Team:NAWI Graz/Education


To increase the degree of popularity of iGEM in public, we organized several events and held lectures at different occasions. One of those events was visiting Austrian High Schools to talk about iGEM in general, our project idea and synthetic biology. To make it even more understandable for the students on how genetic engineering works, we performed some experiments with them.

HLW - Wolfsberg

In spring 2017, we visited our first school in Austria, the “HLW Wolfsberg” in Carinthia. This school is a secondary school with the focus on industrial management, but the students of the 5th grade have a specialized course called “genetics”, where they learn everything about genes and DNA technology and all the processes behind. For this reason, the school gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves and dive deeper into the subject with the pupils.

To make it more comprehensible for the students, we prepared a powerpoint presentation. In the course of this presentation, we discussed the iGEM competition - what it is all about and what you have to do to become a part of it. After talking about iGEM in general, we introduced them to our project and explained to them how we want to create a  robot-bacteria interface. Since the students attended the genetics class, we also discussed the topic genetic engineering, some advantages and disadvantages of its use and the evaluation of potential risks. On one hand, it was important for us to raise awareness for genetic engineering and to engage in prejudices, but on the other hand, we also wanted to hear their opinion and where they see potential applications of genetic engineering in the future.

After the presentation, we prepared an experiment in which we isolated DNA from strawberries and bananas using salt, dish liquid and ethanol. Some of the pupils were very enthusiastic about the isolation process and to see how easy it could be, generally, to isolate DNA with everyday tools.

Because of the attentiveness and curiosity of the students for all the topics, the presentation was a big success for us. Since natural science is not a main focus in that kind of school, we were really impressed by the knowledge of some of the students.

BRG - Kepler

In Autumn 2017, we visited the “BRG Kepler High School” in Graz, Styria. This is also a secondary school with specialized courses in natural science, so we thought it could be another great audience to deepen into the subject.

The procedure was planned the same as at the other school, but this time we got supported by the “NAWI Graz Institution”. and the “Human.Technology Styria”.(HTS). The reason why those two institutions supported us was not only to talk about iGEM and our project, but also to show the students some possible fields of studies and what you can do with this kind of education for your future career.

The “NAWI Graz Institute” talked about the possible studies students could attend at the Karl-Franzens University and Technical University of Graz, since the institution offers “joint NAWI Graz study programmes” in Bioscience, Chemistry, Earth, Space and Environmental Sciences, Mathematics and Physics, instead of separated ones.

This was followed by a presentation from “Human.Technology Styria”, in which the students were shown the possibilities they have after university and different fields they could work in. Since HTS is an economic initiative focused on strengthening the competitive capabilities of Styrian companies, institutions and scientific bodies working in the field of human technology, we also discussed the newest technological developments in the field of life science and human health care.

All in all, the schools visits were a great success. We achieved our goals by educating the students on topics like gene technology, biotechnology and synthetic biology, as well as promoting iGEM and talking about our project. Hopefully, we were also able to inspire some of the pupils to pursue a career in natural sciences.

Talking to students in that age can sometimes present some difficulties because of their “I am not interested at all - mood”. For us, it was really impressing on how they paid attention and tried to listen and understand the topics, despite the complexity of the content. No one of us ever did presentations like this in schools before, thus we were very proud that we were able to achieve such good results all together and show them some possibilities for their future career.

“I personally think it is very important to arouse the curiosity of pupils at an early stage, that they understand that one can also achieve a lot in Austria and be part of something big. It is great to see how students contribute to scientific progress” - Silvia Joham (Teacher for Biology and Chemistry at HLW - Wolfsberg).

Planning and designing of our project

In February 2017, our team visited a seminar called “Synthetic Biotechnology “, where we designed our project plan with the aid of our secondary PI Birgit Wiltschi. We received help to divide the project in subparts to work out the details and got supported on how to reach our goals.

To get a better overview about everything connected to the iGEM competition, we subdivided our project into three main areas: finances, experiment and public outreach. Each part was worked out by us to the smallest detail and all the goals we wanted to achieve during our project were precisely defined.

Especially in the part of finances, we had to calculate exactly how much money we needed per participant and how we wanted to get the money. For each eventuality, worst-case and best-case scenarios were worked out. It was particularly important to think about all the incoming costs at an early stage, in order to predict the required total sum in the end.

For public outreach, it was important to think about all the events we wanted to organize and how to plan them. At this point, we also had to discuss on how to reach the public and how to advertise these events. One of our main platforms to work with was Facebook.Using Facebook made it possible to reach out to students from the Karl-Franzens University and Technical University in Graz, as well as other interested people.

For the experimental part, it was important to think about our project idea and design a very detailed plan. This plan included milestones we had to reach in a certain point in time. Besides this, it also included the complete design of our constructs as well as all the methods we wanted to use during our project. Another important thing was to think about all the laboratory material that was required during the summer months.