Science in the Swamp was an all-day event run during National Science Week at Centennial Parklands. It aimed to promote science to everyone, and educate people on the different ways in which science can be applied in everyday life. We were able to score our own booth, and spend the day interacting with thousands of children and their parents as they flooded through the park. We set up agarose gels with multiple lanes of wells and taught kids as young as 4 how to load gels with different coloured dyes.
We also had some plates with various familiar microorganisms that we had grown up, including yeast and mould, for people to inspect under microscopes. Our collection of fluffy microbes were also a hit, and allowed us to educate people about the difference between viruses and bacteria, for example, which later became the topic of a contribution we wrote as part of our collaboration with Team Michigan. Of course, this was also an opportunity to talk to anyone who would listen about iGEM, genetic engineering, and our project!
You can read more about it here!
The University of Sydney Faculty of Engineering and IT held the first Explore Engineering workshop over a three-day period at the end of July. 64 students in their middle two years of high school spent these days working in teams on an engineering problem, whilst also engaging in other engineering activities, listening to guest speakers, and exploring the facilities and technology available at the University. Claudia was not only a mentor to the students during this week, but also was part of a student panel that was held on the final day of the workshop.
She was able to talk about iGEM, explain the project and answer questions dispelling myths and misconceptions about genetic engineering. It was a fantastic opportunity to show younger students the possibilities of genetic engineering, and gave insight into a different potential career path for those who were already considering science and engineering.
The Joint Academic Microbiology Seminars (JAMS) collective were given the chance to host a booth at the Australian Museum Science Expo during Science Week. We were invited to share the responsibility of manning the booth over the two-week period. Every day, some of our team members got to interact with students from all years of schooling as they wandered around the stations inside the museum. Over 6000 students passed through the expo, making it a very busy two weeks of outreach!
The activities we ran we similar to those we did at Science in the Swamp, and again this gave us the chance to reach even more people about our project.
Claudia was invited to be the MC at the Engineers Australia Women in Engineering Division’s Experience It! Conference. Over the course of the day, over 150 female students in their penultimate year of high school attended engineering workshops, listened to inspirational speakers, and discussed challenges faced by women in the field of engineering. As the MC, Claudia was able to offer insights into her experiences as well, and of course took the opportunity to share her experiences in iGEM! Many girls approached her afterwards to further discuss synthetic biology and the details of our project, providing another example of the extensive outreach work successfully undertaken by the USYD iGEM team this season.
Investig8 Uni was an event held on campus to introduce early high school students to prospective higher education opportunities and the pathways available to them. Each student chose from a range of Faculty-based hands-on workshops, and the iGEM team was fortunate enough to run the Science workshop. This workshop introduced the students to a range of microorganisms, from commensals to pathogens and even critters found in local pond water.
The students used compound microscopes to view prepared slides of gram-stained bacteria, could interact with agar plates to show how we culture these organisms, and viewed larger eukaryotic organisms via dissecting microscopes and other instruments. We also introduced them to concepts of synthetic biology and the iGEM competition, which generated great interest. Overall the day was really fun and the students learnt a lot – hopefully they’ll be back in a few years!
As part of Ku-Ring-Gai rotary’s youth education initiative, a series of talks about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) were held at Gordon library. We were fortunate enough to be invited to present a talk about concepts in molecular biology and our project during the second instalment in this series. A huge thanks to Matt from the 2015 Sydney iGEM team for arranging this opportunity!
The talks were aimed at high school students, and our audience comprised of students between 13 and 17 years of age. Members of both the 2015 and 2016 UNSW iGEM teams also joined us at this event, and it was the perfect way to share the foundations of our projects with each other and start a relationship for collaboration purposes later down the track. You can read more about it here!
Building upon our relationship with Ku-Ring-Gai Rotary club, we were invited to speak to the Rotary members at their weekly Monday evening meeting.
This was a unique opportunity as our audience was comprised of a different demographic to what we were used to, primarily seniors. It still required a stripped back version of our presentation, with enough background information in molecular biology weaved in to ensure they understood the basis of our project.
Our speech was very well received, and there were a lot of questions asked that challenged us to think about our project from a different perspective. A huge thanks to the Rotary for having us, and again a special thanks to Matt from the USYD iGEM 2015 team for organising this! See the write-up we got in their weekly newsletter here!
