<!DOCTYPE html> Communication



We are already witnessing the catastrophic effects of climate change, from heatwaves to hurricanes to ocean acidification, amongst other extreme weather events. This is a crisis that will continue to afflict humanity for the foreseeable future. We have to act now. We have to act fast. And we have to act together. 

This makes public education and awareness around climate change all the more important and necessary. Realizing the threat climate change poses to lives and livelihoods is the first step to bringing about change through collective action. 

It is also an essential step toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, SDG target 13.3 states: Improve education, awareness-raising, and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.

Public Education and Engagement has thus been one of the most important aspects of our project this year. We aimed to reach as many people in as many diverse communities as possible through our outreach initiatives.

Synthetic biology has the potential to combat many pressing issues humanity faces today, including climate change. However, being a fairly emerging field, the ideas and applications of Synthetic Biology are not as popular in public perception, which was also a guiding force in how we conceptualized our education initiatives.

Our outreach initiatives primarily focused on students, from children as young as five years old, all the way to college students. We did this for two main reasons. The first being that climate change is going to be a significant concern in the future, one that the youth of today will inherit, making it paramount to raise awareness, for they will be the leaders of tomorrow. The second being that the COVID-19 pandemic made education digital. We reasoned that it would be easier now more than ever to reach a larger audience, irrespective of geography, language, or background since more students were engaging with educational resources online than ever before. 

We also prioritized diversity, accessibility, and inclusivity throughout, and wanted to make sure our content and engagement reached everyone irrespective of their demographic.

We learned that only about 26% of school children in India are instructed in English1, and thus translated a lot of our outreach material, which was originally in English, to regional languages. We also organized an audio webinar for visually impaired students and made a silent film for deaf or hard-of-hearing students, to further ensure that spoken language was not a barrier.

For very young students, we designed an interactive and fun activity book about climate change. We also worked with an illustrator to create a comic book exploring climate change, synthetic biology, and our own project idea. 

For high school students, we designed a survey on climate change and synthetic biology, to better understand their perceptions since they would have likely come across these issues before. We used the results of the survey to guide us in preparing targeted outreach materials, such as an educational video series titled ‘SynBio 101’, and a host of other interactive activities.

We also hosted an art and essay competition for school students of all ages to promote discussion and critical thinking on the topic of climate change. 

To reach out to students from marginalized communities, we collaborated with Disha2, which is a student-run social outreach initiative at our institute, that aims for socioeconomic equity through education, to organize an educational webinar.

We also engaged with the general public through articles in newspapers and television, and infographics and posters on our social media.

Activity Book

We felt that a tactile, and visually appealing medium would be the most effective way to engage with very young students. We thus curated an activity book that takes these young minds through an immersive journey explaining how our planet is changing, and how they can help combat climate change through simple steps in their day-to-day lives. Our motivation behind this book was to develop their cognitive skills while making them learn in a fun and interactive way! 

We also visited Lamanvasti, a slum dwelling mainly of migrant workers near our institute. In collaboration with Disha, we distributed the activity books along with a bunch of other goodies to the children of Lamanvasti. We also visited the nearby Doorstep School3, an NGO that teaches underprivileged kids, and the children of the housekeeping staff of our institute, to distribute the books and conducted an interactive session on climate change for them. 

It was an absolute delight to meet them all and witness their wonder and excitement as they opened their new art kits and books! 

We talked to the children about the greenhouse effect, rising temperatures, and the impact climate change would have on the planet. They blew our minds with the care and concern they had for the environment, and how quickly they could come up with simple solutions to problems that many adults don’t understand!

We felt that the kids thoroughly enjoyed reading through the activity book, solving puzzles, coloring, and painting the pictures all while learning something new and having great fun interacting and having discussions with us and their peers.

We also have a PDF version of the activity book attached below, available in English and Marathi and we hope that more children can benefit and learn from it!

You can download the Marathi version of the activity book here

Kalpana - Comic Series

We reasoned that a visual medium of learning for students would make the process more enjoyable and appealing. We thus conceptualized the story of Kalpana, whose name literally means imagination. She is a young synthetic biologist who finds inspiration in her tragic backstory to use bacteria to combat climate change. 

You can read the comic here.

