Alverno Heights Academy iGEM Team Recognized by Congresswoman Judy Chu for Silver Medal

When Alverno Heights Academy started their International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) team last spring, they had no idea how exciting and successful the entire project would be. After months of tedious research and extensive commitment, Alverno’s iGEM team, the only all-girls team in the world competing, earned a prestigious Silver Medal at the iGEM 2016 Giant Jamboree in Boston, MA.

Earlier this year, thirteen Alverno students, along with their Caltech mentor Mr. Sam Clamons and Alverno Science Teacher Ms. Monica Barsever, identified the focus of their project—DNA supercoiling. Through careful research and development, the Alverno iGEM team sought to determine whether DNA “clamps” placed between genes could eliminate the cross-talk that occurs when genes interfere with or enhance each other. If this cross-talk could be eliminated, the team would be able to isolate the genes; therefore, allowing them to build more predictable genetic circuitry.

Throughout the summer and right up to the competition at the end of the October, the iGEM team, guided by their mentors and advisors, completed more than 100 experiments with a small percentage proving to be successful. This research and data was compiled into presentations, a website, and blog that was then used for the Jamboree in Boston where they competed against a small number of high school teams but mainly college teams including Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Stanford.

All of their hard work and dedication paid off when the girls learned that they had earned a coveted Silver Medal during the Awards Presentation on Monday, October 31. In addition to that honor, Alverno’s team because the second best high school iGEM team in the country and the number one team west of the Mississippi River. Additionally, Alverno’s win placed the team above several veteran major university competitors including MSU-Michigan, Northeastern, Tufts, University of Chicago, and Yale University.

When they returned to campus, the iGEM team was congratulated by the entire student body and special guest, Representative of the 27th district of California, Congresswoman Judy Chu. Congresswoman Chu spoke at an assembly in which she encouraged all young women to continue their efforts in STEM. She shared her pride in the teams win and told the girls she couldn’t wait to share the news that her district boasted the “only all-girls iGEM team in the world.” Following her speech, she presented each of the iGEM team members with Certificates of Congressional Recognition. As a thank you, Alverno presented Congresswoman Chu with a framed picture of the Villa del Sol d’Oro and an autographed copy of Rise of the Rocket Girls.

“Words cannot express how proud we are of the accomplishments of this group of young women,” said Julia V. Fanara, Head of School. “The entire team sacrificed countless hours, summer vacations, and other activities in order to commit to this project 100 percent. Through it all, they handled every experiment as a chance to learn, every failure gave them one more opportunity for success, and every success became a badge of honor. It makes me so proud to say that the only all-girls high school iGEM team in the world is from Alverno Heights Academy but to be able to see these young women empowered and who they imagine themselves makes this Silver Medal win all the more special.”

The iGEM team is already hard at work planning their project for next year’s competition and hopes to be even more successful next year. To learn more about their project, the iGEM competition, and Alverno STEM program, please visit and

About Alverno Heights Academy

Alverno Heights Academy is an all-girls, independent, progressive Catholic, college preparatory school dedicated to its mission of empowering each young woman to be exactly the person she wants to be. Located on the property of the former Barlow Estate in Sierra Madre, California, Alverno Heights Academy was founded in 1960 by the Sisters of St. Francis who sought to create an environment in the San Gabriel Valley where young women could become informed and knowledgeable persons. Later renamed Alverno High School and sponsored by the Immaculate Heart Community, Alverno’s program—academic, spiritual, aesthetic, social, and physical—has been shaped by the staff, trustees, and students. As Alverno Heights Academy once again, the school remains committed to its mission by encouraging each of their young women to be who they imagine. For more information about Alverno Heights Academy, please visit

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