Team:Grenoble-Alpes/Public Engagement


The iGEM team from Grenoble holds at heart the promotion of the diversity of minds and knowledge. This year, we want to highlight the richness of the interdisciplinary approach in scientific innovation. More precisely in pluridisciplinary research projects. As the day-to-day life of billions of individuals is progressively affected by technoscience, our engagement in Human Practices begins with a question. Is interdisciplinarity an asset to promote a more inclusive and sustainable research model for science?

Our approach originates from a new paradigm illustrated by the Responsible Research and Innovation program. Recognized by the EU since 2011, Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) can be defined as a new model “to anticipate and assess potential implications and societal expectations with a regard to research and innovation”1. Synthetic biological innovation - and innovation in general - cannot be considered without assessing its impact on society and the environment in general. Technical science has to incorporate environmental, social, political, and ethical analysis. A new research model gathering a wide range of expertise is needed to build “new connections able to upgrade experience”2 that may be nourished by the social sciences.

The diversity of interdisciplinary patterns leads to multiple meanings. We chose to design a conceptual scale between the following concepts to define more precisely our insight into them.

Interdisciplinarity: We focus on this level of collaboration, which goes beyond the mere juxtaposition of expertise. Experts from different backgrounds need to interact and perceive the stakes and constraints from other disciplines. An interdisciplinary approach provides a favourable environment to widen and expand the field of research regarding complex objects of study.

Pluridisciplinarity (= multidisciplinarity): Mixing specialty knowledge is not a brand new approach. It has given birth to new disciplines and has enabled various burgeoning expertise to develop on the scientific horizon: e.g. nanomedicine3. In the pluridisciplinary perspective, disciplinary perimeters give coherence and structure to disciplinary expertise and professional identities.

transdiciplinarity is a blurry concept. It presents a vision for development of science and for how to increase its socioeconomic relevance. Transdiciplinarity doesn’t imply the end of disciplinary frontiers but within this concept, experts come from Academia, industry and society4; research is problem-driven or application-driven. These people can be patients, but also users, consumers and other civilians affected by innovation. In the health sciences, patients’ experiences are perceived as valuable by professionals.

We encourage transdisciplinary research through the integration of social sciences into research practices. This guarantees the sustainability and ethical orientation of scientific studies. The dominant paradigm in biotechnology has been changing. Non-linearity theories symbolize the beginning of an era of uncertainty. This era should be tackled by social experts as sociologists, psychologists economists or lawyers who question constantly what they are doing. This rhetorical questioning is ethical, and should anticipate possible misuse. As most of our interviewees pointed out, “the world is becoming more and more complex”5 within the “risk society"6. The development of biology is more than ever linked to political and economic concerns: data analysis and AI, for example, are developing faster than the reflection needed to frame their development. The social sciences can facilitate the comprehension this multifaceted reality.7

Interdisciplinarity engenders a more concrete, close to reality and all-encompassing perspective8. It can be an asset to help research teams create their proper dynamic and to respond with more flexibility to the challenges they are facing. Among other compelling advantages, mixing disciplines can offer a better perspective of the “role of each discipline” in teams9. As stated in academic literature, interdisciplinary scrutiny is thriving in the scientific world however, obstacles remain for a more inclusive spirit.

The development of science has structured the scientific community. Currently it is reshaping the way the community interacts with the disciplinary landscape. This is challenged by past decisions, “history matters”, and what has happened in the past will place you on the way to path dependency. Several dimensions have been pinpointed in literature: institutional fragmentation incites humans to broaden individual skills within disciplinary boundaries, and foster academic rivalries instead of dialogue. The hierarchisation of disciplines finds its roots in their weight on the marketplace. It could lead to the fragmentation of the scientific community, reducing the opportunity to contextualize perspectives. The persistence of mutual stereotypes and prejudice restrains interdisciplinary co-thinking. It is necessary to raise awareness around disciplinary constructions and train scientific professionals to grasp other discipline’s realities.

We invite every scientist to imagine themselves in another expert’s shoes with the associated resources and constraints. Inversely, we encourage social science experts to dialogue with scientists and consider other ways of operating.

We highlight the benefits of interdisciplinarity within research teams.

To do so, we have decided to create, organize, and evaluate interdisciplinarity impact on three levels:

  1. As our team is deeply interdisciplinary, we examined the interactions at our team level through SWOT analysis.
  2. To put our reflection in perspective, we decided to study interdisciplinarity at the campus level by creating a transdisciplinary online community to discuss the future of biotechnology and science.
  3. During the European Paris Meet-Up we met Marc Santolini, a CRI researcher, who was studying the interaction between iGEM teams: we decided to work on analyzing interdisciplinarity at the competition level and enrich the overall iGEM community.

Let us present to you we have learnt…

SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths - Weaknesses - Opportunities - Threats. It is the name of a marketing tool frequently used by companies and project managers to review the general status of a project at a given time. It allows to define objectives and long-term strategy according internal and external environments, foreseen threats and opportunities to make the most of existing resources - and have access to new ones.

“Alright but what’s the point between iGEM and a SWOT?” you may ask. Well the idea came up when we looked at our team composition: biologists, engineers and political scientists obviously had their own vision of the project, influenced by what they have previously learnt and experienced. Putting them together would enrich the global vision of the project, increase opportunities of development and apprehend severals threats. A SWOT analysis was an appropriate tool to display differences in representation, allowing us to enrich our project’s vision and demonstrate the advantages of interdisciplinarity in research team.