This three-episode comic series is primarily targeted toward young teenagers but is relevant to adult readers as well. It introduces students to the concepts of climate change and synthetic biology and its applications, all in a captivating, simple, and exciting manner. We also used our own project, SynBactory as a real-world example to illustrate synthetic biology applications.

To help us convey this story through the comic, we contacted @doodlesane (Vaishnavi Prathap), an artist and illustrator whose work we stumbled upon on Instagram. Her art style really resonated with us, and we thought it would compliment the story and capture the attention of our readers while being able to communicate the science.

Here is a brief summary of the episodes of the comic:

Episode 1 - In the first episode, we give a primer on the greenhouse effect and the serious impact rising carbon dioxide levels will have on life on earth. We introduce the protagonist, Kalpana, a synthetic biologist, and her tragic backstory that prompts her to try and use synthetic biology to fight climate change.

Episode 2 - In the second episode we introduce the basic concepts of synthetic biology and the motivation behind the field, through the voice of Kalpana’s late father, who was a scientist himself. The readers learn about synthetic biology alongside a young Kalpana, right from the basics of how every organism is made of cells with DNA as their information storage.

Episode 3 - In the third episode, we introduce the basic idea behind our project, SynBactory with the help of two new characters -  E. coli and S.elongatus from our co-culture. Kalpana overhears these characters conversing about how they could combat climate change individually when she realizes how great and fruitful it would be for the two to work side by side.

High School Survey

We designed a survey for high school students from grade 8 to grade 12, to assess their knowledge and opinions on, and perceptions of climate change, synthetic biology and the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). We also included informative paragraphs about the greenhouse effect, synthetic biology, basic concepts about genes and DNA, in the survey to help students understand the terminology in later questions, and learn something new as they filled out the survey.

We used the results of the survey to help us design targeted outreach activities for high school students.

Survey design

To help guide us in the survey design process we spoke to Dr. Chhavi Mathur, Program Manager at the Living Waters Museum, and Dr. Pooja Sancheti, Assistant Professor at IISER Pune. Dr. Mathur pointed to us the importance of understanding exactly what information we could infer from each question, and how we would make use of that information. This would help us keep the survey concise and informative. 

They also stressed the importance of having a ‘survey story’, or a logical flow to the questions so that the respondents are sufficiently engaged throughout, and are able to take back what they learned after completing the survey. Dr. Mathur also suggested that we look through the biology curriculum across high schools to better understand what concepts and terminology students would already be aware of. Dr. Sancheti suggested that we include questions on how they view the topics of climate change and synthetic biology in the context of their school curriculum.

After speaking to Dr. Mathur and Dr. Sancheti and redesigning the survey to incorporate their feedback, we carried out a Flesch-Kincaid readability analysis4, which would indicate to us the difficulty of the language in the survey, and whether it was understandable to an average 8th grader, the youngest of our respondents. We also had a test group of students that took the survey to test it out, and it took them about 5 - 7 minutes on average to complete the survey, which was sufficiently engaging and concise.

We also reached out to members of the Institutional Human Ethics Committee at our institute, who informed us that we would be within their ethics guidelines in collecting information through the survey as long as we did not collect any personal information. They also suggested we add an information sheet at the beginning of our survey clearly stating our purpose and goals to the respondents and making them aware that participating in the survey is completely voluntary and they could choose to exit the survey at any time.

Survey distribution

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were only able to conduct the survey online. This had its pros and cons. While this allowed us to reach students from all over the country, and abroad as well, it also restricted the students that could participate in the survey. Many students in India don’t have internet access or access to smartphones or social media, which invariably would introduce a sampling bias in our survey that we must acknowledge.

To make our survey as accessible as possible, we translated it into 8 regional languages, given that most students don’t study in schools that have English instruction. The survey was translated into Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Assamese, and Punjabi by members of the team and other volunteers from our institute. We also made sure to test out the translations with native speakers. We reached out to organizations working in education and science outreach to spread the survey among schools across the country, to maximize the reach of our survey.

The survey received a total of 870 responses from over 50 cities across India and around the world.

You can view the survey in all 9 languages here.

