FCB:UANL Synbiofoam


Self education
On our team, we are convinced education is the main tool to encourage people to take action to solve current problems. It does not matter how well-planned a project is if people do not trust it; synthetic biology (and science in general) is facing a difficult situation in financial, social, and political terms, and there is no more powerful way to change this situation than spreading science and raising interest from the population.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdown, education also faced many challenges, where finding new tools and opportunities to communicate with different audiences in an effective way stands out. For this means, it is essential to look for new ways of teaching and communicating science; we need to implement strategies that allow us to awaken critical thinking and the interest of young people for research in an innovative way, breaking the schemes of the traditional educational model, taking this teaching beyond the exposure of concepts on a classroom.

Hence, we made use of different educational tools and platforms, with the purpose of reaching as many diverse audiences as possible. We mainly used social media and online platforms, the emerging tools for the new digital-living world (1). However, we are aware of the current economic situation in our state, so we also developed some activities that can be either carried out in person (i.e. our board game and storybook), or where we found the way to gave the information to our audience (i.e. we sent a brochure for students at risk of not continuing their studies).

First, we defined which pedagogical strategies we were going to use, as suggested by our advisor PhD Heber Torres. We defined the concepts we wanted to communicate based on our stakeholders' opinions, since most of them told us their concern of how little people know about different areas regarding ecology, fire safety and biotechnology. Thus, we decided to focus our efforts on raising awareness and awakening people’s interest in synthetic biology and the environment.

Tool used Desired audience Why did we use it?
Game-based learning Children and teenagers We wanted to use a creative and fun way to talk about fire incidents to have our younger audiences engaged and interested in continuing participating and learning (2).
Empirical knowledge Empirical knowledge We wanted to get our team members to know the most important laboratory techniques by actually doing them in the lab. Also, we used that knowledge to have them interpreting the results (3).
Study case Teenagers and young adults Our goal was to communicate the cause-consequence relationship of our actions and the effects over the environment. Analyzing a case and finding out what caused that situation seemed the best option to establish that concept (4).
Open dialogue and discussion Everyone We did not just want to talk and teach, but also to learn and hear from different points of view and arguments. Using this tool, we were able to set up a two-side dialogue (5).
Lectures and talks Adults and olders Lectures and talks using more technical concepts were intended for people that already know the foundations of the topics we were communicating. However, we tried to incorporate some interactive resources (6).
Storytelling, illustration music and photography Adults and olders Using different forms of art to communicate science can expand the ways in which we can convey certain feelings, start discussions, create intrigue, increase interest, and even highlight certain issues that otherwise would go unnoticed. We used a variety of artistic expressions in our activities (7).
Social media Everyone Social media is one of the most accessible tools we have, and it allows us to interact with our audiences and keep in touch with people even in the current lockdown situation (8).

Following the same line of the digital-living world explained before, we used different digital tools for our online activities. This usage goes from social media such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Zoom meetings, to other interactive platforms to complement our audience's engagement, (i.e. miro, padlet, platforms to make surveys to get to know the opinions of our audiences, and the tools used in the virtual congresses we participated on). The average number of people reached in each activity is reported in our communication section.

Since we focused our efforts in different communities and age groups, something very important to take into account is the language, as it can awaken interest, make something memorable, and even calm nervousness and anxiety about a certain topic (9). That was the reason why we decided to have experts’ insight; hence, we reached out to BSc Lisandro Bregant, an expert on evidence-based storytelling, who helped us shape our approach and the way we communicate our project to effectively keep both the attention and the interest of our audiences. All his opinions and feedback are reported later on this section.

Also, we know there are a lot of different groups and communities worried about the same topics as us, and trying to raise awareness on the population. In order to combine efforts with them, we set up some collaborations for some of our activities. The summary of collaborations can be seen in the next table, and more detailed information of how we collaborated and the activities we did together with iGEM teams is explained in our collaborations and communication sections respectively.

We made efforts to communicate scientific, environmental, and iGEM-related topics (all of those are detailedly explained in our communication section), but we also developed activities to raise awareness to the current issues women in science are facing, and to encourage girls and young women (further explanation is provided on our inclusivity section). For this purpose, we collaborated with many iGEM teams (find more details in our collaborations section), but we also connected with other groups and organisations outside the iGEM competition, which are listed below.