To do so, we proceeded in two steps:

1) We asked each part of the team (biologists, engineers, political scientist) to separately fill a SWOT on NeuroDrop. Each members referred to its educational background to assess the internal and external viability of the project. Here is what we produced.

→ Biologists’ perception: biologists focused on the technical viability of the project. According to them, the main strength of the project is its flexibility, making possible to detect loads of biomarkers. They focused their analysis on the relative lack of sensitivity and specificity of the biological structure, which can trigger a lack of fiability. Their analysis focused exclusively on biological matters and did not take in account legal, ethical or commercial parameters.

→ Engineers’ perception: engineers highlighted the automatisation of the process allowed by the device they built. Our project is a pre-diagnosis tool: when it is not a weakness for biologists as long as it stays reliable, it reduces the project’s strength for engineers. Beyond technical points, they identified the acceptation of the scientific community as an important parameter to develop the project. They also considered ethical issues linked with the announcement of diagnosis but they did not focused on commercial development.

→ Political scientists’ perception: students from political sciences paid attention to the integration of the medical device in the society. Reflexions were not focused on technical aspects but on its overall acceptance that will determine its future uses. They thought about legal, ethical and economical impacts on users, patients and industrials, both in terms of opportunity and threats.

2) Once biologists, engineers and political scientists realized their separated SWOTs, we gathered the all team to make a common analysis. Only one rule was set: chose three main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the all project. This arbitrary number was chosen to initiate the discussion and exchanges between our different points of view, to encourage each members of the team to reconsider the project on the basis of arguments derived from other’s speciality. After few hours discussing, we built the following SWOT.

→ Common perception: this common SWOT is by far the more complete one. It mixes arguments both from technical and social sciences, allowing a wider perception of the project.

More than realizing an in-depth risk and opportunity analysis - analysis you can find on the Human Practices page - the main point of this funny SWOT exercise was to highlight benefits of interdisciplinarity in research team. Benefit from different point of view allowed us to widen vision on the project and help its integration out of the lab. On top of precising our project’s vision, the way we discussed with each others increased our own skills, tested our arguments by questioning them and prepared us for future project management.

SWOT analysis is a prospective economic tool actually useful for every project, when used correctly. We encourage every future iGEM teams to refer to this fun and fast template to assess and put their project in perspective.

Online Biotech community

An online community? Why?

For a better management of interdisciplinary teams, dialogue is the key to manage the gap of knowledges and skills between different experts. Throughout our academic career, we never had - or rarely - the opportunity to exchange ideas and confront visions with students from other schools or faculties, except informally outside of class. What we learned with this year of iGEM is that the more we spend time with biologists and engineers, and try to understand them, the more effective we became in our task with Human Practices, and understanding the technical details of the project.

We wanted to see with our own eyes how different students would exchange ideas considering their different backgrounds. As we tried to initiate a fruitful dialogue with the members of our teams, we wanted to do exactly the same on another level: the universitarian population. After our research in literature, we thought about testing some ideas that emerge in the scientific community regarding interdisciplinary teams, the perception of biotechnologies, and our project.

As we are living in the XXIst century, what is more relevant than digital tools to help the communication between disciplines? We wanted to use an innovative tool (as we are competing for the Education and Public engagement Award), close to the students habits, free and accessible. We chose Discord.

Discord is an online platform, initially created in 2015 for the gamer community, but with time, it opened to other populations and communities. This is a free online software, easy to use. We had little experience on this platform and most of the students that were used to Discord were engineers. To be noted, biologists and political students presented some difficulties to master the platform. The dark and gaming-like design could have surprised the unfamiliar users.

The Grenoble Alpes University is gathering a plethora of faculties and schools. Our team members are coming from the major institutions of its campus: Grenoble INP (engineering school), Sciences Po Grenoble (Political Studies Institute), and the Faculty of medicine and pharmaceutics. We wanted to recreate the composition of the team within the online community. That’s why we chose to limitate the recruitment to biology, engineering and political sciences students but we could have called for economics, law, physics or mathematics students. Today, we are planning on opening it up to these other students that might have really interesting opinions on the subject.

We ended up with a wide variety of students with different specialisations and interests:

“Good evening everyone, I’m Léa and coming from my Master Progis opinion research / marketing / media at Sciences Po - I am curious about everything so I look forward to discover biotechnology because it is not my universe at all. I am in Luxury and Gemmology - meaning there is a small risk that I will be lost so Google will be my friend and I hope that you will also be teachers if necessary to help me” Political Sciences

We had a plan:

Four days, 13 questions and amazing debates… but we had to adapt to our public. We thought about doing a fast-community during several days. But it was time for the majority of the participants to go back in class. September is busy month for everyone. That’s why we encountered a little number of answers during this 4 days - comparing to what we actually planned with our unconditional optimism.

In response, we chose to let the community opened during 4 more days, and 4 more days again, until we decided that the ideal would be to convert our flash community into a long-lasting one. People would have time to respond, but also to think about the discussed topics. The most important is to offer a positive unhindered experience to our respondents. That’s how we ended up with a infinite-duration community.


What did we do exactly?

