Public outreach and engagement is an integral part of iGEM. Education is the only way to stop fear of synthetic biology and genetic engineering. As part of our project we aimed to educate in order to break down stereotypes about synthetic biology, but also to bring Fatbergs to the public's attention. This year, public outreach has played a central role in our project of breaking down and preventing fatbergs, having been encouraged to do this by Professor John Love. Our aim was to make this accessible, so that all ages, education levels and capabilities can understand what Fatbergs are and how to prevent them. After all, why resolve when you could prevent?
Our Biology 101 guide was inspired by our ‘biology bootcamp’, hosted by our PHD mentors, in which all members were educated to give an even footing. Two individuals, Megan and Elfreda (studying, respectively, English Literature and Biomedical Science), wanted to equalise the iGEM experience for people of any degree discipline.
The guide features information on cells, cloning and measuring techniques. The information may be basic to those who studied biology, but helped those in the team who had not been exposed to this knowledge before. After the document proved useful, we decided that we wanted to share it with others in the iGEM community.
We decided to illustrate and design the booklet Biology 101. This makes it easier to follow and more appealing to read. Although a synthetic biology competition may be geared towards STEM students, this should not prevent others from joining iGEM. With law, communications and ethics all taking up a large portion of iGEM work, humanities and social science students can help to broaden the field and - as this is an interdisciplinary competition which encourages education - we wanted to contribute to making this more common.
The booklet was printed and taken to the first UK iGEM meetup in Newcastle, where we distributed it among teams. This was given to any team with a non-biologist on - maths, physics and engineering students were the most common. It was met with a good reception and was later requested by further teams after exposure on social media and we hope it can be a resource for future teams!
In order the advertise the correct disposal methods of cooking oil and what to put down the toilet, we decided to make leaflets which we could put up in university accommodation as often students living alone for the first time are cooking for the first time and thus tips and tricks would prove to be useful for this audience. We decided to take inspiration from the Thames Water campaign of ‘the 3 P’s’ -pee, poo and paper should go down the toilet, and cooking oil should not be poured down the drain, but binned instead. We also wanted to make this scheme understandable to children, and worked on making a fatberg character -Mr F. Atberg, as a campaign character. These leaflets have been distributed across Warwick University’s campus accommodation (housing over 6,000 students), University College London and Cambridge, reaching over 50,000 students.
British Science Festival
The British Science Festival is a celebration of knowledge and pool of research which allows the interested public to hear about scientific developments. The festival spans a week, with the Saturday dedicated to families. We held a stand on the 14th of September, educating children and their parents on the existence of fatbergs and how to prevent them through small adjustments to daily habits. The day was a huge success, with an estimated 8,000 visitors to the festival over the day.
We used slime to provide a tactile experience for children to help them understand what a fatberg is. To explain viscosity and density to all ages, we also used orbeez. A play tunnel was advertised as a sewer, through which children were encouraged to crawl and pass arts and crafts representing what we can find inside the sewage system. A magnetic board was used for a game in which children had to sort things that were flushable and those that were not into columns and finally, we developed a fatberg quiz for children to utilise the knowledge they learnt from us to use.
In order to educate older children, we visited a local school to reach them in a situation where they are mentally engaged. During our time here, we ran workshops with GCSE and A-level students (15 and 17 year olds) about studying STEM subjects at university, synthetic biology and fatbergs. A workshop was run to explain STEM and the emerging prospect of synthetic biology, debunking the myths in a fun and understandable manner. We also explained what iGEM is, how to get involved and the experiments we have used (such as cloning techniques, the use of fluorescence proteins as markers, and assay methods).
Young Scientist Journal
Young Scientists Journal is an international peer-reviewed science journal written, reviewed and produced by school students. The Young Scientist Journal took place on the 3rd of October and our team had the honour of being one of the event’s main sponsors. As a result, we had the opportunity to present our project. This 7th edition of the conference featured students from Europe, Canada, USA, and South Korea!
Running through a whole day at Queen’s College, Cambridge University, we met young researchers from the age of 12 to 20 years old who were keen to know more about fatbergs. As a result we were able to continue the outreach campaign “Don’t feed the fatbergs” that we started at the beginning of summer. We also distributed our campaign flyers in key locations of the campus
Warwick RAW Radio
On the 4th of October we appeared as guests on the University of Warwick’s radio show, RAW. Whilst on the show we discussed iGEM, synthetic biology and fatbergs. We highlighted the positive impact that synthetic biology can have on society and why developing ideas should not be feared. Moreover, we spoke directly about our project and discussed the dangers of disposing of items down the drain. This gave our campaign wide exposure, our efforts to tackle Fatbergs broadcasted on a national award-winning radio station.Click here for our RAW radio podcast
Horror Movie Night
In order to reach new students at the University of Warwick, we hosted a horror movie and pizza night to discuss "monster" fatbergs. The alternative approach of using an entertainment event was approved with the view to attract students that would not typically attend scientific talks. This way, we reached a wider audience and had a greater distribution of students across disciplines. The event began with a brief explanation on what fatbergs are and how people can prevent them. The reasoning behind this was so that 'freshers', who would be cooking alone for the first time, could be informed and prepared. Having answered questions, we began playing the movie "IT", chosen for the plot's link to sewers. The event proved successful, with many attendees remaining at the end to ask questions about fatbergs (as well as if Pennywise might be stuck in one).
Mentoring Nuffield Research Students
Over the course of our project, we mentored two students from a local sixth form. During this time we introduced iGEM, the basics of synthetic biology and our project to them. Hita Patel commented that “the research placement provided an invaluable insight into the development of scientific research and seeing the iGEM team grow and develop their research proved to me that science is forever expanding!”. Similarly, Aron Alagaraj concluded that “iGEM isn’t just focused on synthetic biology, it incorporates elements of chemistry, physics [and] engineering, which was reflected by the diversity of the team.”
As part of their placement they composed a report on fatbergs and our research which are both attached below. We wish them the best for the future and definitely enjoyed their contribution to our project!