Team:Bielefeld-CeBiTec/HP/School Talks

Educational Outreach

Directed Evolution of Educational Outreach

Bringing synthetic biology and the iGEM projects in contact with the public is a relevant part of the iGEM competition. In order to reach various interested groups, we conducted several activities to increase our public outreach. However, providing information about synthetic biology and scientific projects is often afflicted with several difficulties. Our experience in public relations especially with young people at the pupils’ academy and the nonscientific audience at the NRW day 2016 shows, that explaining synthetic biology and iGEM projects understandable is very complicated and not always successful. This incomprehension could lead to disinterest or refusal. Similar to our project “Evobodies – Molecular Speed Dating”, an optimal adaption to the target is essential in public communication. Different target groups require various approaches of interaction.
To optimize our public and educational outreach we considered possibilities to reach non-scientific and young people. In conversation with a cultural anthropologist of Frankfurt´s Goethe University we discussed possibilities.

Figure 1: Florian Helfer (cultural anthropologist from Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main). iGEM team Bielefeld-CeBiTec in conversion with Florian about synthetic biology, biohacking and public outreach.
Florian Helfer studies cultural anthropology and European ethnology at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. In his bachelor thesis, he determines several aspects of actual biohacking agitation. As iGEM team Bielefeld-CeBiTec, we decided to help Florian with his project and discuss our opinions and experiences with biohacking and iGEM. On notice of our several public and medial activities he suggested to search for barriers between iGEMers and non-scientists. Especially the language barrier is supposed to be a main Issue in the educational outreach. Technical and scientific terms as well as laboratory slang are common in the synbio-language. It is important to reduce opaque words and the complexity of used terms in presentations and publications.
To achieve a comprehensible and clear educational outreach, we conducted a series of synbio-lectures with evolutional stages of improvement. For this, we presented our project in context with synthetic biology in front of several high school classes. After our discourse, we tested the uptake and comprehension of this topic by performing a small examination. The examination contains questions about general biological terms and definitions as well as specific questions for our project. Moreover, we included a survey to collect opinions and tips for further improvements of our presentation style and the setup of the presentation. After every stage of presentation, we adjusted our performance by analyzing the test and the survey.
To ensure comparability, we consistently used multiple choice questions with four possible choices, including exactly one correct answer. For evaluation, we used a scoring model, whereby every question gets analyzed by the percentage of correct answers. In theory, 25 % of the participants will provide the correct answer by chance.

After the first course of lectures, both tested segments were scored at about 50 %. Notably, technical terms, as well as project details were leading to a lag of understanding. The statements “More Figures would be helpful.” and “Easier explanation of technical terms.” were consent of the first survey round. Based on this result, we added some basic definitions and illustrations to our presentation. We also extended the lectures to about 20 minutes. Therefore, the available time for additional explanations is increased, while pupils remain still focused .
The second run of presentations leads to better results in both tested categories. However, it seems apparently that two parts of our project require more explanations. The mutation and the selection system were not as well understood as the library design. To address this challenge, we redistributed the time between the different parts of our lecture and improved the related figures significantly.
Our evolutionary improvements had visible impacts to the third presentational course. The questions, regarding the mutation system and the selection system, showed consistently better results. However, the tested pupils performed not equally well in questions related to other parts of the presentation. Some examined statements were “An impress of your practical operations would be interesting” and “Please sum up a more detailed summery, at the end of your presentation”. Hence, we spread the summery and inserted more detailed information about our practical lab-work and possible applications of our system.
Pupils, hearing the fourth and last version of our presentation, were able to give right answer to 90 % the general synthetic biology and 84 % of the project-related questions, respectively. In summary, the comprehension by the pupils shows an evident increase of more than 30 % within the four evolutional stages, as seen in the score graphs (Fig. 2 and 3).

Figure 2: Evaluation of general synthetic biology questions. Average scores for general synthetic biology questions, over the course of evolutional adjustment.