We had a booth at the University of Sydney Open Day, which was held at the beginning of semester 2. We were able to speak to incoming students about microbiology, synthetic biology, research, and the iGEM competition, which drew interest from future science students who were excited about potentially being in an iGEM team in the coming years. We also had various activities and exhibits at the booth to further generate excitement.
Oz Harvest is a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in food recovery and education.
Oz Harvest volunteers collect leftover food and unsold produce from restaurants, cafes, and grocers all across the country, and use it to make meals for the homeless. Their work has two strengths – firstly, they aim to reduce food wastage; and secondly, they aim to help members of society who would otherwise go hungry. Our project has a major parallel with their work, in that the biotechnology we produce would significantly reduce the wastage of fresh produce.
Oz Harvest held the Sydney version of their annual Think.Eat.Save.event at Martin Place on Monday July 25th. Across the country, more than 22,000 meals made from “waste” food were given away in a bid to raise awareness. The event involved multiple guest speakers, including representatives from sponsors including Woolworths and from top chefs including Neil Perry and Matt Moran, and there was encouragement to fundraise and support the food saving movement.
We were able to engage with a wide range of people, especially from the corporate world, to chat about how our project was also going to play a crucial role in minimising specifically produce wastage. We even spoke to OzHarvest volunteers about how we could further become involved, which led to Claudia attending a volunteer induction day to become a fully fledged OzHarvest volunteer!
This was a chance to engage with the community in a very different way. We were able to give our time to promote their message, whilst spreading our message about the potential benefits of synthetic biology too. Discussions that were had with OzHarvest volunteers were also very influential on the design of the final biosensor. To find out more, and read how we used this information, click here.
One of our team members, Liam, was featured in an article published by the Faculty of Science at The University of Sydney, which gave us the opportunity to spread the iGEM message on another platform. This article was published on the Faculty’s website.
Sydney iGEM 2016 engaged with people all over the world, and particularly with other iGEM teams, through our multiple social media channels. We had an Instagramaccount with 97 followers (at time of writing), and a Facebookpage with a following of 112 people (at time of writing) where we regularly posted pictures and updates of our project, as well as the occasional blooper when an experiment didn’t quite go to plan! Social media was a valuable outreach tool as it allowed us to share more specific details of experiments we conducted and of upcoming outreach events at which we would be presenting, such that those who were interested in our project were more informed. It also allowed us to reach a much wider audience.
One of our team members set out to design a card game that stylised various bacteria as little monsters. The card game was intended to be both educational and fun, introducing some of the more common bacteria that are involved in food and health to the wider community. To keep things simple, the game was going to have standard “top trumps” style rules, with categories like “pathogenicity” and “antibiotic resistance.” More complicated words would be bolded, with a reference list explaining these words in an educational way. Although the project was not completed, it remains an idea that will be pursued in the future. You can see some of the designs below.
Myca is a soil bacteria that was first found in Sydney, Australia. It’s able to eat ethylene, a gas that causes some fruits to ripen, like apples, bananas and avocados.
This rod-shaped bacterium loves starchy foods like rice, but can cause food poisoning if left to grow for too long. It can make spores that are able to survive cooking temperatures up to boiling point, and toxins which are highly resistant to heat and acid.
This guy loves to grow in acidic environments, like in dairy foods, and helps to make its home even more acidic by fermenting sugars into lactic acid. It’s used to make some types of yoghurt and is considered a probiotic because of its health benefits.
Although it’s found naturally in our bodies, if this guy is in the wrong place at the wrong time it can cause serious disease. This bacteria is often found to infect burn wounds, where it thrives in the slimy eschar. It is also a serious problem in hospitals, because it can resist a lot of the drugs we try to use against it.
This bacterium is found in both soil and water and is able to swim with the help of a tail, known as a flagellum. It is also able to fluoresce (glow) due to a pigment it produces called pyoverdin.
Golden staph is found happily living on our skin and in our noses. Under the microscope these round bacteria like to cluster into a “bunch of grapes” formation. Unfortunately, as cute as it is, this bacterium can cause serious wound infections and is resistant to many antibiotics.