The Experimenta Science Center Heilbronn
The Experimenta Science Center (Experimenta) in Heilbronn, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany offers science at your fingertips on an area of around 25,000 square metres with around 275 interactive exhibits, four creative studios and nine laboratories, as well as an observatory and an extraordinary science dome with spectacular science shows. Additionally, last year, they set up the “Schülerforschungszentrum” (SFZ), where young researchers are actively supported in their initial scientific work. It is directed at students from high schools in Heilbronn. Their general idea is to encourage students to develop their own projects while funding, lab space and supervision is granted.
Our 4 Day Lab Course
The course was held in a collaborative manner over a span of four days. Dr. Robert Friedrich, a biologist working for the SFZ, gave the general lab introduction and provided the overall lab responsibility, while we were mainly responsible to teach the required theoretical background, introduce bioinformatics data analysis (DNA-Seq) and finally project development. Additionally, we were supporting Dr. Friedrich during the experiments and closely supervised the students.
We conveyed the required theoretical background in a modern and interactive way, with the use of smart boards and current web tools. We focused on teaching the highly motivated students cutting-edge research, while providing a theoretical foundation, preparing them for different biology competitions and eventually university.
Due to the interactive design of the course, we also discussed the experiments with the students and tried to summarize what we did on the blackboard:
The students were also very interested in iGEM and our work. Hence, we not only introduced iGEM and our project to them, but also let them critically evaluate our project. They were also given the chance to conduct PCRs related to our project and could therefore gain insights into the upcoming challenges when starting a new project or experiment where not everything has been optimised for easy functionality. Many students were interested in the iGEM competition itself and in the process of finding a project and making it feasible. Therefore, we also invested into giving valuable input and advice on starting a project and encouraged the students to participate in iGEM or similar projects themselves. Several questions and concerns relating the functionality of our probiotic under different conditions, such as patients taking medications or antibiotics were also raised by the students. These fruitful discussions, as well as our exchange with several experts, contributed to the final design of our RNA-Seq experiment providing valuable input and different aspects to be considered [Experts, Nissle].
Due to the high interest of the students and the positive feedback from the Experimenta itself, we discussed the possibility of creating an iGEM high school team in Heilbronn in 2020. The Experimenta is highly interested in participating in iGEM 2020 with motivated students and will provide the required laboratories, supervision and funding. Our team will still be serving as advisors for the planned iGEM high school team next year. Furthermore, a new student lab course on CRISPR/Cas will be introduced at the Experimenta on the grounds of the theoretical background, input and inspiration iGEM Tuebingen conveyed.
Panel Discussion - „Biohacking – genetic experiments done at home“
In addition to the lab course, we also decided to host a panel discussion at the Experimenta. At the beginning of the panel discussion, we gave a talk about on the CRISPR / Cas method itself. We also included an overview of our ongoing project and the iGEM competition in general.
In collaboration with Dr. Robert Friedrich, we designed a discussion around the status of current research on CRISPR / Cas, the effectiveness of the method and its limitations, the prospects of future CRISPR / Cas developments, the availability and legality of so-called Do-It-Yourself CRISPR / Cas Kits and the ethical implications on society. The panel consisted out of Prof. Dr. Christoph Thyssen (Christoph Thyssen), an expert for subject didactics in biology and two of our team members - Marietheres Evers and Famke Baeuerle.
A lot of questions were asked during the panel discussion and the presentation. We discussed the ethical implications of the CRISPR / Cas Method with the audience. Surprisingly, many participants were eager to talk about scenarios they have heard about.
Outlook - Advisors of the Experimenta iGEM team 2020 & New student lab course
During the collaboration with the Experimenta Heilbronn, we sat together with Dr. Robert Friedrich and Norbert Hommrichhausen to discuss the foundation of an iGEM high school team at the Experimenta Heilbronn. The Experimenta is highly interested in starting a team in Heilbronn and the motivated and interested students encouraged us to team up and further pursue this plan. Plans for an iGEM high school team 2020 were made, in which the Experimenta Heilbronn will be the main partner providing lab space, supervision and funding. The role of the iGEM Team Tuebingen is that of experienced advisors, who can assist in questions concerning the iGEM competition itself, the workflow of an iGEM year, as well as deliver expert knowledge and guidance in the laboratory or in questions concerning bioinformatics, design and human practices. Both the Experimenta and the iGEM Team Tuebingen aim at establishing a long-term collaboration in the scope of iGEM.
Next to the foundation of a high school iGEM team, the Experimenta will also introduce new lab courses for school classes, one of them being a CRISPR/Cas course. The theoretical background, first steps and foundation of this course arose from the collaboration with iGEM Tuebingen this year. A more detailed outline and implementation of the course will be part of another collaboration between the Experimenta and iGEM Tuebingen.