothbrush is the first thing that goes into your mouth in the morning," Deesha says, explaining the project's appeal, "so not only did it attract a lot of students from our field, there were a lot of non-scientific students who were also interested to know about the research."

"A father and a son walked up to us, and the father wanted to tell his child to look at it," she continues. "He explained that the child was very protective of his toothbrush, and that he brushes it, puts it in his case, and puts it under the sink."

"We had many people who were very inquisitive asking us about how to store their toothbrush," Anushree says. "People want to know how their hygiene works, and if they're doing it right." It turns out their idea of using silica gel to dry the toothbrush has merit.

"We didn't expect to win," she admits. "We did think that our project was great, because it was something that hadn't been done before, but it did open more doors to us. It increases your confidence level. We thought that this was going to help us somewhere in the future."

Looking to the future

"I'm looking to do my masters in biotechnology," Anushree says about her post-school plans. "In the meantime, I'm looking to get some hands-on experience in the lab, and have a proper experience."

"I want to really research more about the project," Deesha says, instead. "I have different ideas about how to go about it, we are going to talk to the coordinator and the dean, to see if we can get permission to work more on it." She also wants to do her masters.

For women looking to follow in their footsteps,  Anushree has these words of advice: "Remain focused, never miss your labs, always attend classes and be open to your lectures."

By Anthony Geremia

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