Education and Public Engagement
Fête de la Science at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie
In partnership with the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie and with five other Parisian teams (Sorbonne_U_Paris, GO_Paris-Saclay, Evry_Paris-Saclay, Paris_Bettencourt and Ionis_Paris), we co-organised an event in the course of a weekend during the ‘Fête de la Science’ (Science Festival, October 2nd and 3rd, 2021). The event featured conferences and workshops that aimed to introduce visitors to synthetic biology and its variety of applications.
Working in close contact with the museum was a great opportunity, as well as an incredible experience: The Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie is one of the most prestigious science museums in France, whose mission is to initiate families (grand-parents, parents, teenagers, children, toddlers) to the values, the objectives and the actions of many spheres of science.
Together, the Parisian teams presented basic biology and synthetic biology concepts in an inclusive and funny way, in order to make it accessible for younger generations and for adults that do not have any scientific background. The teams also conducted a workshop about DNA extraction from kiwi. This simple activity became an incredibly fun, popular and effective way to introduce children to key concepts about DNA - genome, chromatin, double-helix structure etc. - and about lab work and experiments. By conducting with their own hands the steps for the extraction, children became true actors of their learning experience! They also got the opportunity to take home the DNA sample they extracted as a souvenir!
Additionally, each team gave project-specific conferences and ran dedicated workshops: two members of our team gave a 30-min talk where they shared their knowledge in cancer diagnosis, their experience as student researchers and their feelings towards their iGEM journey. The talk was followed by a Q&A discussion with the audience, who was curious about the competition and the biology of miRNAs and cancer, and was admiring our motivation and resilience throughout the adventure.
In parallel, two other members were running our board game-based workshop: “Evite les cancers” (avoid cancer) aims to raise awareness about (i) the risks of cancer (which factors can contribute to the disease, for e.g. smoking), (ii) the healthy lifestyle hacks/practices to reduce these risks (e.g. put sunscreen before UV exposure), (iii) the importance of cancer screening programs. The game was designed for younger generations, from young kids to teenagers. You can find the explanation of the game a little bit below, right here.
Fête de la Science at Université de Paris
Our team was invited to participate in the “Fête de la Science” organized by the Université de Paris, which was a YouTube live event held on October 6th, 2021. With the help of Cécile Drai, assistant to the Director of Communication in Université de Paris, three of our members imagined a 30-min talk to introduce our motivations, our project, and to share our iGEM experience. The building process was initiated in June, with the definition of the topic. We wanted to emphasize our many feelings throughout the project, from the brainstorming to the lab work and to the first (unsuccessful) results. We also decided to present key notions about cancer, its limitations in terms of screening strategies, and how ExoSwitch addressed these challenges. Consequently, our talk was built around two take-home messages: (i) raise awareness about the challenges and the importance of cancer diagnosis to the general public, regardless of their age; (ii) defend our belief that project conduction leads to personal growth. The three members practiced, reshaped and progressed several times per month until the YouTube live on October 6th. The talk was conducted in French in order to reach a larger audience, from 6 years old children to older generations.
Presentations in schools to talk about cancer and synbio
One member of our team was invited by his former middle and high schools to give a talk during their “Science week”. After several discussions with the directors of both schools, it was decided to prepare hybrid events, with talks and games. The same format was used for both schools, with the content being adapted to the age and knowledge of the students. The aim was to bring insights about cancer, our project and to raise awareness about the disease.
For the middle school students (from 11 to 15 years old), the discussion was more centered around the basic knowledge of cancer, and good practices/ habits to reduce the risk of developing the disease e.g. not drinking alcohol, not smoking, applying sunscreen at the beach, exercising regularly, eating healthy etc.). After the discussion, we played a game together (rules are detailed below) to introduce the students to these simple lessons in a funnier, more engaging way.
For the high school students (from 16 to 18 years old), the discussion went more in detail into our vision of the potential of synthetic biology in cancer diagnosis. We discussed our approach, as well as their ideas about cancer diagnosis, treatment, and what they knew about synthetic biology and its applications in society.
Overall, the targeted public was highly satisfied with the presentations (the director sent our member a message with the results of the satisfaction survey!). We hope we created some vocations, and brought some knowledge to young students.
Our game: Évite les cancers!
Évite les cancers is a board game about cancer prevention, which was inspired by Snakes & Ladders (but without snakes and without ladders) and the Goose Game (also without gooses). It aims to raise awareness about the risks of cancer, teach the habits to adopt in order to reduce these risks, and finally, and finally, promote the impact of cancer screening programs. This game also aims to fill the information gap of a part of the population that was shown by our survey, and was inspired by our meetings with cancer associations.
The rules are quite easy: the first player to finish the circuit wins. On the road, the player encounters different categories linked with cancer: Sports, Food, Sun, Environment, Tobacco/Alcohol and Screening. The player picks a card corresponding to the category, and learns one info about cancer, or answers a question. Some “Chance” cards are present: in this case, the player can either gain bonuses, or get penalties (e.g. go back to the start of the road).
Take-home message: “Évite les cancers”, the perfect game to play with cancer and learn important information to stay healthy and avoid cancers!
Social media for education
Our team is deeply convinced that education is not limited to interactions between teachers and students: we believe in the everyday learning process. Social media counts more and more users every year who, interestingly, do not only use them for messaging or browsing memes, but also, to get informed about news and many other, diverse topics. We designed our social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) as educational tools that would enable our followers to learn about synthetic biology, cancer biology, or biomedical research conduction (from the bench to the patients). One example is the ‘fact series’ about our project, launched during summer 2021. The objective was to provide key flash information about the different aspects of the ExoSwitch: cancer, diagnostics, biopsies, exosomes, miRNAs, toehold switches and microfluidics.
During October, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (also called Octobre Rose in France) we shared a survey on social media to better understand the general knowledge of the public regarding cancer. Based on the results, many facts and information were published on our social media accounts to answer the questions and raise awareness.