Scientific efforts never stand alone. Whether it be through educational outreach or partnerships, scientific communication is an integral part of any work we do as scientists and consequently, the work that we do in iGEM. Communication presents the opportunity to spark inspiration for science in others and present our work to potential stakeholders or professionals within similar disciplines By educating the public about different topics such as ––STEM, biology, genetics, and our specific project topic –– we sought to widen our audience to reach different age groups, countries, and people who differ in learning ability and socioeconomic status.
Making Synthetic Biology Accessible Through...
1. DIFFERENT AGE GROUPS
With the rise of biotechnology as an industry, it is more important than ever for scientists to inspire curiosity in STEM in younger audiences. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the relevance of scientific knowledge for public of all ages — encouraging a diverse set of individuals to be well-informed about topics in molecular biology is crucial. As such,synthetic biology education should be generalized to accommodate all age groups with sensitivity and constructive learning opportunities.
The rewritten video series models scientific understanding for people of different ages, aiming to ameliorate science education and communication of synthetic biology. It was intended to "rewrite" the way that biology is currently presented to cater towards people that science research happens for. People from different professions, ages, and educational backgrounds were interviewed for their thoughts on how biology has had a presence in their lives and if they have ever gotten to learn about the field of synthetic biology. We asked them what a field like this could mean for their lives and future. They brought to light some of the shortcomings in the number of problems that could be addressed by creative genetic engineering solutions. They also acted as springboards for ideation in our project and provided feedback for where we envisioned our project to go down the road. We felt that we had helped educate them on how to extend beyond the confines of what they understand biology to be now and inform them about future developments within this field.
Geering Up, tailored to high school students interested in pursuing engineering studies for university, aimed to provide the key foundational knowledge surrounding synthetic biology and genetic engineering solutions. In partnership with Geering Up UBC, a STEM club aimed to provide an interactive workshop for highschool and junior high students to learn more about STEM related fields, UBC iGEM created a workshop on genetic engineering. Here, we taught the students the basics of the central dogma of biology, CRISPR and DNA manipulation, plasmids, and various cases of ethics in the genetic engineering field. Through these workshops, we hoped to spark enthusiasm in synthetic biology and through this, in the bioengineering field in general for these young students to pursue.
Adventures of Kleb
We believe that learning relevant concepts in science can happen at any age, even as young as pre-school if given age-appropriate resources. “The Adventures of Kleb” is a storybook written and illustrated by various members of our team in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This book, designed for pre-school age children is meant to introduce children to the world of microorganisms that exists all around us. We also included age-appropriate learning objectives such as counting and colour recognition. Additionally, we partnered with Fun Ville Daycare Center to hold live storybook reading sessions and engage with students directly. We also coordinated with Child Care Options (CCRR) to share our PDF version of the book on a bulletin for early childhood educators who can use it to further explain the need for frequent hand washing and social distancing measures that are currently in place.
2. A GLOBAL SCALE
A considerable amount of iGEM’s praise comes from its ability to host teams from more than 40 different countries for the same purpose, uniting knowledge of synthetic biology throughout the world. As such, the UBC iGEM team sees it as a necessity to immerse ourselves in this universality through collaboration with both national and international young scientists. Communications that have involved discussion of both scientific and non-scientific topics have allowed us to understand common struggles and goals between young scientists and innovators of different backgrounds.
Our collaboration with the iGEM team of Humboldt Berlin was based on our common interests in using Salmonella as a novel reporter system for cancer treatment and tumour characterization. We decided to highlight the ways in which Salmonella can be used to develop clinical solutions by designing infographics to inform the public of i) the clinical implications of cancer, and ii) the potential of Salmonella for possibly mitigating some of these effects. As researchers, we were able to share our project efforts with the general public through platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Through this collaborative experience, we effectively highlighted how our approaches are clinically relevant, as well as answered commonly asked questions about cancers and Salmonella.
Apart from international efforts, it is also important to harbour this same enthusiasm for science within our local community. STEM Sorority is a Vancouver-based club which strives to empower girls and young women to pursue STEM fields.
Here, our all-female presenters presented on the different paths to research and industry work and they have learned along the way. Gender-based prejudice existing in biotechnology related fields were discussed and how we as a society can circumvent those challenges were discussed as well. We were grateful to listen to the different perspectives of these young women in STEM: their concerns, interests, and most importantly their excitement at what has yet to be accomplished in the ever-changing field of synthetic biology and biotechnology.