Here is the questionnaire we initially imagine. As mentioned below, we wanted to test some ideas like the following: (this is not an exhaustive list)

  1. Is there a perceived hierarchy between disciplines?
  2. Is interdisciplinarity in research teams perceived as a brake on progress?
  3. Is collaboration between technical sciences and social sciences is perceived as more complex than collaboration between technical experts?
  4. Are social sciences perceived with less skills and competences than technical experts?

At the end, one lasting question remained: is the scientific research nowadays responsible?

It was clearly more efficient to focus on this one: a debate slowly emerged between the respondents.

Time goes by…And the community stayed open.

What did we learn from it?

Students have the urge to exchange with each other!

Some of them underlined the lack of opportunities to exchange with other students. 40 or so students accepted to participate to the community, for 2 weeks of recruitment campaign, because they were interested in debating.

“Hello, my name is Benoit, coming from a master 1 SMB at the Pharmacy UFR. Very interested in a scientific debate because it is complicated to have multidisciplinary discussions in my current curriculum.” Biologist

“Greetings! I am Antoine, a 3rd year student at Phelma (engineering school), specializing in digital microelectronics. I was told a debate is going to happened here, so of course I'm running towards you.” Engineer

Why they love what they do:


Mostly because it is a fast-growing always evolving disciplines, but also because it gives opportunities to help and cure others.

“ What I like about my training is essentially the life sciences engineering. To be able to tell myself that by slightly modifying a living being I have the possibility to propose an innovative therapeutic strategy that will allow the patient to be treated. The link between hard science and its applications is, in my opinion, very important. I need both to be satisfied. I think that its assets are also valid in general biology, it is the wealth of knowledge. I think it is difficult for a biologist to be bored since everything is constantly changing.” Biologist


The variety of the tasks (or pluridisciplinarity) added to tangible and pragmatic skills is the major asset of engineering diploma, according to our respondents. The inherent flexibility of their background was depicted, for some, as inconvenient, and for others as an asset.

“One constraint, which I think concerns almost all engineering courses, and as Laryan has already stated, is the need for versatility, which necessarily requires a period of assimilation of the problem before it can be addressed. I would add that my training in particular is very sensitive to human errors, requiring checks and sometimes boring mistakes.” Antoine, Engineer

Political scientists:

Pluridisciplinarity is the strength and the weakness of the political studies institute. They lead to a great openness of mind and knowledge. In one hand, it allow their students to understand the world with accuracy. Some of the respondent were glad about the pluridisciplinary composition of the team.

About our project:

Strengths: The cost and the sampling techniques are major of points of interrogation. In addition, neurodegenerative diseases are considered as the next medical world challenge just after the treatment of the cancer1.

Weaknesses: Our device is not a diagnosis tool, it had to be stressed out several times and brung on some confusion about the actual utility of the test. Some engineers wandered about the actual reliability of the device (in %). Some political students also pointed out about the value of an earlier diagnosis and about the cost of the device and the exam. Several students had the intelligence to put themselves into inverstos’ shoes and raise some critics and remarks about our work, which was very enriching to us.

“In my opinion, the project seems to be really interesting and quite innovative. What I find good is to be able to detect a disease (I don't know with what % reliability) with a non-intrusive technique (or very little with tear "collection"). ” Enzo, Engineer

“The project is to detect diseases in tears. Technically if we can do it, that is great. But why is it great? Is it cheaper than other tests? Will patients accept this method of analysis and why? If some people refuse to be made to cry, why? The social dimension of the tear; "I can't cry" "I never shed a tear". If you can analyze the tears, what difference will it make to doctors, analytical laboratories, medical device manufacturers? Who loses money and/or makes money with this new technique?” Léa, Political Sciences student

SHS in scientific research?

Most of the biologists had a positive perception of collaboration with social sciences experts. Some of them insist on a better integration of their knowledges, as they are a sine qua none condition for a responsible and effective science to public health issues.

“Science sometimes goes faster than ethics. It is essential that the scientific community take the time to listen, explain, communicate, and consider their work within the society. SHS should participate to the process of establishing rules (to regulate the innovation) and explaining science (to forestall people's mistrust in scientists).” Romy, biologist

On the contrary, engineers tend to see social sciences as limitative and lacking of knowledges and techniques. They are aware of the importance of project management skills as funding, communication, team management and tend to mix management and social sciences disciplines. Engineers did point out the difference of “minds”: SHS and technical professional don’t think the same way. It might be the roots of the persistent misunderstanding between these kind of disciplines.

“It seems difficult for me to judge the impact of SHS in a scientific research project, since (and correct me if I'm wrong) their contribution in terms of knowledge and technology can only be limited.” Engineer

“For my part, I'm a little more extreme. For me, scientific research is more often hindered than accelerated by SHS, I quite often see articles in social medias that talk about new treatments/medicines being tested but whose first human tests were postponed for several years in the future. (...) the fact that the problem with ethics, is that it is slowing down research considerably in many area” Laryan, Engineer

The diversity of perspectives is an asset for the quality of the scientific research, according to political science student.

