Through our surveys and various talks, we found that often the recurring theme was a lack of information and contact with the public about how synthetic biology works and its implications for society.
Although our project’s application is broad and touches a variety of fields, we found that it was difficult for people trained in other fields to relate to the synthetic biology aspect. In our questionnaire, one of the results that we found is that most people were unaware of the benefits of synthetic biology and how to use it, rather than being scared of synthetic biology itself.
Therefore we investigated how best to disseminate ideas about synthetic biology and how to make our project appeal to people in other sectors. Moreover we put it into a context to which they could relate.
Contact with Educators
At the outset, we wanted to contact students and professionals in education to understand what current technologies have proven effective in their field and thus how best to disseminate our project.
We first decided to meet with teachers who have worked with students of different levels and ages. We met with:
Edgar Ornelas, a former high school teacher who has worked in the public sector and who currently focusses on implementing open source learning circles across Paris.
Maria Azi, an education professional who has experience teaching elementary school level and is currently implementing successful educational programmes for big companies.
They explained to us that effective education depends on the interchange and feedback between educators and students, and successful educational programmes which we could disseminate to a large audience need to be :
Furthermore, they referred us to relevant literature allowing us to better understand the process of learning, which we then used when developing our programmes. Through these interactions and by studying the literature we decided to focus on educational games as well as peer to peer learning.
Therefore, in our search for an innovative, pedagogical and fun way of learning, we decided to create a laboratory-themed Escape Game: EscapeTheLab!
To make sure our game was an collaborative and open, we organised a game jam, where over 20 people participated in the inception of the enigmas contained in Escape the Lab!. We organised tOur whole team got together with the help of friends and members of the Enigma Club from the Center for Research andInterdisciplinary (CRI) for a two-day game jam. We spent both days brainstorming and testing enigmas and different concepts, and finally at the end of the event, we were proud to introduce our EscapeTheLab! to 3 teams of players. Since its creation, we have presented our game 10 times inside of the Center for Research and Interdisciplinary as well as at the Cité des Sciences et de l’industrie to a total of 68 players including 2 iGEM teams: UPMC and Pasteur. In total, we had over 15 hours of game and feedback time with the players.
At the GameJam, where the story of EscapeTheLab! began
We were lucky to have been able to host a delegation from Amnesty International, and made them play our Escape Game. Barbara Weber, the Director of Human Rights Education at Amnesty International, and her team came to discuss different ways to teach Human Rights through games, with a particular interest in Escape Games. It was fascinating to talk about how they manage to use games and fun tools to talk about real issues. We were really inspired by their work, and this motivated us to teach synthetic biology in a similar way.
The delegation from Amnesty International playing our Escape Game
Each play-test was an opportunity for us to improve our game to get a better experience for the players and reach a maximum number of people. One of our goals was also to perfect the game to then be able to present a selection of our best enigmas to iGEMers from all over the globe during the Jamboree. Thus, after each session, we organised a feedback time with the players, insisting on the enigmas and the biological concept behind them. In non-quantitative data, we first asked:
- what their overall impression was
- how they would improve the game
- what they liked/what they didn’t like what they understood and didn’t.
Pasteur iGEM Team testeur our Escape Game
- Did you enjoy our game?
- Did you understand the biological concept behind each enigma?
- Do you feel like you have learned something?
- Do you think that you could now explain what synthetic biology is around you?
General questions about the game
About the enigmas:
- Do you understand what a biobrick is?
- Do you understand what is DNA and what it is composed of?
- Do you understand what is a restriction enzyme?
- Do you understand what is a chiral molecule?
- Do you understand what is a biosensor?
- Do you know what is a flagellum?
- Do you understand the use of a hood in biology?
- Do you understand what is synthetic biology?
