In a multidisciplinary field such as synthetic biology, our technical language can be intimidating and scary for the general public to engage with emergent research. The aim of our Education and Communication initiatives is to try to minimize this barrier. From teaching students about the amazing capabilities of synthetic biology to utilizing social media to spread awareness, Duke iGEM has collaborated with organizations, schools, and other iGEM team in creating a more collaborative and open community for science learning and education.

Triangle Math and Science Academy Teaching

Sharing about the growing world of synthetic biology and educating those around us has always been a priority to our outreach team. Additionally, we are passionate about serving our community and wanted to find a way to integrate both of these goals into one project. To do so, we connected with a local high school to give a presentation about synthetic biology to their AP Biology class. This hour-long presentation consisted of a refresher of key biology topics, an introduction to laboratory techniques, and several interactive activities that allowed the students to collaborate with one another to solve synthetic biology related problems using the information they had just learned. We also introduced them to iGEM and shared about our own project, with the hope of inspiring some of the students to pursue research in similar fields or even participate in iGEM down the line. This experience was both fun and fulfilling, and we are already planning on giving similar presentations to other local schools in the future.

Figure 1. Duke iGEM Teaching at Triangle Math and Science Academy (Jihyeon J., Ashley J., Andy Q.) 

Angels Among Us 5K

        On October 2nd, a portion of our team joined the Angels Among Us 5k hosted by the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. The Angels Among Us 5k seeks to raise awareness and funding for the patients currently afflicted with brain cancer as well as highlight the stories of survivors. In attending this event, team members were able to directly interact with the local community of brain cancer survivors. One such survivor, Tom O’Donnell, spoke with us about how his fears of surgically induced complications lead him to run his first marathon. Now at marathon number twenty eight, Tom emphasized the importance of the close relationships that he formed with his healthcare providers throughout his treatment process. This sentiment about the significance of the relationships developed between patients and their physicians was echoed by the other survivors we spoke with. Participating in this event and being able to interact with cancer patients and survivors reminded our team of the human aspect of our project and allowed us to think more thoughtfully about the applications and impact of our work.

Figure 2. Duke iGEM at the Annual Durham Angels Among Us 5K Run (Jihyeon J., Konrad S.)

Educational Material Preparation (SYNBIO product)

We collaborated with the Duke Kunshan iGEM team to host the Duke x DKU Mini Jamboree to give teams an opportunity to present their work and learn about synthetic biology. As part of our mini jamboree, all teams were invited to work together to create SYN BIO, an educational outreach booklet featuring key six synthetic biology terms: Safety, Tyrosine, Nucleic Acid, Biomanufacturing, in-vivo gene editing, and origin of replication. Our SYN BIO educational outreach booklets were shared on social media (Twitter and Instagram) to reach the general public and for participating teams to distribute to their local communities. To read more, check out our Collaboration Page.

Figure 3. Duke x DKU SYNBIO product

Social Media Work

        In order to reach a broader and more diverse environment, our team decided to create an Instagram and Twitter account. These accounts gave us a platform to share about our project, introduce our team members, give daily laboratory updates, and spread awareness about causes related to our work. Additionally, these accounts allowed us to communicate with many iGEM teams from around the world, allowing for convenient communication that lead to collaborations, encouragement, and connections.

Coming: Museum of Life and Sciences Showcase

To further educate the public, especially young adults and childrens, about why we should all care about synthetic biology and its implications in genetic engineering, we are developing with the Durham Museum of Life and Science to design and create a new showcase for childrens and adults that will be featured in The Lab of the Investigate Health! exhibit. Although delayed due to plans of remodelling for coronavirus safety protocols, we designed showcase plans outlining what our teaching model would look like.

Figure 4. Previous exhibit done by the Cohen Lab from UNC Chapel Hill. We are looking to learn from their experiences and provide a fun, comprehensive, and collaborative experience in synthetic biology education

In our lesson plan, we aim to expose visitors to the fundamentals of what goes on in a synthetic biology lab. Therefore, we chose three specific ideas of synthetic biology to showcase: DNA electrophoresis, fluorescence, and PCR. For each topic, we created an interactive activity and showing that will allow visitors to see hands-on what synthetic biology entails. The first activity is loading agarose gels with dyes. The second activity is observing the essential Green Fluorescence Protein (GFP) in a tube under the supervision of a trained BSL2 lab technician. Lastly, we will be showcasing a thermocycler (MiniPCR) and explaining the critical role it plays in the field. We look forward to implementing the showcase later this year upon the reopening!

Coming: STEM partnership with Durham Immaculata School

Duke iGEM led speaker series and synthetic biology lessons for 4th grade and middle school students at Durham Immaculata school. As part of Durham Immaculata school’s STEM partner, Duke iGEM will organize education and outreach events throughout the coming year. We are in the process of creating a lesson plan for the students, which will include basic biology topics such as the central dogma, as well as a hands-on experiment activity to extract DNA from strawberries. We are looking forward to working with the students!