“I also believe that SHS are adding value to scientific initiatives. Scientific research is always part of a broader structural and economic context. The results of research is often aiming at improving human life, which is included in a society with numerous and diverse values, within a specific economic and political framework that directly influences research, whether for its funding or in the implementation of results, for example. And, as Ludivine said, testing an innovation in the laboratory is one thing, but to put it into practice, we must take into account people's behaviour in order to adapt the implementation of the solution to these behaviours, hence the contribution of sociology.” Sophie, Political sciences

1La démographie : un enjeu géopolitique majeur , Areion Group, Juin-Juillet 2019 Vers un monde vieillissant : quels défis pour demain ? Entretien avec Gilles Pison, professeur du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, chercheur associé à l’Institut national d’études démographiques (INED), rédacteur en chef de la revue Population et Sociétés et auteur de l’Atlas de la population mondiale (Autrement, 2019).

A hierarchy of disciplines?

For the majority of biologists, this concept is irrelevant. An useful disciplines will be used, any other is bound to disappear. Few of them present judgmental opinion, but they stayed mostly neutral on the question.

“As for the question of hierarchy, it does not seem essential to me, and even useless. All disciplines have been intertwined since the beginning of their existence: a philosopher in antiquity was as much a mathematician as a physicist or later a biologist.” Coline, medicine student

Engineers are more clearly perceiving the hierarchy of disciplines. They didn’t say that it was a good thing, but it is clearly existing and everyone has to cope with it. According to their answers, hard sciences are clearly on the top, but it doesn’t mean they are always more useful than other disciplines. Actually, some of them stated that only the usefulness of a discipline matters, the hierarchy is superficial and inaccurate.

“Is art > math? In fact, do we really need to hierarchize the subjects? Because in the end, what is important is not necessarily to know that it is based on this and that it is therefore better than the other, but rather that each one brings an idea, a concept, a vision of the world around us and that each completes the other. So I stop being lyrical, hierarchy of disciplines in society? Yes, unfortunately.” Rattatak (pseudo), Engineer

Political scientists opinions’ seemed close to the engineers’. They also perceived the existence of a hierarchy between knowledges, and do not endorse it. Political students tend to think the division between disciplines as an opposition between two blocks: Hard sciences and soft sciences. To be noted, most of them are rejecting the term “soft” (“Mou” in French) as pejorative for social sciences. SHS is working with perspective, when technical disciplines are more about solving a problem. Here is lying the reason of the domination of “hard sciences” according to one of them. They helped the human society accomplishing major progress.

“As for the hierarchy, I share Ludivine’s opinion. There is a little bit of a cliché that the social sciences is a everything and nothing at the same time...especially nothing, compared to specialists in a field of hard sciences.” Sophie, Political Sciences

“An engineer will perfectly describe to you the invention of the car as a machine. But the social sciences will contextualize the usage of the car (why we made gasoline-powered cars and not electric cars when the first cars were electric = economic choice / impact of the car on societies = speed of travel, autonomy, emancipation / impact on the landscape = urban planning of the 20th century tramways everywhere in the world are loosened to give way to cars etc / environmental issues etc etc etc etc).” Léa, Political Sciences

Interdisciplinarity in Research:

We haven’t been able to define general patterns of thinking according to disciplinary background. However, opinions are definitely diverging, forming groups of ideas regardless individual specialities. As we mentioned in the “discipline hierarchy” section, some students consider ethical and social consideration as limitative object of studies. Some other see the disciplinary landscape as a circle:

“I think that there is no field that does not touch directly or indirectly another field (which itself touches on another field). First, it is complicated to be an expert everywhere. Secondly, two people who do different things can stimulate each other, have different opinions, disagree (or propose different solutions). This is what allows them to challenged themselves all the time and find solutions that we wouldn't have thought of. Finally, it allows you to get external advice and find inspiration.” Smixi (pseudo), Engineer

Some in favor of a more inclusive dialogue in scientific research (especially with social sciences), are the same to underlined the time-consuming dimension of its approach. A majority expressed itself in favour of more interdisciplinarity. The center of the debate was on the terms of implementation of this dimension in the scientific research. The context, the object of the study, the deadlines, the funding, the composition of the team and many variables could be taken into account. Furthermore, our personal beliefs, our family history and cultural backgrounds have a major influence in our ethical considerations: This is certainly the most intricate issue about ethics in sciences and technology. How to extract individual considerations from the debate in order to influence positively the research without restraining it excessively?

“I think it depends a lot both on the organization or context in which scientists work and also on the broader culture to which they are evolving. Let me explain myself: Some things may seem ethically, socially,... questionable to us and this may be related to our own vision or that of our entourage because some practices are taboo in some places while in others they are totally accepted. One of the first examples that comes to mind today is the issue of food, particularly of meat. In some places, we eat everything, in others we don't eat pork or cow or anything else. The way people look at things from these different places is inevitably affected by their beliefs, their culture, etc... And, I'm not going to tell you, scientists are among those people.” Garnotte (pseudo), Engineer

“Interdisciplinarity in scientific research is a crucial thing. I do not necessarily have a lot of experience in research yet. I have only validated an M1 in science and I am not yet a doctor. Yet the further I go in my studies, the more I realize the lack of collaboration that exists between all the different branches that could help to make things happen. When you talk to patients as a student, your status allows you to see that they don't necessarily understand everything, that they face daily difficulties that you don't necessarily realize when you are a scientist in your laboratory.” Biologist

As a major tendency, the participants recognize the magnitude of past mistakes in scientific spheres. But according to the collected answers, designating the responsible of innovation backlashes - past, present and future - is almost impossible to determine. It might also be better this way, as we might all have to carry a part of the burden.