Questions about the enigma
One of our goals when creating our Escape Game was to make it completely open-source and customizable for everyone to use. Therefore we are publishing a full guide explaining all of the enigmas as well as the game setup. It is really easy to reproduce, and only requires a limited budget due to the use of DIY equipments. Furthermore, we collaborated with the Valencia UPV iGEM team, and had them test our Escape Game. They presented the game to 20 adults between 18 and 23 years old, with basic knowledge of biology, and got great feedback! Thanks to our collaboration, we were able to ensure the transferability of the game.
We created a map of the game, with a short description of all of the enigmas, to get a visual representation of the Escape Game.
- The fan
- Corn starch Petri dishes
- Tip box
- Chiral molecule
- 96 plate
- Restriction enzymes
- Funnel to the box
- Flagellum balloon
- Box with UV light
- Agar with B I O letters
- Invisible ink
- Petri dishes anamorphosis
- DNA scrabble
- Box with S E N S O R
- A fan is in a box, closed with a 3 digit padlock between the interns and the bacteria. The fan is running, you have to find the 3 digit code from the chiral molecule enigma (5) to open the box and turn off the fan. When the fan is turned off, you can see a biobrick on one of the blades. Concept: Laminar flow hood
- There are 4 Petri dishes on a table between the interns and the bacteria. Inside of the dishes, there is a mixture of water and cornstarch that is semi-solid. The players have to take a loop and search for a key inside of the dishes. The key will open a box containing the DNA sequence for the restriction enzyme enigma (7). Concept: Plating cells
- There is a hood between the interns and the bacteria. It is represented by a large plexiglass plate. On this hood there is the word BIOLOGY written in front of 9 empty boxes. The interns have to find papers words related to synthetic biology, and when aligning the letters SYNTHETIC (1 letter of the word for every paper) in the boxes, the bacteria can see a biobrick aligned. The papers can be found in the box opened by the Funnel to the box enigma (8). Concept: Fume hood, sterile environment
- There is a tip box on the bacteria side of the room. In that tip box there are 10 cones and a grid attached with symbols on the upper part of the box. Hidden in the room are 3 papers that together tell the players which symbols they have to pick from the grid to make the biobrick. Concept: Tip, pipette, precision
- There is a box containing a molecule on the interns’ side of the room. It is a chiral molecule on which is written 3 numbers reversed that can be read in a mirror. The bacteria have to find the mirror on their side of the room and give it to the interns to read the code. The code can then be used to open the box containing the Fan enigma (1). Concept: Chirality
- There is a 96 well plate on the bacteria’s side of the room. That 96 well plate is filled with white vinegar, except in 6 holes that are filled with sodium hydroxide crystals. When adding red cabbage juice in each hole, the holes filled with white vinegar turn pink while the holes with the sodium hydroxide crystals turn yellow. By reading the translator grid next to the 96 well plate, the players can find the symbol to align to make a biobrick. Concept: 96 well plate, assays
- There is a box on the interns’ side of the room, closed with a lock that can be opened with the key from the corn starch Petri dishes enigma (2). There is a DNA sequence in the box with a long biobrick taped behind it. The players have to find 2 scissors hidden around the room that represent the restriction enzyme. On both scissors is attached a restriction site telling the players where to cut the DNA sequence. By cutting the sequence with both scissors, they get a shorter, valid biobrick. Concept: Restriction enzyme, restriction site
- There is a box on the bacteria side of the room that the bacteria cannot open (antibiotics written on it). There is a string in a pulley linking the box to an empty bucket. In the bucket is taped a plastic tube linked to a funnel on the interns’ side of the room. The interns have to find 2 gloves hidden over the room (it is specified that they have to find the 2 hidden gloves) to pour water in the funnel. The water going into the bucket by virtue of his weight will go down and pull on the string opening the box. Inside the box can be found the papers for the Hood enigma (3). Concept: Antibiotic resistance
- There is table between the bacteria and the interns. Under the table there is a long plastic tube with a balloon attached to the tube. The beginning of the tube is on the bacteria side, they have to blow in it to inflate the balloon on the interns’ side for them to read the word FLAGELLUM. Concept: flagellum, mobility
- On the table between the bacteria and the interns is a box closed with a 3 digit padlock. The code can be found by resolving the DNA Scrabble enigma (14). There is a UV light in the box that is used to read the papers for the Invisible ink enigma (12).