Survey Results:

The results of the survey allowed us to appropriately tailor many of our outreach activities for high school students, including webinars and the Synbio101 video series. The survey results allowed us to better understand some of the questions and misconceptions we could focus on addressing and the current knowledge level of students regarding climate change and synthetic biology. 

Here are some of the insights we took away from the survey, that we kept in mind while preparing outreach materials:

  1. Students seem to be sufficiently aware of climate change - over 80% of the respondents believed climate change is a serious threat to people around the world and that it is mainly caused by human activities.
  2. Climate change education is still important - Though many students seem to be aware of the problem of climate change, there were a few misconceptions we identified:
    1. Over half the respondents believed the hole in the ozone layer, pesticides, and plastic distribution were bigger contributors to climate change than carbon dioxide levels.
    2. Over half the respondents could not identify the greenhouse effect, i.e. carbon dioxide trapping the heat radiated by the planet, as a contributor to climate change. They instead believed that CO2 reacting with the ozone layer, or CO2 being toxic to flora and fauna were the ways in which CO2 contributed to climate change.

Based on these results, we realized it was important that we focus part of our material on educating students about the basic science behind climate change. This is true not only for high school students but younger students as well. We talked about the greenhouse effect and rising carbon dioxide levels in both the comic book as well the webinars we organized.

  1. Students' knowledge of biological concepts is more dependent on the grade they’re in, as compared to their knowledge of climate change, which we kept in mind while preparing our material. Only about 40% of 8th grade students were able to identify the correct statement describing genes whereas this figure rose to over 90% for 12th graders students.
  2. Students were keen to learn - over 70% of the respondents believed there should be an increased focus on climate change in their school curriculum and over 60% of respondents conveyed their interest in learning more about synthetic biology and GMOs. This was the general consensus for students in all grades.
  3. Respondents seem more comfortable with GMOs being used in the production process of their jam versus recycled atmospheric carbon dioxide. This could possibly be because respondents did not make the connection between photosynthesis in plants that recycle atmospheric carbon dioxide to make nutrients and our project idea. Thus, we realized it would be important for us to specifically make this connection while introducing our project idea to students of all ages and to the public in general. We followed this approach in the comic book as well as in our webinars.

Disha Webinar

Our team collaborated with Disha2, a student-run social outreach initiative at our institute, that aims for socioeconomic equity through education. We hosted a webinar for students aged 13-16, that Disha engaged with. It was a great learning experience, for both the students and our team.

Given the diverse backgrounds and education levels these students had, we could not predict their level of understanding very easily, and we thus focused on starting from the basics to make sure we accommodated every student. To do this, we divided the webinar into four modules: 

Module 1: The first module talked about pollution, the increased frequency of natural disasters, and how the two are connected to each other. This module served as a starting point for our discussions about more complicated topics regarding climate change.

Module 2: The second module talked about the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change. To our surprise, many students were well aware of these terminologies and expressed their concerns regarding the current state of the environment.

Module 3: This module introduced the students to the concept of Synthetic Biology. The discussion started with the concepts of cells and DNA as genetic material and went on to talk about how genes can be manipulated to perform a particular function. This module focused more on understanding the broad concepts of synthetic biology rather than going too deep into the details

Module 4: In the last module, we talked about our project, SynBactory, and explained the idea of biomanufacturing using a co-culture of S.elongatus and E.coli. We spoke about the features of each organism and how our project could be used to combat climate change. 

We received a fantastic response from 40 attendees, and we were delighted to learn of their appreciation of the concepts of synthetic biology and climate change. 

SynBio 101

SynBio 101 is an educational video series that we posted on YouTube to introduce the basics of synthetic biology to high school students in an immersive and engaging manner, using colorful hand-drawn diagrams and animations. 

The video series begins with the motivation behind synthetic biology as a field and the basics of the central dogma to set the background to introduce the concepts of parts and devices. We assumed no prior knowledge of Biology other than what is taught in schools till the 9th grade.

You can watch the videos on our YouTube channel here.

We also plan to post a follow up series on the various real life applications of synthetic biology.

Bhoomi: An interactive webinar for visually impaired students.

To make our outreach initiatives more accessible, we organised an audio webinar on combating climate change using synthetic biology for visually impaired high school students. Since this webinar was meant for partially and completely blind students, planning an appropriate script was of utmost importance. 