“So whose fault is it? Is it the consumer, the industrialist or the scientist who has designed the means of production? I don't know. I would tend to say that we're in the same boat and that it's not enough to appoint someone to solve the problem. Surely, we all have a greater or lesser share of responsibility, including scientists. But here again there are some cool serious initiatives so we can't put everyone in the same basket. Another subsidiary question: is it not possible today to measure the unconsciousness of scientists in the past?” Garnotte (pseudo), Engineer

Finally, maybe the question is more “How to limitate the damages?” rather than “How to make Science responsible ?” Some of the experts we met insists on the fact that the “zero risk” doesn’t exist. Through the debate, it appear that some student didn’t know about the existing institutions responsible for the regulation of research programs. It might a good starter point to raise awareness about the necessity of a legal and ethical framework to avoid abuses. The remaining problem was how to elaborate a protocole on these areas that will fit any context and objectives of the multitude of scientific innovation program. A majority of the students do not wish to hinder the progress of science, but it should be at best anticipate the most possible the risk of misuses and health risks: we are talking about resilience.

“The main idea is that scientific research must be objective, so it cannot be responsible for the misuse of its results...yes, but...It would be interesting to involve social sciences and hard sciences researchers in their practice so that new scientific "innovations" take into account their possible or probable impacts on society.” Sophie, Political Sciences Student

“Perhaps in order to avoid abuses, it is necessary to set up scientific commissions that are politically and financially independent on an international, regional (European Union) and national scale. A commission composed of scientists, citizens, journalists and lawyers drawn at random in order to avoid corruption. These people could discuss and decide on these ethical, legal and scientific issues together” Corentin, Political Sciences student

Some students also considered that the scientific community is responsible enough for its objectives. The responsibility has to be carried by those whom enabled its harmful use. The responsibility of the individual is the main variable to take into account. If a scientist is leading a non-responsible study, the problem is the scientist and not the science itself. This would be especially true, considering the complexity and subjectivity of ethics considerations. Here, the science is inherently objective and positive, only human would corrupt the inventions that were made.

“To conclude, I would simply say that, as I was able to say earlier, research does not need external guidance. I believe that anyone who is in charge of research is smart enough to know how to set limits for themselves and their research resources. The problem for me is that [ethical approach] restricts the use of these inventions. There is no matter for me, in testing living subjects, especially if the subject is volunteering or if the research might offer him an opportunity for a better future. Ethics should only intervene to control science in extreme cases of mass destruction, while of course reminding us that any sane researcher would not even dare to think of such means. ” Laryan (pseudo), Engineer

Some asserted that a science that respect ethics is better than an unleashed one, which would lead undoubtedly to moral deviances, like eugenics. Better to slow the process down than to face the damages of science. Here, the science is not capable of regulate itself.

“I don't know how to assess or contain risks created by a scientist, but I would say that above all we must have an ethical vision, and not a surrealist vision of what we do. Finally, that men don’t play to think of themselves as gods (like those who intend to modify the climate or transhumanism.)” Corentin, Political Sciences student

To conclude,

Firstly, ideas were shared between students, without any concrete boundaries regarding disciplines. It was a surprise for us, we expected to see homogeneous way of thinking but it wasn’t the case. They showed enthusiasm in participating to a debate with various disciplines.

Secondly, students are aware of the existence of a fictive hierarchy between disciplines, especially separating hard and soft sciences. In majority, they don’t endorse this way of categorizing knowledges.

It also appears that student have slight knowledge about the regulation in terms of ethical regulation. For example, some respondents gave ideas of regulation that seemed a lot like ethical review board. On this matter, Anne-Marie Benoit, vice-president of one of these institutions wish to share some of a knowledge and experiences of the subject. That’s why we would like to invite her to participate to the conference and the awareness events. Pluridisciplinarity is an asset. Students are opened to the idea of collaborating with various experts coming from other field of study. For some, human sciences is not attractive, when for other, they could be the cornerstone for a more resilient and sustainable scientific research. In any case, there are people open to the idea for a narrow collaboration between social and technical sciences.

Finally, the participants expressed some positive comments about our project. Some of them underlined some points that we could next tackle in our analysis.

Setting up an online community composed of students from different specialities has proven its great interest and utility. We strongly encourage the creation of such initiative on other campus, in associations… looking up for challenges and refusing the status quo. Thus, creating debate between people with different background benefits to the organisation but also to students: when they are offered the possibility to expose their opinions on societal subject, they show enthusiasm and are keen on learning more. The creation of an online community is easy and flexible, for both administrators and participants. Beyond Discord, many other platform can be used as Slack for example.

Convinced by these first steps, we decided not to stop and extend the experience after the competition. Thus, we reached Disrupt Campus and Promising, two organizations dedicated to enrich intellectual life and project’s creation on the campus, and told them about our online community. They were very enthusiastic about the project and shared our will to make it last. We decided to organize a special day-event on the campus on interdisciplinarity after the Jamboree. Every students, regardless their educational background, will be invited to join and exchange on societal issues. Meanwhile, Disrupt Campus and Promising will take over the animation of the community and open up the debate on wider subjects.

iGEM Grenoble x iGEM TIES

We met Marc Santolini at the European Paris Meet-Up. After a hackathon organized by Thomas Landrin from JOGL (we had the chance to meet him a couple of days later for an interview on NeuroDrop), we went to Marc to exchange about our respective project.

