Communication of science to the general public is an important aspect of iGEM. It is critical, especially nowadays, to find ways for effective, engaging interactions between scientists and the public. The three main areas of our team's educational efforts were synthetic biology, microbiota, and the relationship between gut and mental health. However, we also wished to enhance the scientific talk in general. To do so, over the course of 2021, we have organized workshops, attended seminars, given online presentations, created a kids' science kit, published weekly educational posts, and hosted a podcast. Our target audience ranged from preschool students to industry stakeholders.
Aalto-Helsinki Podcast was created for better and wider outreach, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic which has posed limitations for outreach activities and events. Our objective was to raise awareness of not only iGEM and synthetic biology, but also science in general. To cover topics ranging from the gut to the area of life sciences, we interviewed some of the greatest minds in the field, industry partners, and fellow students. We tried to write each episode in such a manner that it would be understandable to all listeners, regardless of their background. However, our target audience was high school students and people above their age. All of the episodes were recorded in English to reach a wider public. Learn more about the podcast here.
Our podcast was actively promoted on different social media platforms, such as Instagram and LinkedIn, to make it even more accessible to a wider audience. We conducted a short Instagram poll at the end of the summer to see how our listeners felt about our podcast. From the listeners that replied to our poll, 100% said the episodes were easy to follow and that they learned something new. Based on these findings, we believe we have successfully spread more scientific knowledge to the general public in an easily digestible format.
We wanted to find a platform that would allow us to easily improve our science communication to the general public while also allowing individuals to easily engage and share their opinions and ideas. That is how our Instagram campaign "Educational Post" came to be. Overall nine posts were created. The topics were “What is iGEM?”, “What is the Gut Microbiome?”, “What is the Gut-Brain Axis?”, “Mental Health and COVID-19”, “What is Biosensing?”, “Does the Gut Microbiome Change?”, “What is Synthetic Biology?”, What is Cloning?”, and “What is GutLux?”. We also hosted "Fun Fact Friday," where science-related topics were presented as quizzes or polls in our Instagram stories. To see all of the posts, please visit our Instagram page @aaltohelsinki_igem.
Kid's Science Kit
We created a science kit and a children's booklet (read more about the children’s booklet below) with the goal of demonstrating that it is feasible to teach synthetic biology at a child-friendly level far earlier than our present educational system permits. The science kits include four different tasks: pH art, gut puzzle, DNA-keychain, and a game called “Salainen Sana” where kids need to crack the ‘DNA code’ to reveal the colors of physical features (e.g., the color of hair or eyes). We also included the kids’ booklet in the kits, as well as a teacher's handbook. Each kit has material for ten children. We distributed one kit to a pre-school, three to a primary school and one to an afterschool program in the Helsinki area.
The kids’ booklet is a 10-page booklet providing information on synthetic biology and gut health. In a kid-friendly manner, it addresses themes such as what is DNA, how to utilize synthetic biology to develop new characteristics, what happens to food when we digest it, and how to take better care of your gut. The booklet is aimed towards children in primary school and above, although we believe it could also be appropriate for younger children too who show interest in biology.
Heureka Workshop - Take a Piece of Science With You!
We organized an interactive workshop in Heureka, a Finnish science center, for people of all ages. Our goal was to use a fun handicraft to stimulate people's curiosity in synthetic biology and teach them more about DNA. Previous Aalto-Helsinki teams have usually run three different workshops in Heureka. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions we were only able to run one of the workshops we had designed. The name of our workshop was “Take a Piece of Science with You!” with the following description: “In this workshop, people of all ages get to weave satin cords into a DNA keychain. Simultaneously, we learn more about human DNA and witness how a meter-long satin cord condenses when knotted - much like DNA in our body!”. Also, our booklets were shared during the workshop for those who were interested in learning more about how synthetic biology may be used to develop new traits, as well as intestinal health.
Overall, we had a great time explaining synthetic biology, DNA, and other scientific topics to people. We were also delighted to see that our workshop was appropriate for individuals of all ages, just as we had hoped. During the six hours we were in Heureka, we had around 150 people visit our station. It was wonderful to witness how the participants ranged in age from four to sixty years old, and how science brought us all together regardless of our age or background. We had some excellent scientific discussions, and it was exciting to discover how much some of the children already understood about DNA. We also received very good feedback from the staff, who are experts in science education.
When taking photographs and videos of children, photo consent forms were filled out to secure parental consent.
Otaniemi High School
We, together with last year's team (Aalto-Helsinki 2020), were invited to give a presentation at one of the Otaniemi High School’s science courses for students interested in conducting their own scientific study in the future. We began with a quick overview of synthetic biology and how it may be used. We spoke about what iGEM is all about, and followed up our talk with a presentation by the previous Aalto-Helsinki 2020 team on their project. Finally, we presented to the class the ideas that we had been exploring in the early stages of our project. At the end of the lecture, we encouraged students to ask us questions through a Flinga board or by unmuting themselves. We received excited feedback and questions regarding our studies and the biology behind an iGEM project. Some of the questions and student comments can be seen in the Flinga mind map below.
Synthetic Biology Course
Aalto University's Synthetic Biology course seeks to introduce students to the topic and demonstrate various techniques that use synthetic biology to make advances. We had the pleasure to be invited to speak at one of the lectures to promote iGEM and its mission. We also shared our experience and challenges in creating a genetically modified instrument from scratch, as well as our project and its aims. We also asked for feedback on our project, as well as suggestions for how to improve it, and what ideas they could have for a competition of this nature.
iGEM IBO Evening
The International Biology Olympiad (IBO) is a prestigious high school biology competition. Every year, students from over 70 countries compete in the competition. Our team hosted an iGEM-IBO evening event for the Finnish student team that is being coached for the competition. A talk about synthetic biology, iGEM, and our research, as well as an informative quiz, were included in the event. The students were very curious about our project and had many good questions about its execution and implementation. We also talked about their future goals and what they would be interested in studying in the university. The high-school students got the chance to ask about majors studied by our team members and what exactly such studies entail during small group sessions.
TEK (Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland)
TEK is a Finnish trade union representing academic engineers and architects. Its mission is to represent its members' interests in the labor market, as well as to support education and technological growth in Finland. Apart from becoming our sponsor, TEK conducted an interview with us and published an article on synthetic biology, the iGEM competition, and our team's project in their magazine. The article can be found here.
We have been active on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn, where we have discussed the objectives of our project and its development. Furthermore, we have been writing a blog, which can be found here. We wanted to be active on different platforms to reach out to wider audience from all ages, in an approachable manner. This meant for example filming videos, writing blog posts, creating polls and stories.