PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT AND EDUCATION
Our team has been comprehensive in engaging the public and educating them about synthetic biology. In practice, this was accomplished by organizing and attending numerous events as well as reaching out through external communication channels.
We interacted with people yet unaware about synthetic biology by organizing and hosting a day full of workshops for over 1000 visitors – from young toddlers to senior citizen – in the biggest Science Center in Finland, Heureka. Additionally, we recorded and released a podcast series on a well-known media platform aiming to educate people about synthetic biology, in which we discussed current hot topics in the field with professionals.
In addition, we have organized presentations and workshops for high school and University students, where we have encouraged them to start their own iGEM team and educated them about synthetic biology. We have presented our project to international public in various events including BioBusiness Builder event, European Biotech Week and BioFinland Pitching Competition. Together with iGEM Aboa, we took part in organizing and planning the opening event for a brand new an open GMO lab available for students and researchers called BioGarage.
Finnish high school level Biology Olympiad training
On August 8, we met the Finnish high school students who had been chosen to train for the Finnish International Biology Olympiad team 2020. As part of their training, which included both theoretical studies and hands on lab work, they came to meet us to hear about how students can develop independent projects in synthetic biology. We told them about iGEM, our project, and then hosted an educative quiz. Apart from that we also discussed our studies with them in order to give them ideas of what they possibly could go on studying after high school.
High school visits
We wanted to share the knowledge about synthetic biology and iGEM also to the younger students who may not have a real knowledge about synthetic biology as a field of study. Therefore, we visited the Finnish high schools Mäkelänrinne Sport High School and Viikin normaalikoulu to talk about synthetic biology, what one can do with it, iGEM, and our project. We were interested in knowing how much the students actually learned from our visits, which is why we made the students pay a game called Flinga. The game is like a mind map, which all the students can fill in anonymously with their phone, and we started the visit with it to see what they knew from before, and then repeated it after the presentation. We were amazed by the results! It was very obvious that the students learned a lot during our presentation, and it seemed like we succeeded in sparking an interest towards synthetic biology and iGEM in many of them. We also used the visits as a chance to promote the idea of a high school iGEM team among the students, as the classes we visited for sure would become very good iGEM teams!
Presentation for French biopharma/business students
In the beginning of June we did a presentation about iGEM and our project for students from the Grenoble Ecole de Management’s Advanced Master in Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Management program in Paris, France. They visited Finland for a week to learn more about biotechnology. After giving the presentation, we discussed together about the possibilities of synthetic biology and encouraged them to apply to iGEM in the future.
Presentation for BioBusiness Builder
On 13th of June we attended the first ever BioBusiness Builder event by SynBio Powerhouse. BioBusiness Builder helps teams with business ideas related to synthetic biology transform their ideas to business cases and further on to startup companies. We presented our project to the attending experts and startups, and got valuable feedback and advice on how to proceed with our project.
We collaborated with our universities, Aalto University and University of Helsinki, and agreed to attend the universities courses. As visiting lecturers, we provided a brief introduction to synthetic biology, iGEM and our project. We presented at the Building Information Modeling course to Master’s students in Bioinformatics, Aalto University. As well as at a seminar for the Master’s students in Translational Medicine, University of Helsinki. We included the Flinga game also during the university visits to make the presentations interactive and to help the students understand the concept of synthetic biology. The figures below visualize some of the thoughts that students had after our presentation.
Figure. Thoughts about synthetic biology by Bioinformatics and Translational Medicine students. Collected with the help of Flinga game
Publications and blog-posts
Articles about our projects were featured in the blogs by Kemianteollisuus and Kemia-lehti. In addition, we have sent texts to be published by Academy of Finland, a funder of academic research in Finland, several Aalto University student associations newspapers as well as Loimu, The Union of Professionals in Natural, Environmental and Forestry Sciences. In addition, we have published blog posts of our iGEM journey throughout the year. And wrote an informative blog about V.natriegens, the organism of interest for our project. The goal of these articles has been to spread awareness of synthetic biology and iGEM in Finland within the local scientific community.
“Protein Pop – from genes to action” Workshop day at Heureka Science Centre
We partnered with Heureka Science Centre and planned a set of both entertaining and educating workshops for a broad audience including every age from small kids to teenagers and adults. We aimed to have something exciting for everyone since guests in Heureka Science Centre are usually families, and we wanted everyone to feel included. We believe that learning through playing builds up long-lasting knowledge and we think that our activities helped guests to learn a lot about synthetic biology through our entertaining activities.
Our event was called “Protein pop - from genes to action” since the main aim of our workshops was to present a bit of our project and the possibilities of synthetic biology to the general public. As our project revolves around therapeutic proteins, we started to think, how much does a non-biologist-person even know about proteins? You get it from food and need it to grow muscles, but what else? We wanted to educate people about the fact that proteins are far more than just egg whites and steak. Ultimately, every one of us is just a huge protein synthesis machine! Everything happening in our bodies is basically due to hundreds of millions of proteins interacting with each other.