The study

“iGEM TIES (Team IntEraction Study) explores how iGEM team interactions, diversity impact the global performance of iGEM teams and the learning experience of the students” said Marc when we came to him. ”Teams have to register on the website (igem-ties), get involved according to their availabilities and get their results through the publication of a report after the wiki freeze.”

More precisely, the study led by the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) in Paris is divided in three parts:

  1. The form part: Marc and its collaborators elaborated a complete questionnaire to be filled by the participating teams The questions addressed various topics as team organisation and management in order to get pieces of information and personal feelings from iGEMERS on their global experience.
    NB: iGEM Grenoble participated in the redaction of the questionnaire by adding questions related to interdisciplinary issues.
  2. The app part: A mobile application was designed for the study. Each member of the participating teams had to download it on their phone. The app will allow to monitor and map team interactions within the lab in order to better understand them (frequency, time spend with other members...).
  3. The email part: The communication flow among teams will be analyzed after the Giant Jamboree through all the exchanges on different communication media (Slack, WhatsApp, E-mail, etc.).

Pretty interested in the initiative, we immediately understood how iGEM Grenoble could contribute to the study:

  • Collaborating with the CRI was an amazing opportunity to deepen our analysis of interdisciplinarity among research teams that go through the same experience; it was an unique chance to analyze the level of interdisciplinarity, how they deal with it, how does it impact their global experience… in France but also in other countries from different continent.
  • As this study is expected to be continued over upcoming competitions, this will allow to collect more feedback from future teams and improve recommendations. Participating teams will benefit from a report based on their answers and will contain comprehensive results about their workflow. Through this analysis, teams will be able to evaluate the relevance of their interactions and organisation to better reach their goal, win medals and learn new skills (both hard skills and soft skills). Beyond that, the study will also benefit to the overall iGEM community: the results from all teams will give a global overview of how iGEM teams organize themselves. This will allow to associate organisational behavior with performance and learning in the competition, providing feedback and inspiration to future teams about the structuration of their work, the decision-making process, or the learning experience. Hopefully, this will contribute to improve the global experience of iGEM, make it more enjoyable and provide useful advice to help teams perform best in the competition. It could help students to improve their project management skills and serve as a model for next studies in other scientific fields. As such, this study fits in the collaborative iGEM spirit.

That’s how iGEM Grenoble became the Ambassador of iGEM TIES and participated in the elaboration of the questionnaire. We helped to build questionnaires and deeping them when we proposed to add question about interdisciplinarity within teams. Meanwhile, we were in charge of recruiting as many team as possible to get a consequent and representative data flow.

The first results

The 4th of September: on 41 answers, more than the half of the respondent have a background in molecular biology (“It’s a synthetic biology competition after all!”), followed by engineers (30%), chemists (17,1%) and mathematicians (12,2%). However, social sciences are very poorly represented (only 4,9%), with only 2,4% of students with a literature background.

The 4th of September: on 41 answers, more than the half of the respondent have a background in molecular biology (“It’s a synthetic biology competition after all!”), followed by engineers (30%), chemists (17,1%) and mathematicians (12,2%). However, social sciences are very poorly represented (only 4,9%), with only 2,4% of students with a literature background.

Collaboration Maurice Mikkers

By participating to NeuroDrop, we had the opportunity to work on innovative techniques. Using tears as diagnosis fluid was one of the most attractive aspect of the project. We found so fascinating to manipulate these common drops of water and salt and fin out a way to use them for medical purpose. But have you ever asked yourself what are actually tears? After a couple of months spent in the lab and thanks to a collaboration with a Dutch artist, we can light up your lantern.

From a biological point of view, tears are lacrimal liquid secreted by the tear glands; their fonction is to moist the eyes and take them off any potential contamination. But beyond this scientific definition, you can give another definition to tears. That is precisely what aimed Maurice Mikkers when he launched Imaginarium of Tears in 2015. This project is born in the mind of a biologist that, someday, decided to take another look to biological components he saw everyday underneath his microscope. After crystallizing a tear, he was stupefy by its unexpected beauty. “They are like little planet! They have beautiful structure in patterns!” he said in a TEDx Talk he hold in Amsterdam. Amazed by the beauty of it, he decided to exchange his lab coat against a camera to offer the opportunity to everyone to capture the beauty of their own tears.

Seduced by the poetry of his art, we reached him to build a partnership. After a few exchanged mail and Skype calls, we flew to Amsterdam to meet him. Although, he had a very good basis setting and hardware, he experienced difficulties to put sensor to retrieve information from the substrate. We helped him by providing information and guidance concerning the sensor we used and the basic knowledge needed to perform correct data acquisition. With that data, he should be able to easily acquire sounds, low electrical frequencies, current and voltage informations, resistance so crystallinity of the substrate or luminosity. In exchange, he agreed on taking a picture of our reconstituted tears. We both have been very happy to exchange our skills and knowledge to help our projects grow. It was a very nice collaboration that is we want to thanks him once again for his availability and his kindness.

Antoine and Aline met Maurice Mikkers over a nice coffee in Amsterdam.

A couple of weeks later, we received our crystallized tear.

The photo was so beautiful we agreed on collaborate with iGEM Nantes and send it for their Art Exhibition.

Much more than allowing us to collaborate with another iGEM team, our common work enhances in a very poetic way our Education and Public Engagement commitments:

  • With his previous experience, Maurice Mikkers embodies the encounter between several discipline. Biologist and artist photograph, he uses the microscope and the camera to picture the world.
  • On top of that, this photographs are entertaining supports to share knowledge about synthetic biology. His beautiful pictures surprise and catch the attention: what a better way to make the public keen on learning about life sciences?

1Maurice Mikkers. (2019). Imaginarium of Tears:

2Maurice Mikkers. (2015). TEDxAmsterdam, How do tears turn into art?:

Global SWOT

You can download the Global SWOT here

After our first reunion with Mr Bontems, we had to work again on our SWOT to deliver an enriching analysis about our project, from a business development perspective.

We figured that management tools could represent a great opportunity for teams to confront their visions of the project and enrich each others’ knowledge. As Thierry Bontems said, “the most interesting part of the work is the conversation you will have when you’ll fill the document".

The SWOT is one of the most widespread and popular tool. Its usage was a fabulous opportunity to project ourselves in the future of the project.

Risk cartography

We discovered the Avoid Project during a couple of months before the Jamboree. It allowed us to have a closer look risks associated with the project. This document is relevant to reinsure the investors about the reliability of a project. It also allowed us to pay close attention to environmental, ethical and legal issues. As the SWOT analysis, it encourages the dialogue and a better understanding of every issues we will ou might face in the future.

The Avoid project is a software developed by Thierry Bontems accessible in Open Source. We encourage every iGEM team to use it on its own project!

Here, you can see the mapping of Avoid for the Neurodrop Project. On the left, the board shows the risks we might face if we let the project as it is today. The second board, on the right, is presenting the state of risks after implementing some measures to contain the same risks.

You can download the full report here!

Transdiciplinarity conclusion

We chose to explore the notion of interdisciplinarity for few reasons. First, because we experienced working with a diversity of knowledge and got inspired by our own difficulties and experiences on this matter. Second, because it is an effective way to familiarize people with scientific advances. Third, because it is essential to remain clear-headed about the responsibility and risks associated with those same advances. The more we understand the mechanisms of life, the more complex it become to create a bridge between technical progress and the vision of the people toward biotechnology.

Our strategy was to use different perspectives and tools, to explore some hypothesis we had on the subject. Are interdisciplinary methods common in the scientific research? Have they been explored in literature? Do scientists agree with the idea of giving more space to social sciences? How do social experts take position on this matter? As we are students, the state of mind of our peers received a special attention.

We could find numerous people perceiving interdisciplinarity as an opportunity. Others said that interdisciplinarity would take to much time and energy for small results. Both can be true. But under certain circumstances, they are an asset to respond more effectively and qualitatively to public issues. After this year, we believe that the main problem is communication and dialogue between disciplines but also in profound change in our way of thinking too.

Finally, we formulated some recommendations on how to encourage pluridisciplinarity: some measures are ambitious, aiming at strong old process that we are all used to. Others are just easy, quick and accessible and might be great solutions to help us building new bridges between our minds.

As Edgar Morin said in a conference about education,

"la culture scientifique est une culture de spécialisation, tendant à se clore, et dont le langage devient ésotérique non seulement pour le commun des citoyens mais aussi pour le spécialiste d’une autre discipline. Le savoir lui-même croît de façon exponentielle et ne peut être engrammé par aucun esprit humain. À travers ce formidable développement de la culture scientifique, on assiste à une perte de la réflexivité"

"Scientific culture is a culture of specialization, tending to close, and whose language becomes esoteric not only for the common citizen but also for the specialist in another discipline. Knowledge itself grows exponentially and cannot be engrammed by any human mind, and through this tremendous development of scientific culture, we are witnessing a loss of reflexivity"


  • To conduct a more responsible and inclusive research, we recommend the integration of social sciences’ expertise in technical research activities and project development.
  • To build a common vision, to foresee risks and to take advantages of opportunities, we recommend to research teams to use management tools, as the SWOT as a support for common reflexion and dialogue.
  • To encourage discussions and tear down stereotypes about other disciplines, we recommend the creation of commun spaces for dialogues, as online communities in universities for example.
  • To raise awareness about the role of social sciences in research, we recommend a better recognition of social scientists’ work and a better communication on the work achieved by ethical board review.
  • To bring science closer to society, we recommend a better involvement of technical experts in social issues; a new technical and scientific diplomacy has to emerge.
  • To put an end to the fragmentation of knowledge, we recommend to include multiple forms of knowledge within students’ academics careers at the University. This recommendation is also valuable for high schools’ teaching.

1"Pour une réforme de la pensée", extrait des Entretiens Nathan des 25 et 26 novembre 1995.

Elementary School Project

Synthetic Biology is a field that is misunderstood by the general public. With our project we wanted to fight this by bringing simple experiments that would illustrate the usefulness of synthetic biology to the youngest.

In this perspective we collaborated with a french teacher to create a simple experiment.

The idea was to give the teacher a document with a simple experiment to perform. This document contains not only scientific facts, but also oriented questions to guide the students in the understanding synthetic biology.