- At the beginning of the game the bacteria will be seated in a circle with a blindfold. They will be given a box filled with an Agar Agar mixture (semi-solid). They have to find the letters B I O in the box. Concept: Agar
- On the bacteria side of the room, there are falcon tubes with papers inside, some are blank but one appears to be blank however the word « email@example.com » is written with invisible ink that the bacteria can read by finding the UV light from the Box with UV light enigma (10). Concept: Fluorescence, plate reader
- On the bacteria side of the room, there are 8 petri dishes with letters and numbers written all over them. There is also a gene template on the wall. They have to recreate the gene template with the symbols on the side of the petri dishes. When all of the petri dishes are stacked up, the players can read from the top « iGEM 2017 », that they have to write on the computer. Concept: Gene sequence
- On the interns’ side of the room, they have a DNA template, with base pairs, however 4 bases are missing. They also have a lot of letters with a number on each, they have to find the missing base and when associated with the right nucleotide on the DNA template it gives a code. The code opens the box from the Box with UV light enigma (10). Concept: Fluorescence, plate reader
- On the interns side of the room, there is a box filled with ice with the letters S E N S O R and other decoy letters. Concept: Biosensor
The game works with a computer interface where the players have to write words missing during the first part and then complete the 5 biobricks on the computer in the second part. The goal is for the bacteria and the interns to collaborate to complete the interface and escape the lab. Our game is designed for players aged from 16 and older, we created it to be a perfect balance between fun and education, for people to learn what biology is without even realizing it!
Feedback session after UPMC and Pasteur iGEM teams played our Escape Game
UN SDGsWe gave a talk at to the CRI Labs Summer school, a 7 week summer programme with 50 international students from a variety of backgrounds. It is a challenge based summer school where students have to try and create projects to tackle the UN sustainable development goals (UN sdgs). We were invited to make a presentation for 15 minutes in front of this very diverse audience. We introduced the concept of the competition as well as the role of student teams in synthetic biology. We then introduced our project to the students and had a 10 minute question and answer session. This opportunity allowed us to interact with students from art, engineering, electronics, history etc.
Our presentation during the meet-up
Paris iGEM MeetupWe attended the France iGEM meetup hosted by the Pasteur iGEM team, where 8 teams from all over France gathered. The iGEMers Bordeaux, Aix-Marseille University, INSA-UPS Toulouse, UPMC Paris, Evry Paris-Saclay, and IONIS teams were all present. In the morning, we met with all the teams and then each team presented their project for 20 minutes and then had 10 minutes of questions from a carefully selected jury. This was a great opportunity to meet other iGEMers from France, as well as a chance to practice our presentations before the Jamboree. We were able to further our acquaintance over lunch and during round-table discussions with past iGEMers in the afternoon. Finally, we had a half hour presentation on how to present elevator pitches, which immediately preceded a 3 minute pitch of the project by each team!
Talk EdTech students (CRI)We were invited to present our project to the Master EdTech students of the Center for research and Interdisciplinary. The EdTech Master gathers around 20 students that are eager to learn about teaching, entrepreneurship and research through new ways of understanding the digital transformation happening in the world. Therefore, the creative students were excited to hear about our project as they had the opportunity to help us concretize it. We did a 15 min presentation followed up by another 15 minutes of questions, and they were extremely curious about our work as most of them were not familiar with synthetic biology. Furthermore, they gave us great advice and ways to reflect on the technological part of our project as well as the design of our proof-of-concept - the bacterial 3D printer. Many were interested in collaborating with us for the Escape Game we created, especially Mourdjen Bari, one of the teachers, who helped tremendously with the computational interface of the game.