Who? Why?
Quiero Ser Biotec Her creator, Jannireth Guerrero, is a biotechnologist that makes science communication focused on biotechnology, trying to raise awareness bn s of current social topics. This account has more than 9,000 followers.
Ciencia Mágica It is an account dedicated to science communication focused on sustainability. Its creator, Chemist Alondra Fraustro, greatly inspires us due to her environmental and educational efforts, Ciencia Mágica counts with more than 118,000 followers.
CONJUVECyH It is the organism in charge of the communication of science activities in our state. For us, it was a great opportunity to be able to collaborate with them in several activities, as it represents a way to inspire more young people from our region.
Biotec Latina It is a community of Latin American biotechnology groups and initiatives; we have collaborated with them in several activities, with the aim of breaking the language barrier and setting the foundations of a supporting network in our region.

Finally, considering that education is a two-way tool, we tried to encourage our audiences to ask us questions and discuss their opinions and arguments, with the purpose of establishing a conversation and learning from their opinions, feelings, and experiences. In this way, we also made some efforts to educate ourselves on many areas and continuously learn throughout the season.

In order to have the proper theoretical foundations for science communications, we reached out to experts on the subject. To document it, we used the same OVFA (Opinions, Values, Feelings, and Actions) analysis we applied to our stakeholders contributions (explained in our human practices section. You can see more information about every advisor, how they helped us and what we did by clicking on the icons.

PhD Heber Torres
He is a Biotechnologist from our university, with a PhD on Communication and Educational Innovation. We decided to contact him because of his experience with both educational and scientific areas, in addition to his vast expertise developing and evaluating iGEM projects. In particular, we were interested in receiving feedback on the general plan of our educational activities.

Opinions: He told us that the most important aspects of an educational project are metrics and measurement, since we cannot improve something we cannot measure. In general, he suggested finding a way to properly analyze the impact of our activities and be aware that quality is more important to quantity when referring to educational stuff.

Values: Responsibility, empathy, and good communication. For him, reflexiveness is one of the most important things for us as a group making science communication.

Feelings: He expressed his interest in continuing to give us insight, and excitement to see us focused on making educational efforts using the adequate theory.

Actions: He helped us shape the survey we did on our education continuity analysis (further information, as well as the survey, are available on our communication section), and the survey we made for our own learning analysis. Due to his comments, we decided to reach out to PhD Matteo Farinella for us to further complement our activities. Last, we made the decision to add the future perspectives and improvements found later on this section.

PhD Matteo Farinella
He is a neuroscientist, molecular biologist, and scientific illustrator, with a lot of experience of making comics and illustrations about complex scientific topics. He is also a science multimedia producer at the University of Columbia in New York.

Opinions: He gave us positive opinions about our educational activities, with focus on the storybook “A collection of environmental stories” (to read it please go to our communication section), an initiative that called his attention due to the design and the scientific and environmental aspects we took into account, as well as the usage of metaphors and identifiable characters as a way to connect with children. Regarding the methods for measuring the impact of our educational activities, he strongly recommended us to make an initial survey and when possible, analyze how the knowledge increased on a before-after study. In his opinion, it is difficult to have proper tools to measure impact or learning, and suggested us to just ask our audiences for opinions on our simpler activities.

Values: Having empathy with children at the moment of asking questions about their opinions for a certain topic and being responsible with the use we give to the information we collect. Also, he told us we must be passionate about science communication, so we can transmit that passion to the children we talk to.

Feelings: He showed a lot of excitement to see the outcome of our activities, and asked us to share a copy of our storybook with him at the end of the season. In addition, he expressed his interest in developing science communication material for students who do not like science, with the purpose of raising their interest.

Actions: We incorporated his suggestion of making an initial survey into our education continuity analysis (available at our communication section), where we used an initial analysis to shape the approach of our activities; also, we used the before-after analysis on our own learning, as explained later on this section. Likewise, we asked our audiences for opinions; some of the most representative comments obtained are shown in this section.

BSc Lisandro Bregant
He is an expert on evidence-based storytelling; in his own words, he “helps leaders, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and people that have to go out to get a scholarship for their children”. We got inspired by his efforts communicating the importance of storytelling to catch the attention of an audience, so we decided to reach out to him to have their feedback regarding the way we present our project.

Opinions: He told us how to improve the discourse by talking about the way our problem (fire incidents) can actually affect our audiences, in order to get them involved as participants of the narrative.

Values: Empathy to comprehend the sociocultural background of our audience and try to use it to catch their attention and get to manage the ideas.

Feelings: He showed a little concern of how we could manage all our project concepts, since there is a lot of information.