As part of this collaboration, our team hosted a Q&A event on social media where young females in high school were encouraged to submit their questions about pursuing an education or career as a woman in STEM. Our female-identifying team members addressed these questions and provided essential advice and feedback on these challenges by sharing their personal stories.
Further details about our collaboration with STEM Sorority, as well as recordings of our Q&A event, can be found on their website.
Synthetic Biology Curriculum
Reaching all corners of the globe with our outreach endeavors is an impossible task, unless educational content is publicly available. Our video-based synthetic biology curriculum focused on dispersing information about synthetic biology as a field and its exciting applications to real-world problems.
The videos are designed to present these innovative developments to the audience in a concise and interactive way. This year, the SynBio Curriculum focuses on two major and relevant concepts: vaccine and organoid development.
iGEM Brazil Collaboration
Our collaboration with iGEM team USP-Brazil has allowed us to diversify our outreach efforts throughout multiple continents. The UBC iGEM x USP iGEM collab included working on two educational projects that aimed to communicate and expose Brazilian children and teenagers to the beauty of science and synthetic biology, having weekly meetings from April until September. One of the projects worked on was called “Scientific Camp”, in which children in elementary school were exposed to a personalized fantastic narrative that changed depending on their preferences, and included scientific challenges throughout the story to go to the next level of the story, engaging the children in a fun way, while stimulating their investigative reasoning skills and learning science. The collaboration included the elaboration of the entire scientific camp, including the planning of each scientific challenge, as well as refinement of the story.
As we worked together on designing the hands-on activities and experiments for the scientific camp, we realized that language barriers, disparities in access to technology such as smartphones and laptop computers, as well as access to the internet all affect the delivery and success of our educational outreach efforts in these Brazilian communities. At each step along the way, it was important for us to consider ways in which we could design our activities to be more accessible and understandable for all students.
Specifically, we collaborated with the iGEM USP team to develop the following activities for the scientific camp:
1) Petri dish handprint:
We developed this to be conducted as an in-person activity, abiding by all the sanitary criteria and COVID-19 guidelines. Petri dishes were prepared with agar medium and each child was asked to leave their handprint once before washing their hands and once after their hands had been thoroughly washed. The intention of this activity was to emphasize the importance of hygiene and hand-washing practices by showing the difference between microorganism presence in the handprints taken before and after washing.
2) Food chain activity:
In this activity, children would receive a picture with various organisms in an ecosystem's food web, such as producers, primary, secondary and tertiary consumers. The objective of this activity was to trace as many food chains as possible in order to create a complex food web that showed diverse trophic relationships.
Although we designed this activity, it could not be conducted in the scientific camp this year.
3) Memory game:
This activity was held on an online, interactive platform, with the intention of quizzing children on the last day of the camp to review the various scientific concepts and experiments covered during previous days in the camp. The questions included concepts worked on in all previous activities: the Microbe Drop, Petri Dish, Coarse Salt Crystallization, CO2 Balloon, CinePalito and Ecological Bingo.
The other project worked on during the collaboration was the contribution of questions to the Brazilian Olympiad of Synthetic Biology (OBBS), in which Brazilian teenagers currently enrolled in high school could participate in a nation-wide exam that had an objective to encourage interest in the field of synthetic biology and employ critical thinking skills in science. The online format of this olympiad would allow for quick and equal access to the activities through a standard phone plan, and the questions of the olympiad were coordinated between our two teams. This allowed for us to contribute to the dissemination of STEM knowledge in people within differing socioeconomic conditions, where information of this kind is harder to get by.
3. PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT LEARNING ABILITIES
Despite our efforts to reach all age groups and nationalities with scientific educational material, we recognize that all individuals learn differently. Hence, we must account for these differences that would otherwise hinder the audience’s ability to receive information.
The C.O.D.E. Initiative Foundation
For this reason, we have collaborated with an initiative that focuses on teaching code to both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals with conditions such as ADHD or dyslexia, specifically youth. Their goal is to diversify the accessibility of STEM and coding to the public. In our collaboration, we prepared Bits of Bio, a workshop series consisting of three lectures with interactive simulations and activities that navigated the basics of life science and genetics.
4. EDUCATIONAL MATERIAL IN DIFFERING MEDIUMS
Even if we tailor our outreach materials to the widest possible range of audiences, every person has a personal preference of how they prefer to receive educational content. Through having a wide range of mediums through which we can distribute our educational material, knowledge becomes more accessible to all the audiences we want to reach. For this reason, we made sure our work spanned written content, video or visual content, and interpersonal content such as workshops or project-based meeting discussions. Each initiative is consequently labeled as one of the three: