Founding Member Spotlight: Wakenene Kamau


Wakanene grew up in Ohio with parents who were both botanists. From a young age, he wanted to pursue biology, but in his own unique way. He majored in biological chemistry while in college, and when he moved to Seattle, he looked for a deeper connection to his community through science. One day, while working for a local biotech company, Wakanene noticed a bioart book on the coffee table. It immediately sparked his interest, so he put a sticky note on it, hoping to find the owner.  SoundBio co-founder, Dr. Mike Galdzaki responded, and before he knew it, Wakanene was in Zach’s garage pursuing his first citizen science project!

Wakanene loved getting involved with the Citizen Salmon project early because he could help define the project and influence its direction. This freedom of scientific pursuit was exciting and empowering. In high school, Wakanene remembered how amazing it was to study bacteria in the lake near where he lived. Having such a close environmental connection to his work was particularly meaningful, and he finally found that connection again, through Citizen Salmon.

Wakanene appreciated the more informal, inspirational gathering of like-minded folks pursuing a common goal. He loves that citizen science projects attract curious and passionate individuals. Because he had a strong educational support system growing up, he was in a great position to repay the favor by helping others.  Wakanene believes that SoundBio projects encourage curiosity, community and fun!

SoundBio helped to sculpt my world view as a citizen scientist.
— Wakanene Kamau

Realizing that not all science has to be formal (i.e. publish or perish), Wakanene purposefully sought out a non-traditional graduate program last fall.  He is currently getting his Masters in Media Arts and Sciences at MIT’s Media Lab. As a member of the Sculpting Evolution group, he is studying evolving systems including, but not limited to, gene drives - which are capable of altering DNA in wild populations.  The projects he works on today help broaden participation in science, and often involve community engagement, two key pillars of SoundBio. Fantastic!

Intern Spotlight: Sophie Liu


Sophie Liu is a 17-year old at Newport High school in Bellevue, WA. She discovered SoundBio through an online search for internships after recognizing someone she knew from a blogpost about SoundBio’s iGEM team. This led Sophie to join the 2018 iGEM team, followed by a 9 month internship at the lab. She was dedicated to both endeavors, spending two hours a day on the bus during her commute from Bellevue to the U-District.

Sophie’s motivation to pursue the sciences started at a young age. She went through many different science ‘phases’: grade 1 - egyptology, grade 2 - geology, grade 3 - astronomy, grade 4th - physics/chem, grade 5th - marine science, and grade 6th - biology. It seems biology stuck! As Sophie says, “Life on a small scale is compelling because so much is not known.”

With regards to her education, Sophie believes that while grades are important, life is experiential. She is self-motivated in this quest and appreciates that SoundBio offers a variety of experiences to everyone regardless of their educational background.

SoundBio allows motivated people to explore science.
— Sophie Liu

Sophie’s delve into exploratory science was magnified while participating as a member of the iGEM team and gaining hands-on lab experience in synthetic biology. Additionally, she learned about community norms, such as how to effectively communicate her findings to a broader audience.

Sophie realizes that she is currently in the transition phase from adolescence to adulthood. She believes SoundBio has assisted her during this time by offering opportunities to engage with adults in scientific arenas. It has also given her a glimpse of what it’s like to work ‘in the real world’, and the responsibilities this entails. Her favorite memory regarding SoundBio was being given a set of keys to the lab. This was a new level of freedom and accountability for Sophie, and it played an important role in her transition towards independence.

Sophie hopes the lab can grow in size over the coming years. When asked about what SoundBio represents to her, she stated, “Potential!”. We think she’s right; the possibilities of scientific discovery are endless, and SoundBio offers a stepping stone for curious minds like Sophie to start exploring.

Volunteer Spotlight: Christiana Doulami


Christiana Doulami currently works for a pharmaceutical company in Seattle as a researcher. She holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology, and has laboratory experience in crystallography and academic cancer research from the University of Athens. She recently relocated to Seattle from Greece to grow her professional research experience; something that can be difficult to achieve in Athens.

Being an avid volunteer her entire life, Christiana explored volunteering opportunities upon arriving in Seattle. She was amazed by the number of non-profits and the vibrant volunteering community here. SoundBio stood out to her based on her background and interests, so she contacted us. To Christiana, SoundBio was ideal; friendly and diverse faces, open to all, and fully equipped for research.

Within her first few weeks Christiana participated in one of our outreach events, teaching middle school kids how to extract DNA from strawberries. Besides the pleasure of contributing to the community, she saw this as an opportunity to practice her presentation and communication skills. She did an incredible job, and found the experience both memorable and rewarding. This and many other SoundBio activities turned out to be a great experience for Christiana, and through them she met and collaborated with many science enthusiasts while expanding her social and professional network.

When asked about SoundBio, Christiana said she is amazed that as a nonprofit, we have the equipment necessary to conduct a wide range of experiments. A laboratory is a typical space for biology majors and professionals, not generally for individuals lacking a scientific background. For her, the idea of a biology makerspace where ordinary citizens participate in hands-on science activities is exceptional.