Actions: We improved the general way we presented our project sections, focusing on the general introduction and the storytelling of our educational activities and our presentation video.

Underwriters Laboratories
It is the international organism in charge of foam’s certifications. UL highly helped us in several areas of our project (a detailed description of the whole feedback received is reported on our human practices section). However, in this section we will focus on the feedback received regarding the educational activities. Specifically, Dr Deepa Shankar, their education partnership manager, with experience working with companies such as Disney, gave us exceptionally important insight.

Opinions: She told us the approach we decided to use was brilliant, especially the usage of our pet Dana la rana to connect with children, and art in general, focusing on the usage of graphic design we did, as well as music. She suggested us to find influencers or people using social media to communicate the same concepts we are working with, to reach more people.In addition, she proposed ask our younger audiences to make drawings of what they learnt with our activities, as a way to communicate their opinions and perspectives.

Values: For her, awareness of your audience's feedback and opinions is very important. Also, multiculturality can be achieved by collaborating with people of the community and incorporating different points of view in our activities (more information available in our inclusivity section).

Feelings: In general, she showed excitement and hope. The general comments were positive; however, she said that we could improve the way we listen to our audiences’ opinions by opening our minds to other expression forms.

Actions: We incorporated drawings as a form of receiving feedback, especially in our storybook storytelling event; the drawings are shared later on this page. Regarding her suggestion of reaching out to influencers, we established several collaborations with people and groups already using social media as a communication method for different audiences (those collaborations are previously explained on this section)

Teaching and communication are complex areas to work with, since it is important to consider the language, tools, and many concepts and theories that us as undergraduate students may not know at all. Thus, with the purpose of precisely designing our activities to actually have an impact on the public, we decided to reach out to experts in those areas to take advantage of the usage of the visual and conversational tools we have within our reach. In the following sections, we present the visual and conversational tools we used.

We did not want to promote one-sided perspectives on our audiences. Hence, following the expert’s recommendations, we maintained a neutral position where we explained the different points of view of the concepts we communicated, trying to encourage critical thinking in our audiences to form their own opinions, using evidence-based learning (10). This approach of considering the different perspectives was taken into account in all the areas of our project (for example, the dual-use considerations explained in our safety section, the alternative business plan incorporated into our entrepreneurship section, and the novel multi-centered approach explained in our human practices section).

Art is an element that surrounds us constantly and although its presence can be subtle in our everyday life it would be wrong to state that these types of expression can be found exclusively in museums and art galleries (7). We also know that the arts can deeply engage people by focusing on the affective domain of learning, this including emotion. By approaching the audience in this way we can later focus on the cognitive domain with other strategies (11). This alternative approach expands the ways in which we can create intrigue, increase interest and even start new discussions about certain problems or scientific solutions.

A variety of tools such as storytelling, illustration, music, and photography were used and although incorporating fine arts into our project was not our priority, other branches such as illustration and graphic design were more heavily implemented to both communicate a story, a particular message and to reach the rest of the aforementioned objectives. Given that the public may be in lack of a scientific understanding, we can explore a given topic and aim for engagement by creating content such a storybook directed to children, a participatory, community-based activity alongside of it or a musical representation of a real issue in order to achieve way more useful results (12).


Since the beginning of the year, we conducted a survey (as suggested by our advisors) with high school students from areas with high dropout rates in order to get to know the social background that has led to this situation, for us to better shape our activities and make a little contribution to all the efforts made to solve this problem. The complete inspiration, as well as the survey and the selection of people surveyed is explained in our communication section. In the following paragraphs, we are going to explain the statistical analysis carried out.

For this purpose, we used the statistical analysis program SPSS, as recommended by our advisor PhD Heber Torres; on this program, we used Spearman's correlation coefficient, since it is useful to compare groups using numeric ranges (just as the numeric scales we obtained in our survey responses) (13).

With the help of our advisor, we decided which variables were going to be included in the survey: the chances of continuing studying, and the availability of information about different careers. The usage of these variables was based on the lack of information correlating both, since other factors (i.e. economy, and family issues) had already been reported as decisive for the decision making process. But in the specific case of the available information about universities and careers, there is no clear information of its impact on dropout rates.

For the obtained results, the correlation values go from 1 (total positive correlation) to -1 (total negative correlation). The obtained values are shown in the table below, where the values taken into account are highlighted.

As previously explained, we used two variables measured on a 1-5 scale, which are:

  • Likelihood of continuing studying: the 1 (impossible) to 5 (very likely) scale is represented by the code VAR00002 to VAR00006 on the program.