Talk to Paris VII DiderotWe presented our project to a class of students from the SIAS bachelor (Interdisciplinary Sciences applied to Health) of the university of Paris VII Diderot. As an interdisciplinary cursus, this class was composed of students interested in various fields such as Biology, Public Health, Medicine, Political Sciences or even Business and Management. The presentation really hit the students as now some are actually interested in doing iGEM in the following year. They raised interesting questions about the project and we had a real discussion with them on how to improve our work.
Presenting to the students of Paris VII Diderot
Talk at the CRI Discovery DaysWe had the chance to hold a stand at the CRI DiscoveryDays. The CRI is a recently created research institute which aims at bringing interdisciplinary scientists together to tackle science in innovative and creative ways. This fair was the occasion for us to advertise Medusa to an audience ranging from undergraduates to post-docs with very different backgrounds. It was extremely gratifying to observe the attention and excitement our project sparkled, From designers to cognitive scientists, we felt that the intuitive system behind our light control system was an amazing vector to popularize synthetic biology. For two days, we were happy to welcome everyone coming to us, having amazing discussions and getting a lot of positive feedback about our work. They also gave us a room to present our Escape Game: EscapeTheLab!, which was a blast, people were very interested on how we turned teaching synthetic biology into a fun and exciting experience. They were not disappointed!
Presenting our project during the CRI Discovery Days
Our presentation during 10 Year anniversary of iGEM Paris Bettencourt
10 years of iGEM Paris BettencourtCRI iGEM ten years anniversary was an event hosted at the Center for research and interdisciplinarity to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Paris Bettencourt iGEM team. This event reunited alumni of the teams, now based around the world in different labs and in different fields, allowing them to present what they now do. This event was also attended by iGEM founders , iGEM headquarter Staff and Committee including Randy Rettberg, Meagan Lizarazo, Drew Endy, David Sun Kong, Megan Palmer as well as other prominent researchers in the field including Tom Ellis and Karmella Haynes. This event gave us the opportunity to present our project to researchers in the field and get insight as to how best to apply our project. We were also able to reflect upon our project safety with human practice specialists and decided to further develop the safety of our printer prototype. We also met numerous alumni and researchers involved in the DIY bio community, allowing us to gain further insight about the profile and needs of community biologists.
Interview with SciencesPo studentsTo better understand the relation between synthetic biology and other fields, we met up with SciencesPo students of paris, specialised in arts, law and sociology, working on a website for explaining science to the general public. We taught them basic biological and engineering concepts as well as presented our project and most importantly gave them an insight into the everyday life of an iGEMer and into a synthetic biologist’s world. Furthermore, video interviews were conducted of the team members to be put on their website.This insight will be used on their web page, reaching a large audience of non-biologists. This collaboration not only helped put synthetic biology at the forefront of the general public but it also gave us an opportunity to interact with people who will be affected by the research outcomes and applications of our project, giving us both context to our work and allowing us to take a reflexive step back.
Our presentation to the research club
CIUP Research Club at Cité universitaireWe presented at the monthly reunion of CIUP, the club of international young researchers based in Paris. We were able to introduce our project as well as talk to many researchers about applying our tool in their respective fields. We talked to bioinformaticians about how data can be lacking for population genetics and how our tool could be used to study the specific evolution over time of populations within a microenvironment. We talked to Neurologists about using protein photocaging to help map the brain in fine resolution. We talked to civil engineers about creating remote controlled building surfaces using light controlled bacteria. This chance gave us the opportunity to better understand the impact of our tool and forced us to broaden our vision in terms of the applications of our device.
Solutions for open Sciences at Institut PasteurWe went to the Solution for open Sciences at the Institut Pasteur, where we had to present a poster about our project. We introduced MEDUSA to scientists from various fields, mostly not familiar with synthetic biology, which led to very interesting discussion. Furthermore, we were able to talk about our poster itself, and obtained real advice on how to improve it for the Jamboree.
Presenting our poster during the Solution for Open Sciences at the Institut Pasteur