Science communication is a part of science that enables effective communication from scientists to individuals of all ages. In many scientific fields, including synthetic biology, there are technical terms and concepts which are not easily comprehensible by the general public (Brownll et al. 2013). Consequently, we lose the participation, the collective power and the collaboration that comes from working with the public against major issues locally and globally. Therefore, we strive to make a change and work with the public, integrating their presence in our project and spreading credible information to help us garner support for the complication at hand and to break down scientific uncertainties (Schmidt 2009, Leshner 2003).
As the general public consists of different levels of age groups and background knowledge, our project consisted of a number of items in different mediums that focused on various groups. These included visual representation of our project’s importance, physical merchandise for younger audiences, games with educational background and stories to convey the concept of our project and synthetic biology. By using a variety of material, it allowed the content to be understandable, clear and interesting, without overloading them on the technicalities (Hutchins 2020). Overall, individuals engaging with the project could interact with the material; gaining a broader perspective and knowledge on the issue focused upon, and as such, voluntarily engaged with our project (Leshner 2003).
We asked the public if they had anything they would like to bring to our attention, and in response individuals had mentioned that “I wish that more activities can be done to raise awareness, I believe that people would be willing to be a part of it”. And so our whole team did just that. We held direct engagement with the general public through a non-science background podcast, a symposium including the public as the audience so they can ask questions first-hand; along with holding an exhibition to facilitate the connection between different groups of the public to illustrate the significance of our project through art and stories. These can be found in their respective sections of the Wiki. Our engagements throughout the year had allowed us to convey to individuals the seriousness of the coral bleaching incidents, with individuals claiming that our project had shown them “The realisation that we’re losing our corals that supports ecosystems”.
A diverse, one-size-fits-all package suitable to be sent to a whole family. With materials tailored to separate target audiences, we aim to engage them with the scientific content in a suitable and educational manner. By doing so we can break down the communication barriers between the scientists and the public. This will facilitate a greater understanding to the purposes of scientific projects in synthetic biology, build interest in our younger generation, and help resolve society’s wariness towards science.
View the Educational Package
Direct Communication with the Public beyond iGEM
Direct engagement with the public was difficult in the COVID-19 environment, however, our team determined to see it through. We engaged ourselves with a few large-scale projects to connect with audiences beyond iGEM; including between scientists, the general public and with those in different faculties. Overall, these events broadened our perspectives, and refined our abilities to communicate with others of different skill-levels and knowledge. They had also allowed individuals with a non-scientific background to engage with our project directly, inspiring it into what we see today.
UNSW iGEM x ‘The SAMS Podcast’ Collaboration
In the digital age where podcasts are experiencing rapid growth in popularity to deliver content in a casual yet informative manner, we believed that this format was an excellent way to help us engage and communicate our message to the broader community (Chang and Cevher, 2007). This focus has become extremely important, as we were unable to hold in-person events due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic unfolding in New South Wales.
We collaborated with a student society, UNSW Students of Advanced Mathematics and Science (SAMS), on their fortnightly podcast called ‘The SAMS Podcast’ which have seen audiences of over 400+ across 16+ different countries and all ages. They commonly explore the educational, professional, and personal journeys of current science students throughout their degrees, inspiring students to learn new things about different fields of study and opportunities within science research through stories and advice shared.
In a two-episode special with SAMS, we explored the overarching concepts of synthetic biology and introduced all aspects of our project, ‘PROTECC Coral’ from an economic, educational, and social point-of-view before diving into our wet lab and dry lab work. The aim of these episodes was to provide greater awareness of synthetic biology and how it can be applied to real-world problems. Furthermore, a heavy focus was placed on providing exposure to our project and the issue of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. We also talked about our own personal journey throughout our time in iGEM, from things that we learnt, new profound perspectives and challenges along the way, allowing us to add a personal touch that is relatable.
The style of this podcast is laid-back allowing for casual conversations to occur where we were able to share our own stories. The podcast is primarily targeted towards audiences aged 18+ and currently studying in university, however, the episodes are accessible to most audiences as we communicate complex scientific concepts in basic, lay terms. Due to the lockdown situation in NSW, we were unable to record in-person, so instead, episodes were recorded over Discord. These episodes were promoted through social media platforms through UNSW iGEM and UNSW SAMS and are now available to listen on Spotify and Soundcloud by searching ‘The SAMS Podcast’.
Presenting to the Industry: Aurecon Life Below Water Month
Aurecon is an engineering, design and advisory company aiming to bring ideas to life (Aurecon, 2021). Every week throughout August this year, Aurecon held events surrounding topics of the marine ecosystem in their ‘Life Below Water’ month. The event that our team participated in involved watching two 10-minute snippets of the ABC iView Documentary ‘Can We Save the Reef?’ with guest speakers between each session revolving around understanding and trying to resolve coral bleaching issues surrounding the Great Barrier Reef caused by climate change.
The UNSW iGEM team was extremely grateful to participate as guest speakers at an industry event by Aurecon on the 19th of August through Microsoft Teams. We provided a 10-minute presentation of our iGEM project and what we believe the future holds for genetically modified coral to employees, as well as participated in a Q&A panel session, where the employees could gain further insight into our project, or ask any questions surrounding coral bleaching in general.
The Australasian SynBio Challenge
The Australasian SynBio Challenge is a synthetic biology competition being carried out with universities across Australasia. The goal is to stimulate interest in the field of synthetic biology and have undergraduate students apply the design, build, test and learn cycle to problems in our world today.
The AusSynBio challenge offered many opportunities to be a part of the domestic synthetic biology community in Australia and recessive guidance and feedback in regards to our project with the Challenge and iGEM. Our team, among others, participated in both the AusSynBio Challenge and iGEM to promote learning and cooperation in the broader synthetic biology community. The challenge sponsored several events and ran informative seminars such as bioinformatics seminars that demonstrated the use of various structural modelling tools that could be used to predict, view, and simulate protein structures. Our attendance to these seminars reinforced a deeper understanding of the content being delivered, helping us achieve our iGEM goals.
Both virtual and in-person meet-ups were hosted by the competition, which we consistently attended throughout the year. For instance, in the first meetup we had met with individuals spanning from academics to those in arts and design. Here we were enlightened on how the collaboration between faculties can bring a project, like ours, to its utmost potential; in which, was only further reinforced by our own iGEM team and its diversity. Virtual meetups included pitching our project to an audience of a varied background, further developing our abilities to communicate science to the wider audience.
Aurecon, 2021. About Aurecon | Bringing ideas to life [Online]. URL https://www.aurecongroup.com/about
Brownell, S. E., Price, J. V., Steinman, L. (2013). Science Communication to the General Public: Why We Need to Teach Undergraduate and Graduate Students this Skill as Part of Their Formal Scientific Training. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 12(1): 6-10
Chang, S. E. & Cevher, M. An Investigation and Conceptual Models of Podcast Marketing. 2007 Berlin, Heidelberg. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 264-275.
Hutchins, J. A. (2020). Tailoring Scientific Communication for Audience and Research Narrative. Current Protocols in Essential Laboratory Techniques, 20(1): 40
Leshner, A. I. (2003). Public Engagement with Science. Science, 299(5609): 977
Schmidt, C. (2009). Communication Gap: The Disconnect Between What Scientists Say and What the Public Hears. Environmental Health Perspective, 117(12): 548-551