In France, the recruitment of teachers has changed a few years ago. Before this reform the teachers needed a bachelor to become elementary school teachers, they are now required to have a master degree. This reform led to an increase in the general level of studies of the elementary school teachers, but came with one huge downside: most of the teachers in elementary school don’t have a scientific background.

This directly leads to some difficulties for both the students and the teachers when it comes to doing science. In many cases, the solution found is simple: the teacher will limit his or her class to a theoretical approach of this field and the students will seldom do any experiments.

In biology, the experiments require a protocol and for most of the teachers, this is just impossible.

This is why we decided to collaborate with a french elementary school teacher to help him, and as many teachers as possible, conduct a simple synthetic biology experiment.

As the experiment by itself needs to be very simple, we also wanted to present the experiment, as a practical example of the scientific method.

The pedagogical aspect of this project was also interesting as we didn’t want to follow the traditional teacher-student . In fact, we designed the whole experiment so the students would be the main actors of their manipulation, finding by themselves the right answers to real biological questions. This method is usually called the Freinet pedagogy.

The project

This part of our project addresses one question: how could we create a simple experiment that anyone could perform with basic material, and which could give us a result linked to synthetic biology?

After some brainstorming, we decided to do a bacterial culture.

To do a bacterial culture we need two things: a medium and bacterias. The idea we had was to reuse a natural medium: the egg. This showed to be a good idea as the students already are familiar with eggs, and giving them the opportunity to go further in discovering what they could do with it, showed to give them a real interest for the experiment.

As a natural culture medium, the egg is also a great choice as it is meant to have all the nutrients that a chicken would need. This means that we can already find in the egg all the nutrients needed for a culture without adding any other mineral, sugar or other biological molecule.

As the egg comes in liquid form, we had to find a way to jellify it. As agarose is pretty expensive and isn’t available in supermarkets, we decided to use another gellificant: agar-agar. Agar-agar can be bought in supermarkets. This means that anyone can do the experiment, without being limited by the components.

The experiment in itself is pretty simple: we just need to jellify an egg. Then the objective is to grow bacteria. For this, we asked the students to put their fingers in the gel. In fact, we asked them to put their finger in two different gels. First, they had to place their finger without any washing into one gel, and then clean it  with a hydroalcoholic solution and place it on another gel. This could also allow the teacher to make a point about the need of washing one's hands, which in elementary schools is still a public safety issue.

As the egg is relatively sterile we expect to see more colonies in the solution that has been touched by the dirty fingers than by the relatively clean ones.

We performed this experiment a few times before sending the documents to the teachers that participated in our experiment, and we got good results. The return we got from the teachers was also great, even if in some cases they couldn’t make any egg jelly, they got to experiment biology without the fear of saying something wrong, or leading the students into believing things that were not true.

The pedagogical approach

As we wanted the teachers to be able to perform the experiments by themselves, without any additional help from us, we created our document with a very simple and concise structure.It is 5-page long document with:

  • An introduction page where the experiment is described , its goal, the resources needed to perform it, the time it takes to do it and the way the experiment is connected to the scholar program.
  • Three pages to describe each step of the experiment. As we designed a culture that could be performed over a few days, we recommended a three session schedule to complete the experiment. Each page covers one part of the experiment, and is thought to be performed on one session of one hour. The program is designed with a one-day break between each sessions.
    • The first session covers the realization of the gels
    • The second session covers the application of the fingers on the gels
    • The third session comments the results that are obtained
    Each page is divided into 4 sections:
    • The objectives of the session
    • The material needed for the session (the list is exhaustive from the agar-agar solution to the cooking film to protect the solutions once the gels are made)
    • A contextualization of the experiment. This is the most interesting part of the whole document as it is presented as a series of simple questions such as: “what does a chicken eat when it lives in the egg?”. Those questions do not need any background in neither biology nor science in general and allow students to make hypotheses. Those hypotheses force them to appropriate the subject while guiding them to an understanding of the whole process. As each question also comes with a simple answer, the teacher can confirm the answers the students have given. This method is effective and gives a real meaning to what the students are doing as they are not just following a class with the regular organization, but they are left alone with one question they can answer.
    • The experiment that has to be performed during the session. This is an exhaustive list of what has to be done. This allows the teacher to manage the experiment without needing extra-knowledge from synthetic biology or science in general
  • One last page with simple articles, contacts and other resources. This is meant to help the teacher to learn more about this field of science if he desired so. Finding reliable information by oneself is always challenging, and even more on topics that we have never heard of. Giving the teacher some reliable and yet simple papers, reviews and videos is we believe a great way to help them learn more if they want to.

The whole idea of the document was to give the opportunity to any teacher to work with molecular biology, and to present synthetic biology not as an obscure science but as the natural development of what had just been done. This was done by choosing a very simple experiment, with very basic principles, and detail them as much as possible so they seem evident.


We began the experiment with only one class, but pretty soon, a few other classes wanted to do the experiments. In the end, six classes did the experiment, and we hope other classes will join the project in the future, as all the comments we got were very encouraging (despite some experiments that didn’t work as planned because the teacher did not boil the solution of agar-agar and water).

The most important part in all this work was the impact on the student and from what we heard, all the students were happy to work with eggs, and they got to learn some very important biological principles during these sessions. Overall we are very satisfied with the results of this part of the project.