To increase the degree of popularity of iGEM in public, we organized several events and held lectures at different occasions. We engaged with people from around 17 to 18 years up to 60+ years. Through many social events, we successfully taught thousands of people about genetic engineering and synthetic biology, as well as the iGEM competition and what is all about.
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 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 part of it. After talking about iGEM in general, we introduced them into our project “Colibot” and explained them how we want to create a robot-bacteria interface. Since the students attended the genetic 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 the 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 University of Technology 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.
Followed by “Human.Technology Styria” presentation, 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 from 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).
For support, we invited following experts:
Günter Getzinger Ass.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.,
Günter Getzinger studied chemical engineering at the Technical University of Graz, as well as philosophy at the Karl-Franzens Universtiy of Graz. He is working in the field of philosophy of technology, theoretical and practical aspects of sustainable technology design and technology assessment and product evaluation.
Schober Michael Maximilian Dr.med.univ
Schober Michael Maximilian studied medicine at Medical University of Graz and was working at ZMF (“Zentrum für molekulare Forschung”) in the field of diabetes research. Now, he is more focusing on working with biomarkers at CBmed.
Sandy Schmidt Dr. rer. nat.
Sandy Schmidt studied biochemistry at the University of Greifswald, Germany, and is now working as group leader at the Technical University of Graz since she finished her post-doc at Technical University of Delft.
Merle David Adrian BSc
Merle David Adrian studies medicine at Medical University of Graz and has a bachelor in molecular biology at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz. He is working at the CBmed, Customized Soutions for international Biomarker Research, a company working in the field of biomarker research to develop solutions and products for patient care and cure.
Tomislav Cernava Dr.techn. BSc MSc
Tomislav Cernava, who did his bachelor in molecular biology and his master in biochemistry and molecular biomedicine at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz. For his PhD, he specialized deeper into the field of biotechnology at the Technical University of Graz, followed by his post-doc at ACIB and Roombiotic GmbH. Now, he is working at the institute for environmental biotechnology as an university assistant.
Martin Stefanec BSc
Martin Stefanec, who did his bachelor in biology and his master in behavioral physiology at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz. He is now working as a researcher in the field of algorithm development and implementation, as well as an experiment designer and modeler at ALL (Artificial Life Lab).
Together with Nerd Nite, we hosted their first ever event in Graz. If you are wondering what Nerd Nite is – it´s an event format, where people from different fields are holding 15-minutes presentations about certain scientific topics they are interested in. These can be subjects with which the persons are intensively engaged or an area in which they are working in, but of course, all scientifically related.
It all started, when the inventor of the event was asked, why he had been absent in his local pub for the last three months. He started a presentation about the expedition he did before and because the audience was so excited about it, it became a regular event.
By now, Nerd Nite is a monthly event in more than 90 cities across the world, during which several people give short and funny, but informative presentations about different disciplines. The inventors believe, that learning is more fun when you’re drinking with friends.
As we were able to host the first Nerd Nite ever in Austria, we were very proud to present our iGEM project there as well.
One of the participants at the event was Alex Murer, former molecular biology student, who did present his start-up “Briefcase Biotech GmbH”. He is now working on a DNA-printer that makes it possible to print primer in the shortest possible time. “Producing your own DNA Primers becomes as convenient as brewing a nice cup of coffee”, Alex Murer. Check out their homepage!
Daniel Derndorfer, another participant, did present “OLGA”, Open bioLab Graz Austria, the first biohacker laboratory in Austria, where people can meet and discuss scientific topics and work on their own research.
Martin Stefanec presented “ALL”, Artificial Life Lab, an interdisciplinary workgroup of the Department of Zoology from the Karl-Franzens University of Graz. In this group, students are working on bio-inspired robots, bee simulations, virtual brains or robot swarms for example. Take a look at their homepage!
After the presentations, there were lots of exciting discussions about future possibilities in the field of research and science. In addition, new ideas were raised about how to make laboratory life easier for scientists. We are curious to see, which of these great ideas might be implemented.
A “Spritzerstandl” is kind of a traditional thing at universities in Austria - here we call a glass of wine with mineral water a “Spritzer”. It is an event, where people come together to talk, drink and socialize while having fun after a long and hard day of classes. We decided to use these kind of events to call attention of the students from the Technical University and Karl-Franzens University of Graz for the iGEM competition.
Since our team consists of students from many different fields like biotechnology, biochemistry, philosophy or computer science, the event attracted a very diverse audience of upcoming future scientists. Because of the broad range of different fields, it was very interesting discussing scientific topics from various perspectives. We took the chance to explain what iGEM is about as well as how to become part of it and what we are doing.
Besides the social advantages and informational transfer, those so called “Spritzerstandln” also offered the opportunity to raise a little bit of money for the iGEM competition. All in all, the “Spriterstandln” we hosted were a big success, since we were able to promote our team among the students and start a discussion about iGEM and science while having some drinks and relax.
Under this motto, the Technical University of Graz is hosting the Welcome Days in cooperation with alumniTUGraz. During the Welcome Days, first-year students receive the most important information for a successful start to the TU Graz and at the same time, a first insight into the working world of engineers. At this yearly event, the university offers an overview of the university´s services and the wide range of possibilities for support in different aspects in and around the study program for the freshmans.
We took the opportunity to present iGEM in general as well as our project idea. Besides to this, we have also offered our support for the first-year students and swamped them with tips for the new phase of their lives.
At the event, the university allocated us a stand with which we could present our poster and iGEM brochures. To get the attention of the students, we had the idea to serve pudding in petri dishes.
The first course for all the freshmen in Austria is the “introduction into the field of study”. There, the students get the most important information about their certain branch of study as well as the main critical steps at the beginning. By the way - “Erstis” stands for freshmen in german.
At this lecture, representatives of university held a presentation about everything concerning the study: how the systems works, how one can apply for classes and sign in for labs, the general handling of the online-system, the best order to take courses and other study related things. They also offered us, and other study organizations, the chance to present our project idea and what the iGEM competition is about.