Everyone who loves science can now become a scientist! Your educational background no longer excludes people from pursuing science as a hobby.
— Christiana Doulami

The Citizen Salmon project is particularly meaningful to Christiana because it connects her to the environment and a crucial source of local food. We are delighted that Christiana has found a new home here in Seattle and at SoundBio.

Citizen Salmon Spotlight: Carson Anderson


Several years ago, Taylor Anderson moved his entire family from Florida to Seattle. Taylor met SoundBio co-founders Zach and Regina at an Amazon maker faire where he learned about the Citizen Salmon project. At the time, Taylor’s son, Carson, was showing a strong interest in science. Carson soon became a regular participant in the project; which at that point, was meeting in Zach’s garage!

Taylor was amazed that something like SoundBio and citizen science existed. He was impressed by several aspects of SoundBio; particularly the generosity, inspiration and caliber of people who supported his son.

It was an eye-opener - that this kind of opportunity [for a high schooler] was even available.
— Taylor Anderson (Carson's father)

Taylor says that involvement in SoundBio helped his son make deeper connections - both from an educational and career-driven point of view. “It’s one thing to learn about DNA in a classroom, but it’s quite another to connect the dots and go into a lab and work with it.” Carson’s involvement in SoundBio allowed what he was learning in a textbook come to life, all while working among professionals in the biotech community. It allowed Carson to envision a career in the life sciences while contributing meaningful efforts in conservation. As Taylor says, “it felt tangible and accessible”.

iGEM Member Spotlight: Mary Elizabeth Adler


Mary Elizabeth is currently a freshman at Princeton University and is pursuing a degree in chemical and biological engineering. Mary Elizabeth first became interested in molecular biology while in middle school where she met an extraordinary science teacher who introduced her to genetics. This was a pivotal and influential moment leading her to take as many biology classes as she could handle in high school. The problem was that by the time Mary Elizabeth was a junior, she had taken all the biology classes offered. While speaking with a guidance counselor, she learned of a new iGEM team forming led by Roya Amini-Aaieni. At the time, SoundBio Lab had recently agreed to host this new high school science team in our space.

Mary Elizabeth was excited about the prospect of having access to a real lab and quickly got involved “I got to do the things I had always been reading about, like transforming bacteria and designing plasmids.” When asked about her time at SoundBio, Mary Elizabeth stated:

SoundBio and iGEM made me realize all the possibilities of science. SoundBio gave me the tools to start exploring those possibilities. This was transformative.
— Mary Elizabeth Adler

Having a hands-on learning opportunity while in high school provided something concrete to focus on regarding her future academic pursuits, and was a vital component of her college application process; she was able to discuss what she was actually doing, rather than simply stating ‘This is what I want to do’. Mary Elizabeth admitted that many of her initial experiments failed, however, since failure plays a major role in science she never felt discouraged. Through failure, we learn.

Mary Elizabeth forged new friendships and felt very warmly received. She appreciated that SoundBio provided both technical expertise and a welcoming environment. She believes a non-profit like SoundBio fills an important gap in hands-on learning. “I love that SoundBio gives kids, who maybe don’t have professors for parents, access to the tools they need to pursue science”. We couldn’t agree more!

Member Spotlight: Theo Sauro


At 9 years old, Theo is our youngest Tinkerer member at SoundBio. He happens to love all things science and because both of his parents are heavily involved in the SoundBio community, it’s no surprise that Theo participates in a wide variety of events. He also assists with testing new activities to determine the engagement factor for other Junior Scientists.

When in the lab Theo learned about the importance of safety, and was always under direct supervision of one of his parents (both trained scientists). Here are a few fun activities Theo has participated in:

  • Private lab tour, ending in fruit DNA extraction

  • Micro-pippetting

  • Dogfish shark dissection workshop

  • Candy electrophoresis workshop

  • With help from his father, he took some great pictures of protozoa using SoundBio’s new Compound Microscope

  • Theo attended our Sign-Making Party for Seattle’s Science March and was featured in a Crosscut article about the event.

Theo with his brother Ty, and father, Dr. Herbert Sauro, getting ready to dissect a frog.

Theo with his brother Ty, and father, Dr. Herbert Sauro, getting ready to dissect a frog.

When we asked The'o’s mother about SoundBio’s impact on Theo, she said:

“SoundBio offers an extraordinary opportunity for hands-on science exposure in a safe and supportive environment. There is simply nothing else like it in the greater Seattle region. Because Theo is young we can only postulate how these experiences might impact his future. However, it’s clear that his love of science has grown. I’ve heard Theo reference the shark dissection workshop several times since participating and he asked for a frog dissection kit for Christmas. I’m quite certain that request would not have materialized without SoundBio. When he grows up Theo says he wants to ‘make products from plants - things like food, medicine and oil; all from plants’, so we may need to get him involved in SoundBio’s plant TOP project soon!'“

After speaking with Theo about his favorite workshop, he said:

I didn’t even know you could dissect an animal!
It was fun to see all the organs inside a shark.
— Theo Sauro

Interview with Dr. Sleight, Founder & CEO of Sleight Beer Lab

We sat down with Dr. Sleight, founder and CEO of Sleight Beer Lab to learn about his new business and the role that SoundBio has played in it.

