Our team reached out to the community in several different ways throughout the course of our project. Most of our outreach was geared toward elementary though high school students. All of our outreach projects included activities in biology research, talking about what iGEM is, what it means to be on a team, and what our group was doing for our project. In many cases we simplified a lot of terms, but we were still able to go over general genetic engineering concepts and how they were going to fit in with the heavy metal detection and design of the probiotic within our project.
Touch Tomorrow was our largest outreach event. It is an event held at WPI in the summer to help expose the public to different discoveries in science and technology. There are many activities and demonstration run throughout the day, and our iGEM team hosted 3 activities in one of the labs on campus throughout the day. Over 6,000 people visited campus this year, and many visited our lab.
Strawberry DNA extraction was the first of the activities, and definitely a favorite. Our team members rotated through the different activities, and taught each kid, and usually their parents, about how squishing the strawberry with a detergent-salt solution would break open the cells and how adding the isopropanol would allow them to collect the Strawberry's DNA. People were interested to learn that they could do DNA extractions on fruits at home because many are polyploidy, but they were most excited about being able to keep their DNA in a microcentrofuge tube on a string as a necklace.
The fluorescence booth was also very interesting for many people. They were interested in how a bacteria expressing a certain protein, in this case GFP or RFP, could glow a certain color under UV light. They also were amazed that we could grow this bacteria in certain patterns, or pictures, on the plates.
The third activity was Kool Aid gel electrophoresis. This was done in smaller groups and required a sign up sheet because of its detail. The kids who came got to load a salt water gel with a Kool Aid glycerol mix and see how the dyes ran at different lengths. They were then able to take their piece of gel home. There were a lot of questions about what gels are, how they're normally done, and why they're important.
The last activity was a Lead Water Pollution Guess and Check Map. A blank map of the US was posted outside the door of our lab along with stickers for people to place where they thought there was lead pollution in drinking water. It was no surprise that most of the guesses were near Flint, MI. Inside the lab we posted a the same map only with labels for the areas where lead pollution was reported. We also posted a map specific to locations in Massachusetts because of WPI's location.
In preparation for this event the whole team went to a general training, prepared posters specific to iGEM, our project, and the Kool Aid gel electrophoresis activity, and actually completed and explained each activity.
Worcester Technical High School
There were 10 freshman from Worcester Tech who visited. They each did a miniprep of a pre-spun down culture. They also were able to prepare a wet slide and compare 3 different plasmid expressions, high GFP, low GFP, and RFP. They were surprised that there was such a big difference between the high and low GFP. They were also surprised that their minipreps had such a high DNA yield; they were able to check this with the nano drop after completing their minipreps. Most had yields between 85 and 120 ng/μL. In addition to the activity, we also introduced ourselves, our project, and what iGEM means. The students and their two teachers were definitely very excited to hear about our project because they are directly affected by lead water pollution at their school. It was also a very important experience for our team because it made the issue both very real and very close to home.
WPI Women's Summer Program
We completed a quantitative fruit DNA extraction to compare blueberry and strawberry DNA. The students saw that usually the blueberries had more DNA, which was different than what most expected because of size. The students were put on teams of two, and one team member collected blueberry DNA while the other collected strawberry DNA. They measured out 20g of each fruit, and used specific measurements of reagents to extract the DNA. To quantify how much DNA was actually collected it was weighed at the end of the procedure. After completing the DNA extraction, the students worked on DNA puzzles, and DNA origami. This helped the students understand what the DNA they extracted would look like on a molecular level.
Social Media is a vital part to help engage both your local community and communities even 6,000 miles away. The WPI iGEM team utilized Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to give updates on the progress they made this summer.
Our Instagram was linked to our Facebook and Twitter for the entire summer, so anything posted on one was automatically posted to the other two! On Instagram, we currently have 300 followers which is up 139 followers from the previous WPI iGEM team. Our average likes on a photo was 53, which is up 33 total likes from last year. On Instagram, we had weekly postings, and averaged about 3 posts a week including our Fluorescent Friday fun posting which other teams starting doing, along with Meet the Team and all of our community outreach including pictures from Touch Tomorrow, Worcester Tech, and the Women in Science Camp.
45 postings were posted on our journey of iGEM this summer. Facebook was a main way to talk to other teams in both direct messages and on posts along with inform companies that liked our page about our accomplishments and real world applications, and keep WPI students updated. Facebook seemed to be our most effective social media, reaching an average for 550 people organically. Our most view post reached up to 4,000 people on the world wide web! From our previous team, the 2017 team was up 223 page likes, this can be seen in the figure below.
Along with all of our Instagram postings, Twitter was the main way we communicated with other teams and could support them by retweeting anything they needed more people to see. The 2017 team gained 100 followers on Twitter this past summer.