Science fair - Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie
At the beginning of 2021, the iGEM GO Paris-Saclay team contacted us to propose to participate in the National Science Fair at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris. As it was a great success last year, we immediately accepted! This event was organized in collaboration with all the Paris teams: IONIS, Paris Bettencourt, Evry, UParis, and of course GO Paris Saclay. The fair lasted two days during which each team had the opportunity to present its project during a 40-minute conference and to propose a scientific workshop of its choice. All the participants were also expected to animate together a DNA extraction workshop as well as a conference on synthetic biology that would serve as an introduction for the remaining conferences.
We decided to organize a molecular gastronomy workshop where participants could create caviar using agar agar, calcium lactate, and syrup. We chose this workshop because molecular gastronomy is generally very attractive to both children and adults. It is a great way to learn about the science behind everyday activities while having fun. During our workshop, we focused on hydrophobic interactions between molecules that lead to the formation of the jellified caviar. It was great because our speech was easily adaptable to the scientific level of the participant so that everyone had learned something by the end of the experiment. They all had the opportunity to leave the fair with a jar containing their delicious creation.
The conference was more challenging than expected. How could we present our project and all that it entails in a way that would be understandable to people aged from 5 to 75? We first needed to make choices regarding what in our project was essential for its understanding and what was not. Eventually, we succeeded in creating a presentation that would promote our project and at the same time have a real educational value for those who would attend.
This weekend was so much fun! We had a blast animating our workshop as well as the workshop with other teams. The audience gave such positive feedback that we were very proud of ourselves at the end of the weekend! It was great to spend time with the other teams so close to the wiki freeze to share our mindsets and laugh together.
Science Fair - Sorbonne University
Each year the Pierre and Marie Curie campus of Sorbonne University transforms itself into a small science village and opens its door for the National Science Fair. Scientists and student associations from the university organize workshops to present their work, offer scientific experiments, and promote science.
We were happy to participate in this event once again. We decided to try again with bioluminescent algae, as we were a little disappointed by the failure of our experiment with the fifth graders. Having learned from our mistakes, we made sure that this time our algae would thrive throughout the weekend. We had two stands, one that provided the darkness for our experiment and another where we could give all the explanations behind our experiments. We also found fun ways to talk about science with little quizzes and flashcards about extremophiles and GMOs. The idea was to disseminate information but also to stimulate debate. It is very interesting to confront our project with public opinion. Especially in France where GMOs are demonized most of the time, we are working to change the way they are perceived. We recognize the risk they represent but they are also a great hope for finding solutions to the challenges our society is facing. It is also very interesting for our human practices to have feedback because our project, to be implemented, must be acceptable to the general public.
The weekend was full of success. Not only did our experiment work this time, but people also seemed to truly enjoy it. It was also rich in exchanges and questions about the place of science in our society.
Practical training in science
Due to the current health crisis, PCR has entered our everyday vocabulary to the point that it has entered the official program in France for high school students. This technique is not only used to detect SARS-CoV 2, it has become a statement in the lab. Even though the term "PCR'' has become part of everyday language, many people do not know what it means. In this context, we decided to intervene with students in order to raise awareness on this subject.
Thanks to a life sciences teacher, Yasmine Bellagha, we were able to supervise practical work sessions on PCR for students of the Maurice Genevoix high school in Montrouge. The event took place over three days in October.
PCR is part of the official program for French high school students, hence the interest in our approach. The official objectives of the program are the following:
- Design and/or perform a PCR reaction by determining the duration of each step of the PCR cycle.
- To calculate the number of copies obtained after each cycle.
To achieve these objectives, we have developed a protocol for a PCR experiment.
Day 1 & 2 - Practical work in half groups
PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is a technique that allows a DNA fragment to be amplified millions of times.
A PCR cycle consists of 3 steps:
- Denaturation (94°C): the DNA is heated, and the 2 strands separate.
- Hybridization (40-65°C): the primers pair with their target sequences on the DNA by complementarity.
- Elongation (72°C): the Taq polymerase synthesizes the complementary DNA strands.
Students had to calculate the number of DNA copies obtained after 40 PCR cycles and determine the duration of the elongation step. The main idea was to show them how many copies could be obtained from a single DNA fragment.
To show students an example of a concrete application of PCR, we focused on ALU sequences. These repeated sequences are used as genetic markers for human evolutionary studies and may be responsible for genetic diseases.
The students performed a DNA extraction from a hair bulb so that they could then perform PCR amplification. We taught them how to use a pipette, which is an essential gesture in a biology lab.
A PCR reaction requires the DNA to be amplified, primers, deoxynucleotide triphosphates, a heat-resistant DNA polymerase, and Magnesium. Students mixed these items in PCR tubes, and then the tubes were placed in the thermal cycler.
After these sessions, we used the students' PCR reactions to perform gel electrophoresis.
Day 3 - Analysis of results and guidance
During the first part of the session, we analyzed the results of the experiment. This gave the students an understanding of how to interpret the experimental results. We also related the experiment performed to the PCR tests used for Covid-19 screening.
During the second part of the experiment, we advised the students on their future orientation and answered their questions. Some students expressed concerns about their choice of studies after graduation. That's why it was important for us to share our experiences and show them that we all have different paths.