Can you tell us a little about your background and why you decided to become an entrepreneur?


I moved to Seattle in 2007 after I earned my PhD in microbiology and molecular genetics from Michigan State to pursue a post-doc in Dr. Sauro’s lab at the University of Washington. While at UW, I studied a variety of things, including the evolutionary stability of genetic circuits and developing novel DNA assembly methods for synthetic biology. This work led to a job at Matrix Genetics where I was a manager in their synthetic biology group. We were responsible for developing synthetic biology techniques used to genetically alter bacterial strains. At the time I was an avid homebrewer and interested in pursuing brewing science as a possible career path. Matrix Genetics ended up closing shop, so I decided that was as good a time as any to start a business.

Without SoundBio, what were the key barriers that would've prevented you from being able to attempt your project?

Everything!  Rent, lab space, and of course equipment. I would have had to pay thousand(s) a month to have a lab space because a standard office space wasn’t an option. It needed to be a lab….so really, it was the only financially viable option that included access to lab equipment.

What impact from your Sleight Brewing work are you most proud of during your time running it at SoundBio?

Finding a unique yeast strain that other people can use to make great beer. I can now go to a brewery, order a beer, and know that it was fermented with my own strain. That is very exciting and cool. It was possible because I could do brewing science at SoundBio.

How did SoundBio help with your transition between jobs?

SoundBio played a huge role! It allowed me to make a modest income after my unemployment ran out and to pursue a brewing science hobby at the same time. It meant I did not have to move out of the city or take a horrible job, just to pay the bills. It gave me some breathing room, and a runway of sorts, to take time to assess a new market (without a huge upfront financial investment that required investors). It was really an unknown entity, starting this business.  As I see it, there were two options:

1) develop a hot new technology and then go after investors...or

2) leverage my science background, do something I know how to do & make money immediately

The 2nd choice was obvious given my financial constraints. There was too much risk and uncertainty with option 1, not to mention the time frame would likely be years.

Yeast Propagator to make 5+gallon pitches.

Yeast Propagator to make 5+gallon pitches.

How, if at all, did being connected to and interacting with the SoundBio community (its members and others who would drop in from time to time) help you on your project?

I received a lot of moral support, particularly from Mike, a SoundBio co-founder. He offered a lot of encouragement. Zach was also very interested and supportive. I felt like SoundBio was taking a bit of chance on this project and new business. They could have said no, but instead, SoundBio embraced the unknown, and I am tremendously thankful for it.

Little things in the lab made a difference: I was given specific equipment training (as needed) and both Zach and Yoshi were great sounding boards to bounce ideas off of. So it’s really a combination of moral support, and having some technical expertise that was most helpful.

What are some ways that SoundBio could improve its ability to enable more entrepreneurs in the future?

It’s actually pretty amazing already, what’s going on at the lab. I have no real complaints and there were no specific barriers that prevented me from doing anything for my business, Sleight Beer Lab, so any feedback would be minor. One issue that could be improved is scheduling of large groups. It did get crowded sometimes when there were 12 iGEM kids in the lab, so knowing that schedule ahead of time would be helpful, but I fully recognize that it’s a community lab and it will get busy.

Beer Agar Plates sold by Sleight Beer Lab.

Beer Agar Plates sold by Sleight Beer Lab.

SoundBio is a community of amateur and professional science enthusiasts dedicated to providing access to biotechnology, equitable science education, and supporting the next generation of young scientists. How does Sleight Beer Lab both benefit from, and help support SoundBio’s mission?

By using SoundBio’s lab space, I was able to start a business with very little upfront risk at a fraction of the cost. My business never could never have existed without SoundBio Lab.

Broadly speaking, SoundBio allowed me to use my wet-lab skills to help bring biotechnology to the brewing industry - to solve real world problems. So I think this clearly made an impact, and benefited my clients who are not trained in genetics, microbiology, or fermentation analysis of yeast strains. It is also exciting to know that through my work in the lab, I was able to identify and share new, robust yeast strains that can used to ferment high quality beer - for many others to enjoy!  I learned recently that one brewery in Seattle is now using my yeast as their house strain.

I also taught a workshop on yeast, which was fun to do, and I think benefited many homebrewers in the area.

I did my best to give back to the SoundBio community directly by teaching others. I love that SoundBio welcomes and accepts amateur scientists (not just professionals). During the past year, I helped train 2 interns, teaching them molecular biology and microbiology as related to the beer industry. This was done in part because it’s fun to give back (once you know something, teaching is fun), but also because it was great to see so much enthusiasm for my work. It was mutually beneficial and is part of the culture at SoundBio.