“Science communication is vital to our quality of life. It helps everyone understand the problems that we face, and shares the ideas and solutions that can improve life for us all.” – Chris Hadfield.
Many great ideas in science often don’t come to light if they are not well received or understood by the public, which is why education and engagement is such a vital part to science. We have worked to close this communication gap between our research and the public by taking part in numerous outreach activities.
When designing our activities, we considered discussing the science underlying synthetic biology to inspire and encourage curiosity from school students. We also wanted to inform the public on the great applications of synthetic biology and our project with the intentions of beginning a dialogue between us and those with differing backgrounds and opinions.
Workshop Engagement and Education
Dr Egg Adventures
The event was part of Australia’s National Science Week 2017, with our project aptly relating to this year’s theme being ‘Future Earth’.
Our team members collaborated with a group of game developers and artists from Dr Egg Digital, as science consultants for a game testing and puzzle planning event. Led by Dr Catherine Fargher, the concept of the video game was based from her successful theatre show Dr Egg and the Man with No Ear.
A class of 8-12 year olds from the Queenwood School Catalyst Program were audience to an age appropriate lecture led by the Macquarie iGEM team on the basics of synthetic biology and its applications, and the possible future prospects of our project in renewable energy. The lecture spurred the creativity of the children who then brainstormed game puzzles and character scripts for the Dr Egg Digital game that is being designed to incorporate the national school science curriculum for grades 3-8. The resulting ideas from this collaboration will be incorporated into this educational videogame that is set to be released in February 2018.
Impressed by how this event engaged their students, Queenwood School shared information of our iGEM team and the community outreach we have participated in on their social media channels and their school publications.
Thanks for your AWESOME work yesterday! Lindy the main teacher from Queenwood said she has never seen them so engaged.”
– Dr Catherine Fargher (Dr Egg Digital)
“Dear Dr Walsh, thank you for letting me come to the Dr Egg excursion. It was really fun, it was possibly one of the best days of my life!!!! I loved inventing the game about Vivi. P.S. glowing Cats. P.P.S cat DNA with glowing jellyfish DNA with narwhal horn DNA = cat-a-corn."
– Siana (Queenwood School student)
More on Dr Egg Adventures can be found here
Chifley High School Event
We transformed our lab into an engaging workshop for up to 40 high school students in years 9 and 10 with interactive activities designed to promote an understanding and appreciation of various aspects of synthetic biology and our iGEM project. Students were invited to learn about various good and bad microbes and created their own out of Play-Doh, explored the microbial word through learning how to use a microscope, and the importance of safety and hygiene with an activity showing how easily bacteria can be transferred. They also had a lot of fun playing an original synthetic biology themed snakes and ladders game created by one of our team members, and they learnt all about fluorescent bacteria where they had the opportunity to use these bacteria to paint beautiful artwork. The workshop concluded with a game show style quiz, where the students competed against each other and showcased their new knowledge.
Both students and team members thoroughly enjoyed the day, and evaluations were conducted to measure the educational and engagement affect our event had on the students.
Team members co-presented lectures at Macquarie University’s Open Day for prospective new Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Medical Science students. The lectures introduced the basic concepts behind synthetic biology, what to study to enter a career in this field, and introduced the iGEM competition and our project to the audiences.
TEDxYouth Sydney 2017
The theme for the globally renowned event TEDxYouth 2017 was ‘Shifting the Future’. As our project has the potential to do great things in the future, we entered the Fast Ideas segment competition, where the selected applicants pitch their idea to a live audience on stage in 30 seconds. They were seeking ideas that were original and achievable, and we were selected as one of six presenters from numerous applications. In just 30 seconds, one of our team members communicated the benefits of using synthetic biology as a tool to create a renewable alternative for production of hydrogen fuel to a global audience.
The reach of our pitch at this event was huge. With hundreds of attendees in the live audience, thousands more watching at satellite events around the country and it was also broadcasted globally on a live simulcast stream. Additionally, the event was uploaded onto YouTube and has so far reached 1,434 views.
Synthetic Biology Australasia Conference (SBA)
The Synthetic Biology Australasia (SBA) Conference 2017 was attended by the team, and our iGEM project was showcased in a presentation. Not only did we gain the opportunity to share our work with experts in synthetic biology, but we were able to watch inspiring presentations on exciting new research in the field and received great advice regarding the ethics involved with our project. We were very fortunate to meet Dr John Glass from the Craig Venter Institute, who gave us much appreciated advice on presenting our work.
Additionally, the conference gave us the opportunity to meet iGEM teams from USyd, Melbourne, and Auckland at a social event organised by iGEM HQ Representative Abigail Sison.
Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Research (ACUR)
Team members were accepted to present our research in a 10 minute presentation at the Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Research (ACUR) 2017. We were able to communicate our research findings to many people, with the conference having a high attendance with approximately 100 speakers alongside judges and guests. At the conclusion of our presentation we were asked many questions from the audience, which allowed us to understand the concerns people have and address these in our final design.
Synthetic Biology Edutainment Game
Our team collaborated with game designer Ryder Boyton from 8-bit Equation, to develop a game that was equally educational and entertaining on synthetic biology and the aspects of our iGEM project. We designed the game with the idea in mind that the player would learn basic concepts indirectly throughout the gameplay rather than having to rote learn blocks of information. Research suggests the most impactful learning from games occur when the educational content is part of the intrinsic challenges of the game, and a successful educational game provides the opportunity for kinetic, strategic, cognitive learning, and prior knowledge application (Boyan & Sherry 2011).
The gameplay was designed for a high school aged audience, to provide a fun introduction to synthetic biology. We also designed an additional function where the player could access an encyclopaedia, targeted for undergraduate university students, where they could learn more advanced concepts, for example restriction enzymes and transformation, in an interactive manner.
We designed the Escherichia coli main character to be pink to represent its gram negative staining and movement mechanics were designed to show how flagella work. To ensure we were as scientifically accurate as possible, we consulted a microbiology expert Dr Sasha Tetu who confirmed E. coli was peritrichous with flagellum protruding in all directions.
Players navigate their E. coli via controlling its flagella to collect nutrients to remain healthy and undergo cell division, thus increasing the swarm. The swarm survives hazards through force of numbers. A single survivor can complete the level, but the player will be rewarded with more nutrients if they can keep a higher number of the swarm alive. The idea of controlling a swarm and the difficulty to keep them all alive, often ending a level with a few or even just one, was designed to reflect low transformation efficiency levels seen commonly in molecular biology experiments.
Throughout the levels players would collect BioBricks, and at the conclusion of the level, enter a mini-game where they would use the collected BioBricks in a drag and drop manner in the correct sequence to undergo transformation. The character would then enter the new level with added functions gained from the BioBricks.
Our own project would be introduced with a level requiring the collection of our designed BioBricks, with the player needing to produce hydrogen gas to replace polluting elements. We also considered the potential for using our game as a platform for collaboration with other teams. The game was designed so that we could easily dedicate a level to another iGEM team’s designed BioBricks for the character to collect and display their own projects function.
Due to time constraints we were unable to complete and release the game for use before the iGEM Jamboree. However, with the substantial progress we did achieve, we hope to see it implemented in the future.
Boyan, A. & Sherry, J.L. 2011. The challenge in creating games for education: aligning mental models with game models. Child Development Perspectives, 5(2), pp.82-87.
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