Figure 3: Evaluation of project-related questions. Average scores for project-related questions, over the course of evolutional adjustment.

Pupils academy

Every summer the Familie-Osthushenrich-Foundation and the municipal government give young students the opportunity to experience working in a microbiological laboratory and to learn about research done at the CeBiTec.
As part of the CeBiTec we were glad to present iGEM to the attendees, contribute by advising the young participants in the lab and organizinga big barbecue in the evening. Generally, the pupils stay one week at the institute and learn about different topics like biotechnology, molecular biology, synthetic biology and bioinformatics. The program also includes a practical part regarding taxonomy, bioinformatics, proteomics and synthetic biology. The iGEM team contributed by providing and supervising the experiments of this very last part.
Moreover, we had several discussions about the implications of synthetic biology on the society.

Students academy
During this week, we talked a lot about synthetic biology and our experiments. Furthermore we allowed the students to do genetic engineering experiments.
We instructed the teenagers to perform basic laboratory techniques such as transformation, plasmid isolation and plating on selective agar. In detail, the experiments were done to identify different resistances and different fluorescence proteins encoded on different plasmids. By transforming both plasmids and plating on different antibiotics the students were able to distinguish between GFP on a plasmid carrying an ampicillin resistance, and RFP on a plasmid carrying a kanamycin resistance. Many of the students showed big interest in our projects and some of them were convinced to study in the field of biology and were fascinated by the opportunity to participate in iGEM in the near future. While teaching in the academy we improved our teaching skills.
Additionally, we observed several issues in the communication. The understanding of certain terms was completely different to our expectation and intention.Seeing the next generation of scientists we were once again reminded of the importance of outreach. Engaging in dialogues with people outside of the lab is essential when strengthening the reputation of synthetic biology. We need to understand the concerns of the public to address these issues properly. Even the pupils showed a strong interest in other aspects than the scientific ones. We talked a lot about morality and responsibility in synthetic biology as well as social aspects in a group project such as iGEM. At the end of the week we knew about the importance of talking about scientific topics in a simple yet respectful way.
We were further encouraged to find new ways of communicating our project.

Postcards - raising synthetic biology awareness on 150cm²

When it comes to synthetic biology the public may be prejudiced. This is most presumably caused due to misconceptions. This year's iGEM team Düsseldorf from the HHU Düsseldorf felt called upon tackling this issue and motivate the people to overcome their skepticism. Thus the idea to create and distribute educational postcards in the context of synthetic biology emerged.
Gathering the creativity of all other German iGEM teams, topics ranging from the production of insulin to gene editing were covered. We exchanged packs of about 100 postcards with some of the other teams to be able to have a broader area to spread them. This led to receiving postcards from the teams from Aachen, Darmstadt, Düsseldorf, Hannover, Goettingen and Tuebingen. Our postcard was designed after the motto 'Tolerance for Transgenes'. By that we demanded for a higher level of tolerance for GMO's which in general are negatively connoted in Germany and pointed towards their advantages.
We would like to thank team Düsseldorf for letting us join their campaign. Hopefully, many will follow their example and engage in public communication!

NRW day

To the 70th birthday of the state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and also the 70th year of Düsseldorf as the capital of NRW, the state celebrated the NRW day in Düsseldorf. Till 2012 the foundation day of NRW is celebrated every year in a different city within the country. For three days (26.8 - 28.8) 600,000 people celebrated together and participated in several events. The governor of NRW Hannelore Kraft and the mayor of Düsseldorf welcomed everyone. The iGEM team Düsseldorf invited us along with the teams from Bonn and Aachen to participate in the NRW day and to present synthetic biology. Therefore, we traveled to Düsseldorf and had a great time that weekend, both as actors and as visitors. During our visit we presented and promoted synthetic biology, iGEM and our project at a public stage as well as in personal conversations. Moreover, we presented a poster and distributed post cards to reach a lot of people and informed them why synthetic biology is not as bad as many people in Germany think. Many visitors of our stand were impressed by our project and iGEM in general.