This year, our team sought to engage the local Williamsburg community with the concepts of synthetic biology and genetic engineering. We provided educational experiences to those in our community through presentations at a local festival and at local retirement communities in our area. These presentations provided basic information about biology, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, and applications of synthetic biology in the real world. Our team sought to teach individuals on both sides of the age spectrum about the wonders of synthetic biology. We accomplished this goal by speaking to children, using a craft analogy, and giving presentations at local retirement homes. After speaking at these retirement homes, our team found that this underserved community was eager to learn about synthetic biology. As a result, our team created resources to help other teams reach out to this group of individuals. Our team created a presentation geared towards this age group for other teams to use. This presentation was reviewed by individuals at a retirement home for advice on how to effectively communicate this advanced scientific information. Additionally, our team wrote a pamphlet with advice we found helpful for speaking to this group of individuals.
Our team was interested in talking to residents in retirement homes about synthetic biology. We are aware that this community is often overlooked when discussing synthetic biology, often due to a lack of access to scientific programming in retirement homes. However, after presenting at retirement homes, our team found that these individuals were eager to learn about this field. Our presentations covered concepts including genetic engineering, cells, synthetic biology, and applications of synthetic biology. In addition, our presentation had interactive components, such as a guess the cell type game. In order to ensure that our presentation was able to effectively communicate scientific information, our team had it reviewed by two members of a retirement home. They offered advice for how to better present this information to a non-scientific audience and made suggestions regarding potential graphics to better our presentation. We then made these changes to our presentation.
Residents appeared very interested in the presentation. We received numerous questions during our presentations such as “Can you visually tell the difference between animal and plant cells?” and “How was Dolly cloned?”. Residents were excited to learn about the principles of synthetic biology, with one resident exclaiming, “I can’t believe I actually understood what you guys were talking about!” Further, we found that these presentations played an additional role. Learning about science and its advances proved to be comforting to the residents, decreasing anxiety surrounding any personal health issues or the SARS-COV-2 pandemic. In regards to the current global pandemic, one resident stated, “It makes me feel better to know that so many people around the world are working together to help stop the COVID-19 crisis”.
As our team found such a value in discussing synthetic biology with retirement communities, we wanted to establish a way for other teams to have positive experiences interacting with these communities. We developed an educational pamphlet with tips and tricks about presenting to retirement communities, including advice for creating the presentation, giving the presentation, and what content to cover. Additionally, we attached our presentation for other teams to use. This presentation was reviewed by two individuals at a retirement home for feedback to make the science of the presentation as clear as possible.
Second Sunday Fest
On the second Sunday of every month, Williamsburg holds the Second Sunday Festival, offering local artisans a chance to showcase their work. Through a partnership with the local community, our team was able to participate in this festival with the aim of teaching children synthetic biology concepts.
In order to adhere to the festival's arts theme, our team developed a synthetic biology-based arts and crafts project: gene circuit bracelets. Our team wanted to find a way to teach complicated concepts of biology in a simple, visual format. The gene circuit bracelet art project centers around the sequential order of genetic inserts and the necessary components of these inserts. Every insert requires a promoter and terminator; therefore, participants started their bracelets with a green bead, representing the promoter, and ended the circuit with a red bead, representing the terminator. Between the two beads, participants could add beads from a wide variety of colors. Each color bead represented a gene for a different “superpower”. For example, adding a blue bead to a bracelet gave the participant a mermaid tale, while a pink bead enabled the power to turn things into cotton candy. While technically, genes are not located back-to-back, our team had to apply the concept to a bracelet. The children at the fair loved this activity, putting lots of thought and effort into which “superpower genes” they wanted to select. One individual decided to make a bracelet from entirely pink genes, because they really loved cotton candy. Overall, this bracelet method seemed to get the basics of insert construction across while still enabling kids to have fun.
Additionally, our team took empty sterile pipette tip boxes from our lab and allowed the children to decorate these boxes using colored paper, sequins, and, of course, science stickers. We wanted to fight the stigma of laboratory materials being seen as scary, or overly complex. Currently, these children are now sleeping with pipette tip boxes in their rooms; hopefully, making them more comfortable with scientific materials.
This year, our team spoke to individuals on both sides of the age spectrum about synthetic biology. We reached out to younger age groups at an arts festival through having them create gene circuit bracelets. Additionally, to communicate with those on the older side of the age spectrum, we spoke to individuals at retirement communities. We found this age group to be very interested in the field of synthetic biology and to be potential supporters of the field. As a result, we created a guide pamphlet for talking to this age group and a sample presentation geared towards interacting with those in retirement communities.