Keeping this in mind, we contacted Mrs. Manisha Kamal from Girls Senior Secondary School in Delhi and Mrs. Aarti Takawane from NFBM Jagriti School for Blind Girls in Vadgaon, Maharashtra. They are both teachers for special needs students who gave us advice on how to conduct the webinar in the language of touch, smell, and all the other stimuli barring the visual senses. 

While the students were visually impaired, we learned that their other senses were better developed. We wanted to make sure the students were comfortable and enjoyed the webinar, and avoided using visual examples, and used more sensory examples instead. We also made audio posters for the promotion of our webinar and we also wrote a little song for the students to make it more engaging! 

After contacting a few NGOs, we had around 30 students who attended the webinar. We had a delightful time, as we hope they did too, they were very interactive and engaged in fruitful discussions about the topics covered.

The webinar was divided into four segments:

  • We started off with a discussion on what the students felt around them when they are on a busy road. This was the segue to our discussion on pollution, and we gained a better understanding of the students’ perceptions of the topic.
  • In the next segment, we played an audio clip from a talk on climate by a renowned Indian environmentalist Dr. Sunita Narain. We then had a discussion on what the students took away from the talk and their understanding of global warming, the greenhouse effect, and climate change.
  • The third segment talked about Synthetic Biology and its applications. This was one of the most challenging segments to plan since there we wanted to avoid visual examples and synthetic biology itself is a slightly difficult concept to grasp. After speaking to the teachers, we found out about a piece of special equipment that schools for visually impaired students use, to teach students about molecular biology. Since we could not arrange those, we roughly estimated how much the students knew about the concepts of cells, DNA, and the genome, based on which we talked to them about synthetic biology using vaccine development as an example.
  • Finally, we talked about our project, SynBactory, and explained the idea of biomanufacturing using a co-culture of S.elongatus and E.coli.
  • We talked about our project idea of Biomanufacturing using a co-culture of cyanobacteria and e.coli. We spoke about the features of each organism and how our project could be used to combat climate change. 

The webinar ended with us presenting a fun song about climate change written by Ipsa Bezbarua and Arya Narnapatti, which was sung by Arya.

After the webinar, our team received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students in the form of voice messages. We also received lots of follow-up questions on climate change and synthetic biology, that we were very excited about!

Future is SynBio!

We realize that an understanding of scientific concepts is highly variable across people from different geographical regions, socioeconomic backgrounds, age groups, and other demographics. Keeping this in mind, and with an aim to bring together young science enthusiasts from across the globe, we organized a webinar in collaboration with teams Stonybrook and Hong Kong HKU to host a discussion on the emerging field of synthetic biology for 11th and 12th grade students.

The webinar introduced students to the field of synthetic biology from a slightly technical perspective. We also talked about the iGEM competition and how students could participate in it. We discussed the roles of microbes in day-to-day lives and finally ended the event by highlighting the work of some lesser-known researchers who have had a significant impact on science.

Our team planned the webinar, consisting of four events in collaboration with the other teams:

1) Introduction to Synthetic Biology: This was a talk organized by our team. We started off by talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of the currently used testing facilities. This was followed by a discussion on the concepts of synthetic biology such as BioBricks, synthetic DNA synthesis, followed by a discussion of real-world applications such as biosensors and metabolic pathway engineering. 

We ended the webinar by talking about the project of the Stanford 2020 team about building a rapid, cheap, and easily reproducible COVID-19 testing kit.

2) What is iGEM?: Even though iGEM is open to high school teams, many students in our respective countries are unaware of the competition and how they can participate. To bridge this gap, a team member from Team Stonybrook talked with the students about iGEM, the competition timeline and the participation process. 

3) Microbes and Society: This was a talk given by a member of team Hong Kong HKU about microbes and their role in our daily lives. The talk included discussions about the general benefits of microbes to us and the environment, the importance and need for microbes in synthetic biology and recent advancements in medical science and industrial processes using microbes.

4) Guess the Scientist!: The final event for the webinar was a game that aimed to teach students about researchers that belonged to underrepresented sections of society in science, and the impact of their research. This was a twist on the ‘Who am I?’ game to depict the current state of research and education and encourage inclusivity and accessibility in research.