We had four different workshops designed for the visitors of the Heureka Science Center, each addressing some particular aspect of proteins in a fun and playful way, but also with an educational part.
1. DNA strand Workshop
In the DNA strand workshop, we educated the visitors of what DNA is, what it consists of, and how the bases interact with each other. The children then built their own colorful DNA strands with a sequence of their desire.
2. Draw it/Color it; Workshop
In the Draw it/Color it workshop, we explained how different bacteria are used in synthetic biology, and what DNA, proteins, and bacteria actually are and where they can be found. In this workshop, the visitors got to draw and color proteins, DNA, and bacteria in their own creative way!
3. Protein & magnifying glass workshop
In this workshop, we wanted to demonstrate how small proteins actually are. The workshop consisted of a big poster where there was a picture of an ant, enlargement of the ant's foot, a human skin cell, and tiny protein resembling funny looking molecules that you needed to spot using a magnifying glass.
4. Aminoacid/Hormone Workshop
In this workshop, we wanted to educate the visitors about peptide hormones in the human body. The children got to build their own hormone bracelet or a necklace with threading a string with different colored pearls representing different amino acids to make their own functioning hormone. For this workshop we also made a poster, which taught the visitors that hormones are secreted from various places in the human body by visualizing where the different hormones are secreted from.
In addition to our four workshops, together with members from the Estonian iGEM team Tartu TUIT arranged laboratory experiment workshops. In these workshops, the visitors got to extract DNA from kiwi fruits and create colorful funny foams in the lab.
The outcome was a better success than we ever could have wished for: More than 1000 visitors from small kids to teenagers to grown-up adults came to Heureka Science Center to have fun and learn about science and synthetic biology! Everyone enjoyed creativity and learning science at the same time in the DNA strand, hormone bracelet, and coloring workshops, and playing secret detectives in our protein searching workshop. All in all, it was very rewarding for our whole team to see how the visitors were excited and fascinated about our workshops and wanted to learn about the science behind them. It was a great chance for us to tell a large public about synthetic biology and how fun science actually is!
BioTech Theme Week
We took part in celebrating the European Biotech Week 23-29 September 2019. Numerous biotech events were organized all around Europe during this week. Our team had the opportunity to collaborate with Finnish Bioindustries - FIB and Synbio Powerhouse to attend two of these events during the week.
We took part in a BioFinland pitching competition, an event full of creative ideas and enthusiastic young minds! The event was organized by FIB in collaboration with Helsinki Think Company and Nasdaq. We got incredibly positive feedback and we are honored to be selected as one of the finalists.
Later during the week, we joined our powers with a fellow Finnish iGEM team from Turku, Aboa. We participated in the opening of BioGarage, an open GMO lab available to students and researchers at Aalto Design Factory. We presented our projects and iGEM at the opening ceremony, after which we hosted a quiz about synthetic biology and a DNA extraction workshop. Additionally, we published an educational video about Immunoassays created together with iGEM Aboa team for Biotech Week. The video was shared in our social media and in the social media channels of Finnish Bioindustries. The video can be found from our Youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf2D-5SpfrY&t=21s.
Reaching out about synthetic biology to many different audiences is one of the main goals for our human practices. Therefore we asked ourselves the questions.
How would we reach as large audience as possible for our project? And also maybe in a more unconventional way than most of the iGEM teams do?
The idea started evolve almost immediately: a student-driven synthetic biology podcast, where we would interview experts and researchers and how different global problems can be tackled with the help of synthetic biology in the future. Through many initial plans our podcast series started take shape: a 4-part series with each episode explaining synthetic biology from a different point of view.
The podcast series was published on Supla, a finnish podcast hosting platform that has more than 100 000 weekly users. The podcast was marketed in our social media and shared by both University of Helsinki and Aalto University as well as a few major influencers and organization from the relevant fields. The podcast was also marketed to high schools students through connections that we had with high school teachers.
EPISODE #1: INTRODUCTION
What is synthetic biology and what can we do with it? In this episode we interview Merja Penttilä, Adjunct professor in Aalto University and Research professor in VTT. This episode includes an introduction to synthetic biology, some history of how the field has emerged and what possibilities it has in the future.
EPISODE #2: ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
How can synthetic biology be utilized to develop modern energy sources? This episode is built on the topics of climate change and the importance of sustainability. We discuss the use of cyanobacteria as an energy source together with our guest speaker Pauli Kallio, Adjunct professor in University of Turku.
EPISODE #3: FOOD INDUSTRY
What is GMO food? How can synthetic biology be used in the food industry to meet the growing demand for food while ensuring sustainable food production? This episode explains the importance of new technologies and synthetic biology in food production with our guest Lauri Reuter, PhD in Biotechnology.
EPISODE #4: POPULARISATION OF SCIENCE
How and why should science be explained to the large public? Mikko Myllylä from Heureka Science Centre talks about science communications together with our team members in this episode.