Having been in the works for almost four years, the Department of Biotechnology’s technical festival finally came to fruition last weekend. Biofest 2012 attracted enthusiastic participation from all over the country, with participants from far off places, such as Jodhpur. The inauguration began at 2 P.M. on 31st March with a lamp-lighting ceremony. Following this was an address by Mr. Mohan Narayanan, treasurer of the IIT-M Alumni Association. He encouraged the students present to seek out jobs in which they could put their technical knowledge to use – “There are many job opportunities in companies which do not work directly in biotechnology, but act as enablers for biotech industry and research. You must seek out these opportunities and make use of them”, he urged the students.
The events held on day 1 were also the ones which attracted the most participants. ‘Streax’, the agar art contest, proved to be the most popular event in the entire fest, with people standing in a queue for up to three hours for a chance to paint with bacteria on a petri dish. The Group Discussion Challenge was also quite popular, with about thirty participants from both inside and outside the institute coming together to discuss issues such as euthanasia and animal testing.
Later that evening, Systems Biology workshop conducted by Dr. Karthik Raman was a hit with the crowd, with a fully-occupied DCF listening in rapt attention. His talk on this booming new field of modern biology enthused many audience members, with many choosing to stay back after the end of the workshop to learn more.
The second day’s main crowd-puller was the Open Quiz, which challenged contestants with questions on topics ranging from Star Trek to protein structure predicting software. Notably, it attracted many participants from outside the institute too. The day also played host to the “hard-core” biotechnology events, those which required participants to have some technical knowledge before they could participate. Among them were FoldIt, a puzzle game created to crowd-source the determination of protein structures, and BioDocks!, an event which challenged participants to figure out the best conformation for a given protein-ligand pair.
Overall, the fest seemed to have satiated the appetites of the participants. The organisers, on the other hand, felt that they could have done better. “We didn’t have as many participants as we wanted, especially in the more technical events.”, says Akand Sitra, a member of the Events core team for Biofest. “However, the participation was quite good for a first-time fest. The quality of participants, especially those from outside the institute was really amazing.”, he adds.
Post-biofest, enthusiasm in the department is at an all-time high. Many students, especially first-years, possess a new-found love for their chosen field of study. Attending the various industrial lectures held before the Biofest as well as organising the events has improved awareness on the sort of work being done in the field and the opportunities available. “It made me consider an avenue I’d never really thought about seriously – starting up on my own. Confluence was amazing. I got acquainted with the many opportunities out there.”, says Aparnna Suresh, a first-year dual degree student. “We started with the aim of bringing ‘it’ back to the department – where ‘it’ was our talent, interest and skill. I think we have succeeded in that.”, opines Sagar Laygude, the Chief Organiser of Biofest 2012.
Spurred on by the success of the first edition, plans are already under way for a bigger and better Biofest next year. “This year’s sponsors were quite impressed and have agreed to return next year also. We have some great new ideas for next year.”, says Akand. “Biofest should not just be about showcasing your talents and improving enthusiasm within the department.”, says Dr. Vignesh Muthuvijayan, from the Department of Biotechnology. “The aim must be to enthuse people from every department about problems in the fields of biology and biotechnology and show them how their skills can be put to use in solving them. One way in which this can be done is by creating awareness about these events among the faculty in other departments too.”, he adds.
In spite of the teething problems it inevitably had to face, most attendees consider Biofest 2012 a success. Along with the promises of its return in a bigger and better avatar, this year’s edition leaves little room to doubt that Biofest is a fitting new addition to the pantheon of IIT-M’s department fests.