Human Practices and Outreach
This year, we continued to approach human practices in a different manner. We wanted to get more involved with the public and see how we could use our project to address stigmas about synthetic biology. We applied for a Building with Biology kit again this year. Developed by the Museum of Science, the Building with Biology kit is a part of the Building with Biology public engagement with science endeavor, where scientists and the public communicate about science and engage in mutual learning. Building with Biology is funded by a National Science Foundation grant.
We were fortunate to receive a Building with Biology kit, and we brought this educational tool to the Larimer County farmer’s market. We engaged people of all ages and walks of life, and introduced them to synthetic biology concepts through hands-on activities. These hands-on activities provided an ideal method for demonstration that segued smoothly into explanations and discussion about the scientific principles behind the activities. The DNA extraction activity seemed to have the greatest impact on fairgoers. Watching people experience revelations about cells, their membrane structure, and how DNA fits into it all was an amazing experience for us all. We talked about our own project with people, and learned their opinions on it. It seemed that there was interest in using biofactories (and thinking of it as renewable resource) for future plastics and oil.
It’s important for scientific outreach to not only target those who already have an interest in science. How else will people find out if they’re interested? Our outreach will have been a success if even one of these events occurs because of our farmer’s market booth: someone discovers a lifelong love for science, someone develops a curiosity in scientific applications for their current work, someone develops an interest in scientific developments, someone has an thought-provoking dinner conversation, or someone enters a career in science that leads to at least one person’s life being improved or saved. Thinking about the future proves to be significant for all people.
An activity called Tech Tokens invited participants to invest fake money in various synthetic biology industry ventures. These industries included biofuels, biomedicine, pest control, and the production of synthetic flavorings. An overwhelming majority of people chose to invest some of their fake money into biofuels, even people who were opposed to things like biomedicines and synthetic flavor production.
Following the farmer’s market, we were also made very aware of the importance of being able to communicate our ideas well with others. We would all like to discuss our research with the public and other scientists, but this can prove to be a lofty endeavor. It is important to consider various ways to communicate an idea to people of varying backgrounds. There are so many ways to get an idea across to someone, but the best way is found only through trial and error in the form of repeated attempts at communication.