Kalakriti Art and Essay Competition

कलाकृति or Kalakriti is a Sanskrit word that means ‘work of art’, and what better way to express oneself than through art and creative writing? Our team organised an art and essay competition for students in grades 1-12 on the topic ‘Combating Climate Change and Protecting the Earth’.

We received a whopping 200 entries for the competition from all age groups. The art was mesmerizing and the essays were beautifully articulate and thought provoking. They exceeded our expectations and we are delighted to have been a part of something so big and influential! 

We hope these students continue to be as enthusiastic about solving climate change and other real-world issues. We would like to thank the judges of the competitions who gave us their valuable time and reviewed every entry: Dr. Pushkar Sohoni, Dr. Sudha Rajamani, Dr. Suhita Nadkarni, and Dr. Kalika Prasad.

You can check out all the entries on our iGEM gallery here!

Synthetic Biology Webinar in Collaboration with Science Club

Synthetic biology is still a nascent field in India. We wanted to address this and educate students about the field, and thus collaborated with the Science Club at our institute to invite Dr. Pawan K Dhar to give a talk titled ‘Synthetic Biology: Fundamental Concepts to Applications’.

Dr. Dhar is currently the head of the Synthetic Biology Lab at the School of Biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. They are one of the leading synthetic biologists in India and was the ideal person to introduce the field and motivate young scientists-to-be.

He discussed the need for and the motivation behind the field of Synthetic Biology, its foundational principles, methods and tools, and industrial applications. They also spoke about his work on ‘the dark matter of the genome’, i.e. the non-coding regions of the genome. The session ended with a brief introduction to iGEM and a presentation of our project. Dr. Dhar gave us some valuable feedback on various aspects of our project that we have been actively working on!

Silent Film

The language of art is the one that’s not bound by any words and yet understood by everyone around the globe. Keeping this in mind, our team decided to collaborate with the Drama Club at our institute and produce a silent film for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The motivation behind this production was to inform students about the rise in carbon dioxide levels in the recent past and the potential of cyanobacteria to sequester this carbon dioxide and help in the fight against climate change.

This entire production was scripted, filmed and edited under the guidance of Dr. Anil Zankar who is a visiting faculty member at our institute. He is an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune and a recipient of two national awards. 

His experience in film making and script writing helped us identify the technical aspects of producing visual content for students with special needs. More about this is on the iHP page here.

Every scene of the production was designed with the intention of being accessible and understandable to everyone regardless of their age, prior scientific knowledge or language.

You can watch the film here!

How Would the World Be (Song about Climate Change)

Born off the Audio Webinar, ‘How Would the World Be’ is a song about the beauty of the earth as we know it and how climate change can take away many of the things that are fundamental to the planet we live on. It was originally written to try and communicate to students that they do not have to stand idle as the world around them is changing. Based on the feedback from the students who attended our Audio Webinar, we decided to record the song and put it up on our YouTube channel for listeners to enjoy and get inspired. 

The song was written by Ipsa Bezbarua and Arya Narnapatti of our team. We collaborated with Soumyodeep Mukhopadhyay to record the song. 

You can listen to the song on our YouTube channel here!

In the Media

In order to engage with the general public about our project and spread awareness about climate change and synthetic biology, we wrote a few articles to be published in newspapers. We approached Dr. Shanti Kalipatnapu, our institute’s Principal Technical Officer for Research Communication, who put us in touch with reporters to talk about the scientific aspects of our project, the motivation behind it, and climate change in a way that was engaging and informative.

We were also featured on TV regarding our project. To further increase our reach and target varied demographics, we used our social media channels to put up posters and infographics regarding climate change, clean fuel, and our project. 

You can find the articles we wrote on our linktree here.

You can view our posters and infographics on our social media channels here: 

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Given the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India and the ramifications of the pandemic, we faced countless challenges in procuring funds to support our project. We then sought help from the general public and created a crowdfunding campaign. We pitched our idea, our motivations, and the impact we aimed to have with our project. We were immensely grateful to everybody who chipped in to support us. The contributions helped fund our outreach initiatives and also spread awareness about our project through the campaign.


  1. Nagarajan, R. (2021, July 3). 26% of schoolkids in English medium; nearly 60% in Delhi. The Times of India. Link
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