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Josh Leonard Demystifies Living Technologies in TEDx Talk

Humanizing science behind synthetic biology aims to inform and inspire students.

Speaking to an audience of high school students, Professor Joshua Leonard discusses the humanizing science behind the field of synthetic biology.

To demystify living technologies and highlight cutting-edge work that harnesses the powers of DNA, Northwestern Engineering’s Joshua Leonard recently presented a TEDx talk at the American School Foundation of Monterrey, Mexico.

At TEDxYouth@ASFM themed V³: Vision. Voice. Vigor., Leonard, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering, aimed to humanize the science behind synthetic biology, telling how cells can be reprogrammed to become living therapeutic devices, diagnostic tools, or even cures for cancer.

“Cells can perform tasks that are beyond the reach of drugs and surgeons,” he said. “Cells can heal, cells can produce therapeutics on demand, and cells can hunt and kill harmful invaders. While this seems like something out of science fiction, this idea is very much already part of our real world.”

Leonard’s mission was to inform the high school students about the new technology as well as to inspire them as they looked toward college and set career goals.

Leonard is a leading faculty member within Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology, which blends tools and concepts from fields ranging from biology to computer programming through collaboration among scientists of varied backgrounds. Much of the work focuses on reprogramming cells by changing their DNA to build technologies that benefit society.