Khairunnisa Semesta visited an after-school program for elementary school students in Indonesia. In line with iGEM NYUAD team’s mission this year, she spoke to 25 students about the importance of food and personal hygiene in preventing pathogenic E. coli infection. This workshop is part of the iGEM NYUAD team’s education and engagement efforts, demonstrating that the scope of iGEM NYUAD’s work includes not only developing a portable device to detect Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in the lab, but also raising awareness of everyday hygienic practices, particularly in places where food safety remains a high concern.
The iGEM NYU Abu Dhabi presented our project during the Foundations of Science 1 & 2 courses. This is a rigorous program spanning three semesters and focuses on the integration of the physical and natural sciences (read more). These fundamental science courses are compulsory for all STEM majors in NYU Abu Dhabi, and throughout the years many engineers did not feel that studying biology would be necessary for their major.
In order to establish the importance of interconnectedness of sciences and engineering, the NYU Abu Dhabi team described their project, presented its importance in countries with high numbers of street food poisoning and showed how biologist and engineers had to work together in order to incorporate LAMP technique with the device. The team explained how both engineers and biologist had to compromise and find a design and underlined how essential it was for engineers to be familiar with the basics of biology in order to achieve best results. Furthermore, the team presented the iGEM competition, what it aims for and what can be accomplished with an iGEM project.
After the presentation, several students approached the team and expressed the wish to participate in iGEM next year. Many of the students were engineers, who were excited to see how the knowledge they are obtaining in the Foundations of Science course can be applied and linked to their paths as engineers.
Few weeks after the presentations the instructors and professors contacted us expressing what a positive effect this presentation has done. The students have not only been more accepting of taking courses out of their major but they also started to notice more connections between their chosen majors and the material they are covering in the courses.
The high school workshop succeeded in achieving an interaction with the high school students who were interested in the broad fields of engineering and biology, but never had the opportunity to experiment with the two. In a workshop that was the first of its kind in the UAE, these students who had no laboratory experience were introduced to a university laboratory, where they had an opportunity to learn how to integrate biology and engineering.
The workshop did not aim for the students to simply replicate the instructors, but rather to allow the students to explore the circuitry with an Arduino and the bacterial transformations, in spirit of learning and enhancing teamwork. The team members served as instructors and were available and ready to answer any questions which the students might have had. This generated a system of learning by conversation and integrated collaboration between the students and the instructors.
To encourage high school students’ participation in iGEM in the future, the students were advised on how they can join future NYUAD teams or start their own team. The workshop increased the confidence of these students when working in a laboratory. Conversations were continued over lunch, which helped the students engage further with science The distribution of the NYUAD team magazine also increased the spread of information about the field of synthetic biology, and team NYUAD intends to hold further such workshops to develop necessary research in the UAE region, and encourage greater participation in iGEM. This workshop can be replicated by other iGEM teams to generate a greater student interest in synthetic biology all over the world, and this can go a long way to show how honest and hard work can help achieve excellence in the fight against various epidemics and diseases.
To engage our senior biology students, our team decided to present our final project to the Experimental Systems Biology class, one of the advanced undergraduate biology courses at NYUAD. This presentation was the perfect platform for discussion and collaboration. The students applied their research thinking skills in giving their constructive feedback on our project while our team introduced the concept of loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) to the students, the majority of which were not previously aware of the technique. The audience included former iGEM alumni who provided valuable advice for the Giant Jamboree presentations.