Name: Jason Wu
Home: Princeton, NJ
Day Job: Biotechnology startup founder, research associate at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, and full time high school student!
How’d you get started making?
In my first year of Science Olympiad, a national high school science competition, I remember becoming obsessed with the Electric Vehicle event where students would have to design and construct a device that would travel a certain distance. While I initially went for primitive braking mechanisms with threaded rods and wingnuts, my friend, Travis Chan, went for a more complex approach that used 3D-printed frames and an Arduino Nano. Seeing his vehicle made me realize how much more could be accomplished with microcontrollers and computer-aided design. That inspired me to enter the world of making and hacking.
What type of maker would you classify yourself as?
I’m a biohacker! When my left hand is not holding a soldering iron, it’s usually grasping a micropipette. I love combining multiple disciplines, specifically electrical engineering and medical science, within my projects. One of the goals that I plan on pursuing throughout and after college is creating an affordable biotechnology lab kit (equipped with a micropipette, centrifuge, thermocycler, etc.) for under $1,000.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve made?
My favorite creation is Polyfuge, a DIY open-source microcentrifuge for everyone. It started out as a small project for my iSTEM class but eventually developed into a 400% funded campaign on Kickstarter. Centrifuges are fundamental devices used in biological research. They separate substances of different densities through spinning liquid mixtures at extremely high RPMs. After becoming quite acquainted with microcentrifuges during my research at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at Rutgers University (literally HUNDREDS of hours of RNA isolation), I decided to create Polyfuge to make biological research equipment more accessible and maker-friendly. The software is entirely Arduino-based, and the frame is completely 3D-printable/laser cuttable. I plan on releasing all of the CAD and software documents open-source on the DoubleGene website before the end of 2018!
What’s something you’d like to make next?
Though I’ve always wanted to tackle polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) machines, it seems that companies like Chai Biotechnologies have already created affordable solutions through OpenPCR and Open qPCR. This does not mean that I don’t plan on building my own versions of these machines (they are still both on my bucket list), but it does make me want to prioritize other biological research instruments like the micropipette. The micropipette is a handheld device that is used to transfer extremely small liquid volumes, and it will likely be my next long-term project.
Any advice for people reading this?
Dream first, then worry about implementation. I’ve noticed that a lot of people limit the scope of their projects because they are not familiar with how to use a certain electrical or mechanical component. “I would love to implement IR sensor capabilities within my project but I haven’t used a TCRT5000 sensor before…”
JUST TRY IT! Treat every project as a learning experience. Don’t restrict your project based on the knowledge you currently hold, but instead use it as an opportunity to expand your familiarity with different hardware or software components.
Making is a lot like food. You might feel comfortable using the ingredients readily available in your pantry, but over time that gets boring. Although that new ingredient from the supermarket may seem intimidating at first, your culinary creations become much more delicious when you learn to use it right.
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