We were excited to share our scientific knowledge with the students and educate them on a biology technique. The life science teacher also appreciated having speakers and plans to repeat the experiment in the following years. As for the students, they were involved and asked very pertinent questions. According to the teacher, they really enjoyed the sessions.
Science classes in elementary school
In November 2020, the Académie des Sciences and the Académie de la Technologie issued a report regarding science courses in elementary school. It showed that the scientific teaching was not adequate, especially in the face of the new scientific and technological challenges that our society is facing. One of the reasons for this observation is the lack of preparation and confidence of the teachers as most of them don’t come from a scientific formation. The foundation La main à la pâte offers to bring in contact teachers with researchers or students in science to help them with their science classes. It’s a great opportunity for teachers to gain more scientific knowledge and confidence and to implement new experiments they would not have thought of. Teachers are also there to bring their knowledge on education to the table to create the best courses possible for students. We decided to contact the foundation and thanks to Michelina Nascimbeni we were able to organize a three-course program for two classes of 5th graders at the end of June at the Doudeauville Elementary School in Paris.
We had three main goals when creating our program:
- Introducing the different scales of life to broaden their vision of the world around them.
- Planning experiments and introducing the scientific process involved
- Show the diversity of the sciences and the associated professions
Day 1 - Living in space
On the first day, we focused on life aboard the international. The first activity was to list all elements necessary to live: food, water, and oxygen. We chose to focus on the challenge of O2 production in space as it is what we decided to tackle with our project. It was the opportunity to address one important scientific concept, photosynthesis, and one important societal issue, ecology. We talked about the importance of protecting our forests as well as our oceans as algae are mainly responsible for O2 production. We introduced the microscopic scale with microalgae. The end goal was to introduce the idea that we could use plants to produce oxygen in spaceships through closed-loop systems.
Day 2 - Plankton, a solution for life in space?
On the second day, we wanted to talk about microalgae in further detail. We had prepared an experiment with bioluminescent algae to make the invisible visible. Unfortunately, our algae didn’t handle the commute nor the heat. Still, it was the opportunity for us to show that for researchers, experiments don’t always work on the first trial and they need to adjust the conditions of the experiment. We asked them to formulate hypotheses on why the experiment didn’t work. The remaining time was dedicated to the understanding of why and how algae produced bioluminescence as well as showing them the diversity of plankton.
Day 3 - The code of life
Finally, we introduced a third scale with DNA. It was quite a challenge to find a way for 5th graders to grasp such a complex concept. In the first part of the class, we made an effort to try to explain what DNA was and why it was the basis of life. We used an analogy with computational programming, as advised by the teacher that welcomed us. Eventually, the best way for them to understand was to observe DNA. We organized DNA extraction experiments with two different substrates, juice and a banana. We thought it was interesting as it gave different results and the students had to formulate hypotheses to understand why it was the case.
At the end of the three days, we were as pleased as the students, we both had learned a lot. For us, it was really gratifying to see their interest and we were amazed by their curiosity and the questions they asked.
Link to our slides!
Je science donc je suis
Sophia Richard, a student from Sorbonne University, created a media platform for the popularization of science called Je science donc Je suis (I science therefore I am) run by students. It first began with a journal but quickly grew with the creation of podcasts and events. Their work was really inspiring for us so we were really happy when they agreed to collaborate with us.
We were invited by the podcast team for a special episode of Les Voix de la Science (Voices of Science). We were asked about our project and all that it entails. The aim of the podcast was also to focus on us as individuals. Why did we participate in iGEM? What was our background? What did we gain from the experience? We wanted to show that even as a student you can still do great things, be involved in scientific innovation, and ask questions about the world around you.
We were also given a column in the monthly journal Je science donc j'écris (I science therefore I write). We decided to write articles revolving around our subject from the challenge of a trip to Mars to the different radiations and their consequences.
Conference about innovation in science
The Journées de l'entrepreneuriat et de l'engagement étudiant were created by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. They are aimed at students and are intended to encourage them to adopt an entrepreneurial approach. These days are part of the national entrepreneurship week (CREATIV') and provide a fun way to discover the entrepreneurial spirit and the help and support that students can receive to create their start-up.
As part of this week, we were invited with Enguerrand Ducourtil and Benjamin Barkat to participate in a conference led by Amin Benadjal, President of the student association Connectome In Science.
During this conference, which focused on the question "Can we still innovate?". We discussed topics such as: Can we innovate alone or not? What is the advantage of innovating with a multidisciplinary team?
This was an opportunity to promote the iGEM experience and in particular to show that this competition highlights that it is possible as a student to work in a multidisciplinary team on an innovation project which can in some cases lead to entrepreneurship.
We participated in this conference because the theme of innovation is in line with the spirit of iGEM. Indeed, promoting innovation is in the DNA of the competition and our role as igemers is to promote the spirit of innovation.
Each year Sorbonne University organizes the Welcome Day in September. It’s a great opportunity for new students to discover the student associations and the services of the University. We participated in the event to promote our team’s project for the competition and potentially recruit the student for next year’s team. We wanted to have fun but still provide talk about science so we decided to organize a quiz with a wheel of goodies to win! Our questions were mostly revolving around our project and synthetic biology. It was a very fun day and we got a lot of people interested in our project!