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Outreach and public engagement

Center for Talent Development (CTD)

In mid-July, we organized a workshop for a class of high school students participating in an introductory Biotechnology class at Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development (CTD). In the workshop, we gave the students pre-surveys to gauge their knowledge and interest in science and particularly synthetic biology. We then had two graduate students present on their own research to expose them to relevant topics in the field and give them a sense of what it means to conduct research in a university setting. The students asked insightful questions about the use of bio-sensors in the developing world and were intrigued by the idea of creating cheap and efficient technologies by employing synthetic biology tools.

We then split the group in two, where half of the students toured a lab on campus and the other half stayed back to learn more about VesiCure and play syn-bio jeopardy. Students were introduced to different lab procedures and were given demos of how to run gel electrophoresis, and other similar lab techniques. After the two groups switched and repeated those activities, we gave the whole class post-surveys to understand what they had learned and if synthetic biology would be something that they would consider pursuing in the future. As a whole, our CTD outreach event successfully introduced iGEM to high school students and matriculating college freshmen who could not wait to start their own adventures in lab.

Figure 1. - Word bubble of scientific fields CTD students showed more interest in

Family Focus

We were also able to work with a local after school program and design a workshop that would introduce students of grades 3-5 to the idea of genetic engineering. Although the topic of genetic engineering can receive complex dimensions, by introducing real life examples and diving into the endless possibilities of the field, we were able to have a vivid discussion and help students develop a basic, but factual, idea of what genetic engineering means. The benefits of working with a younger age group was that even if they did not fully grasp everything we talked about, we were able to spark an interest and create excitement about the limitless possibilities of synthetic biology. In one activity, students used their imagination to draw what they would try to accomplish using synthetic biology tools. The end-result was very promising, showing good understanding of basic concepts.


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