  • Access to information: the 1 (no information available) to 5 (a lot of information available) scale is represented by the code VAR00010-VAR00014 on the program.

Every variable was analyzed individually to ensure a complete comparison between the groups. The lack of values on the first row is explained because not a single person answered 1 for that question in the survey, therefore, there is no correlation with any of the other variables.

As it can be observed, the correlation values for VAR00006 and VAR00014 were negative, which is something to be worried about, because it means that the higher the students wish to continue their studies is, the less they think there is helpful information available. This information leads us to conclude that there is a gap in the information delivery, and even the students trying to find information are not able to find it.

Throughout the year, we wanted to measure the impact of each one of our activities; we thus incorporated different strategies suggested by our advisors, such as documenting the comments said by our audiences, using surveys, registering the number of assistants to our activities, asking our younger audiences to make drawings, making activities on social media to get people involved and analyze the interactions, etc. On this page we already showed numeric data of our audiences, as well as the results of one of the surveys we developed; next, we show some of the opinions and participation gathered.

Next, you can see an animation with some of the comments we have received from our audiences.
Next, here are some of the drawings our younger audiences sent us.

Throughout the year, we encouraged dialogue in all our activities, since our region (and Latin America in general) is characterized by its multicultural context. In consequence, all the opinions, feelings, and points of view of the general population about synthetic biology and environmental issues have a socio-cultural background. For us to understand that, we analyzed what we could learn to educate ourselves and improve our relationship and our way to communicate things to the population.

Something we learnt was the importance of properly communicating and applying the different concepts and ideas to all our activities. For us to do that, we attended several courses during our iGEM journey; we participated in workshops and sessions of many different topics. Those are reported on the sections we applied the knowledge we got (to see some of the courses, you can go to our entrepreneurship , safety , human practices , and communication sections).

In order to measure our learning throughout the year, we developed a survey to get to know how every team member perceived their personal and professional growth while participating on iGEM. It included questions regarding the acquisition of soft skills and technical knowledge, professional and personal development opportunities, and even reflections on how being part of the iGEM team has impacted us. The survey is available as a PDF file by clicking here, and the overall results are summarized in the following graphs.

As part of our self-education activities, we developed a mentorship program for our young team members, in which they were able to go to the laboratory for a month in order to learn laboratory techniques, since they are not having practical sessions on their career because of the lockdown. During this time, our wet-lab team developed a plan to teach them the theoretical foundations and the practical skills needed to learn the basic molecular biology and biotechnology techniques. Detailed explanation of the plan is available at our communication section, and the safety considerations we took into account are mentioned in our safety section.

Luisa Rendón Garlant
During a month I was able to go to the lab and take part of the wet lab team. Right now, due to the pandemic we all have been missing lab practices and the basic protocols we are supposed to know how to do. Thanks to this opportunity I was able to better understand some of the things I was learning at college and put up to date my lab skills. The team members that are working on the wet lab helped me throughout the way and were patient with me always answering my questions and explaining all the fundamentals of the protocols.

Mauricio Reyes Elizondo
This opportunity has led me to discover and practice new skills that I haven’t experienced before. This was an exceptional period to develop in many areas such as molecular biology, microbiology, but most importantly, synthetic biology. The time, the place, the activities and the environment with my teammates brought me a great experience and invaluable knowledge. I don’t have anything to say other than the pleasure of being part of this extraordinary team!

Baruch Sebastian Pérez Villanueva
I’ve learned a lot of things since I started working at the FCB-UANL lab. I'm very grateful for this opportunity, because of the pandemics I lost a lot of chances to learn some skills that would help me to become a better student and a good researcher in the future. But thanks to the work in our project I’ve had the fortune to learn from the very basics like how to properly use a micropipette to more complex protocolos like transforming bacteria, extracting DNA and expressing proteins. What I am more grateful about is that I had the chance to work with an excellent team and made very good friends.

Cynthia Elizabeth Valenzuela Chapa
This year I was lucky to be able to go to the laboratory on the summer, and it was really one of the best experiences of my life, not only because I learned more of lab techniques than in all my career, but because I was able to help a little to develop our own research project, that besides being able to learn all this with my friends, made this an unforgettable experience. This summer really changed me, because it allowed me to learn many things most of my current classmates were unable to learn yet because of the pandemic, so I am really grateful for that. Finally, this summer experience made me fall in love with lab research, so now I am completely sure this is what I want to do in the future.


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Our 2021-2022 iGEM project is generously supported by