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Contact Information

my little scientist
my little scientist

Technical Instructor
Department of Biological Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Office: 617.324.1940 (Room 16-319)
Teaching Lab: 617.452.2886 (Room 56-322)

astachow AT mit DOT edu

Background and Education

I wrote the following when I first became an instructor. It's kind of stilted, but is up here for posterity's sake:

Prior to joining the teaching faculty here in Biological Engineering, I was myself educated at MIT for ten years (this is sometimes derisively referred to as being a "lifer"). I first acquired an S.B. in Chemical Engineering (2001), then a Ph.D. in Polymer Science and Engineering under the auspices of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (2007). My interest in the interface between biology and materials came about late in my undergraduate career, and I was fortunate to pursue this interest at the graduate level in Darrell Irvine's lab. In addition to a challenging and engaging research experience, graduate school offered me a chance to hone my teaching (assistant) chops, first in 3.012 (thermodynamics), then in 20.361 (biotechnology). I have a passion for the written word, whether reading literature or enabling effective and elegant science communication. My greatest interest now is in fostering a science-literate citizenry by multiple tactics: at the college instructor level, this means developing the abilities of students to navigate a large body of information, to understand the logic of experimental design, and to communicate their findings to myriad audiences.

My Role in the Department of Biological Engineering

As a technical instructor in Biological Engineering since Fall 2007, I see my role as improving teaching and learning throughout the department wherever possible. My primary responsibility is teaching 20.109, Laboratory Fundamentals of Biological Engineering, and I continue to develop new curriculum and pedagogical approaches in that role. I have designed experimental modules in protein engineering (tuning a fluorescent calcium sensor, with Alan Jasanoff), cell/biomaterial engineering (3D culture of chondrocytes and/or stem cells for cartilage tissue engineering, with Alan Grodzinsky), RNA engineering (enrichment of heme-binding aptamers, with Jacquin Niles), and system engineering (tuning edge-detecting bacteria to improve image contrast, with Ron Weiss). More broadly, I have co-organized our departmental training for graduate teaching assistants for the past few years, each year improving the training by adding components such as a practice teaching session and a talk on teaching in diverse classrooms. I have also playing a leading role in two initiatives as part of the department’s Committee on the Undergraduate program. As chair of the sub-committee on educational practice in 2008, I was the primary author of departmental guidelines for best practices in undergraduate education. As co-chair of the sub-committee on improving writing instruction, I’m currently devising and implementing strategies for improving how our students are trained as scientific writers. Finally, to expand my sense of teaching and learning department-wide, I taught a recitation in our foundational thermodynamics course in 2009, and wrote supplementary instructional material for our instrumentation laboratory class in 2012.

Core Teaching Values: Goals and Expectations

The following was also written when I first became an instructor, but I think it's held up well:

  • Transparency - I would like to convey to you why you are learning what you are learning at every stage, and also how you will be held accountable for this knowledge. In turn, I expect you to keep me abreast of any bugs or features of the course.
  • Responsibility - I hope to take the basics (keeping up with classwork, being considerate of your labmates) for granted. I aspire for us to engage with issues both intrinsic and seemingly peripheral to the course, such as the ethical implications of biotechnology.
  • Adaptability - No matter what your next career may be, adapting to unexpected outcomes and redefining your strategy and goals as needed will be vital. In my own work, flexibility and experimentation with pedagogical methods is a priority. Please do not hesitate to give me feedback.

Yearly Lessons Learned

Okay, I'm a little behind on writing things down, but reflection goes on unabated…

Lessons from year five
Lessons from year four
Lessons from year three
Lessons from year two
Lessons from year one

Teaching History


Fall 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013- Laboratory Fundamentals of Biological Engineering, subject 20.109 - instructor
Fall 2009 - Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems, subject 20.110 - recitation instructor
Fall 2010 - baby-raising!
Spring 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 - subject 20.109 - instructor and lecturer

Other projects

Summer 2014 — Writing a series of core statistical mechanics problems/prompts for use as an interactive learning tool in 20.111; collaboration with Eric Alm. Spring 2013 onward — advisor to BE Writing Lab Summer 2012 — author of electronics primer for subject 20.309, Biological Instrumentation and Measurement Summers 2009-2014 — co-organizer of departmental TA training (2014 site)
Summer 2008 — primary author of departmental guidelines for undergraduate education best practices


Current interests

  • Regulatory affairs: how industry and FDA work together to ensure drug/biologic safety and efficacy
    • Currently volunteering for OpenBiome, a non-profit stool bank (yeah, you read that right!)
  • Science and society, or sometimes just society

Historical research interests

1. Biomaterials - especially natural and synthetic polymers.
2. Immunology - particularly T cell motility and lymphoid chemokines.


Current Recommended Reads

  • 2014 Gee, who is this up-and-coming writer... ?

The rest of what was here now goes to the dustbins of history...

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