Public Engagement and Education
iGEM Summer Camp
During the course of one week, our outreach team simultaneously held two summer camps based on the subjects of genetics & environmental sciences and physics. With the goal of stimulating a spark for the love of all things related to science and thereby, nurturing a love for science in future young scientists ranging from elementary to middle school students, we guided the students on concepts pertinent to everyday professional and advanced lab work, reinforced with hands-on activities, experiments, and projects. Some of these experimental activities further reinforced plant-based curriculum in the form of photosynthesis and cellular respiration labs and introduced the students to environmental concerns such as ocean acidification and global warming. The concept of ocean acidification was further expounded upon via the pH lab, where we observed the detrimental effects of even a subtle change in pH. Furthermore, the genetics camp taught students fundamental biotechnology techniques, such as micropipetting, gel electrophoresis, serial dilution, growing bacteria on petri dishes, and PCR. In the physics camp we delved into major ideas behind subjects such as energy, forces, light, kinetics, and heat. These concepts were applied in the Egg Drop Project, which required the physics students to build a contraption out of solely toothpicks and hot glue and therefore, test it by dropping it with an egg inside to see if the egg broke or not. On the last day, a fun highlight, we made slime and paper centrifuges to show students the wide expanse of applications fostered by science. By creating an environment catered to furthering interest in the sciences, we were able to increase publicity for our team, project, and the field of synthetic biology. Students of the camp were also exposed to advanced biotechnology techniques, an opportunity unavailable at their own schools. We received a myriad of positive feedback and many even expressed interest in another summer camp and in joining the iGEM team as a high schooler! This camp, most importantly, served as not only the initiative, but also as the catalyst, for young students' interest in synthetic biology, and allowed us to share our project and groundbreaking ideas with people not merely inside a laboratory environment, but also with other scientists interested in this burgeoning field.
Our iGEM team partnered with other clubs at our school, such as Speech and Debate, Conservatory for the Humanities, and Model United Nations, to organize a seminar where the political, historical, social, and ethical side of various relevant scientific issues, such as embryonic stem cell testing, cloning, drug discovery/production market, and GMOs and Gene Therapy (CRISPR), were discussed in depth socratic seminar style. Moreover, we invited 4 guest speakers, who were highly accomplished professors from the University of California San Diego’s Bioengineering Department and Jacob’s School of Engineering; they were Professor Bruce Wheeler, Professor Yingxiao Wang, Professor Daniela Valdez-Jasso, and Professor Gert Cauwenberghs. They presented on various topics, including but not limited to, youth in bioengineering, molecule biosensors, biotechnology in curing pulmonary hypertension, and neural computations. We had a successful turnout and we helped to raise public awareness of modern scientific issues concerning society.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
In a collaboration with the Tinkerer’s Club, at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, an event that allows young children to “tinker” with science and engineering, we talked about synthetic biology and the detrimental effect of oil spills on the environment to any children and adults who were interested. The children who stopped by our tables were all interested in science, and we explained to them what synthetic biology was and what they could do to further understand it. At the first table, we talked about safety and what needed to be done in a lab to be cautious. For example, we had the kids identify aspects of the iGEM lab safety image. We also explained some aspects of laboratory procedure, how important it is to calculate exact values of different substances, and how to properly and safely use various lab equipment found in professional laboratories. At another table, we allowed children to dip a bird feather into some oil, so that they could see how bird’s body parts are restricted when they are surrounded by crude oil. Moreover, we had a stratified visual of water versus oil in order to demonstrate the difference in polarities of water and oil and thus. We had two stations where we talked about DNA and its structure: the matching game station and the DNA modelling station. At the matching game station, we had children match up base pairs to understand the components of DNA and how the DNA bases A, T, C, G based paired together. At the DNA modelling station, we let children build a double helix with toothpicks and marshmallows to model the transcription and translation components of DNA replication, a vital process of bioengineering concepts. Seeing the children so excited to learn about topics related to our research project helped our efforts in instilling a love and interest for science.
We set up fun lab stations at the Cardiff-by-the-Sea branch library; the stations were lab safety, which encouraged the children to move different amounts of colored liquid, which represented chemicals, using lab equipments, such as beakers, graduated, and pipettes, extracting DNA from strawberries, DNA modeling, and a visual demonstration of our project that included an oil presentation and oil over water demonstration, which further expatiated upon the differences in polarity between water and oil. We received lots of positive feedback: "I know I want to be a scientist and this just shows how much fun science is". Many parents lauded us for our efforts in trying to bring synthetic biology to a larger audience and thus, in sparking an interest in their children for science. It was so rewarding that we could inspire future young scientists!
Torrey Hills Elementary School STEM Day
We wanted to bring our STEM Day to a broader audience and in a more organized way. Thus, we contacted several local elementary schools and received the opportunity to set up an assembly-style STEM Day presentation at Torrey Hills Elementary School. With more than 100 6th grade students and their four respective teachers as our audience, we were faced with the unique challenge of delivering our message on an unprecedented scale. We chose to present primarily on the concept of DNA, which had yet to be introduced to the sixth graders in class. We used play-doh and pipe cleaners as models for DNA and discussed how our project modified the DNA of bacteria to help solve oil spills. Throughout this STEM Day, we saw how the students were engaged in these various activities and many of them demonstrated surprise and elation in learning about these concepts. We ultimately hope to have introduced the sixth graders to new ideas while challenging the teachers to include synthetic biology in their lessons as a more present-day scientific innovation.
Synthetic Biology Kits
Our team wanted to package the lessons that we created so that more people, especially young scientists interested in synthetic biology, could enjoy and learn even more in depth about our criteria and objectives relating to our research project and aim. We met up with some of the individual teachers, including the department head of the local middle school, and discussed how they might incorporate synthetic biology as a concept into their curriculum. We hope to spread our message into the community in a sustainable way so that once iGEM 2017 ends, our project will leave a lasting impact in the minds of local students interested in science. Hopefully we can not only help make synthetic biology a bigger part of science classes in San Diego starting from younger ages, but also spark a insatiable interest for bioengineering and synthetic biology in their hearts and minds. This was some of the positive feedback that we received from the department head of the local middle school: “I know the seventh graders will love doing experiments put together by high school students!” “I am super excited about your project and your outreach efforts!” We are so excited that we can inspire not only students, but teachers as well, in their efforts to implement synthetic biology into their curriculum!
After our Cardiff-by-the-Sea STEM Day event, several members of our team surveyed local community members in a popular market area on their opinions/pre-existing knowledge about genetic engineering. This opened a lot of interesting conversations such as discussions of the general public perception of controversial topics such as GMOs and catalyzing interest in the future that synthetic biology holds. We met a man whose job was to clean oil spills (he talked about the majority of techniques used, such as the use of sponges) at his company, Seattle NRC Environmental Services, which was a 24 hour response center to environmental, industrial, and emergency concerns. A direct result of this enlightening discussion, we were more eager on meeting with companies and hearing how our project could be directly implemented or would better be appreciated by someone in the field. Thus, we not only invoked public opinions but also discovered new ways we could make our project a reality in application and implementation! Find the survey results and graphs under the Silver Human Practices page!