Although nowadays it is easy to find any information you seek for, there is also a great problem of society's disinformation. Scientific community is rather closed and rarely present its work to audiences not related with science. As a consequence, society's beliefs are formed by low quality online newspapers and other unreliable sources, often providing readers with inaccurate information.
As a team of young scientists, working with synthetic biology and genetic engineering, we are concerned about society‘s attitude towards life sciences. As a survey, conducted in collaboration with Aachen iGEM team, showed, Lithuania’s society is poorly informed about the field, therefore, also rather critical. We seek to enlighten society and foster scientific culture as well as encourage young audiences to pursue careers in science. We also believe that establishing the dialogue between science and society is the main fuel for scientific progress. Science should benefit the society, therefore, it is important for scientists to know society's needs and worries and for society to clearly understand the benefits new technologies and inventions can offer as well as get closer with the field to have more trust in it. It was very important for us to reach as many people as possible, so a great variety of activities, suited for a wide age spectrum, were organised.
First of all, we drew our attention to the future generation. In order to get in touch, we contacted 11 schools and held lessons there. In the theoretical part of these events, we explained to high school students, what synthetic biology is and how scientific work looks like. We also tried our best to familiarize them with the scientific atmosphere by letting to try how automatic pipettes work. We also organised a competition for school students, providing a prize of tours around most innovative life sciences centres in Lithuania. We did not forget younger students as well. For this reason, we conducted few workshops for primary school students at 'Children's university' and 'The Centre for Child Development'. During these activities, we were encouraging students to imagine, what project would they do, if they were participating in iGEM. Their ideas and imagination were helpful for us by reminding to keep dreaming about the 'impossible'.
Moreover, we organized a cycle of discussions called 'Café Scientifique', where we invited wide society to learn about 5 different topics related to science. During these events, people could have asked questions and heard the answers right away from Lithuanian scientists and doctors, working on a certain field. Also, we had an opportunity to present our ideas to the non-scientific public and hear its opinions on many issues related to science ethics. These discussions were a great success – around 50 people were participating in each of them. We also streamed the discussions online on Facebook, making it possible for people watch despite the location.
Furthermore, we participated in the annual, related with science, events in Lithuania, where we encouraged people to try out more interactive activities. One of which was science festival 'Spaceship Earth', for which we equipped an escape room, called 'BioBreakroom'. This interactive game required to solve various tasks based on life sciences knowledge in order to get out of the room. We believe, that this kind of entertainment might encourage students to seek knowledge and actively participate in the development of scientific culture. In fact, all participants greatly enjoyed this escape room and left with a vision of how both - important and inspiring - science can be.
What is more, from the very beginning of our project, we were collaborating with Kristupas Sabolius and other Lithuanian artists, who were interested in scientific researches and, most importantly, tried to understand what meaning the visualization has in science as it is very important in our everyday life. Workshop, which took place at 'European Researchers’ Night' festival, summarised all the ideas. During this event we unravelled scientists ambition to visualise microscopic things, unseen with the naked eye. We conducted a theoretical introduction, workshop and finally opened a protein 3D structure exhibition. During all these activities, a great dialogue was established between our team members and participants. We were discussing synthetic biology, GMO, biotechnology and every other question, that might occur for a person with a different to scientific background. After the event, we were thrilled and proud of the fact, that there are so many open-minded people, wanting to broaden their knowledge of bio-sciences.
During all of these activities, we spread the word and experiences related to synthetic biology, biotechnology, genetic engineering, iGEM competition and much more concerning life sciences. We were happy to see that people are looking forward to knowing more and that our ways of public engagement seemed to be successful. On the other hand, we learned many things too. We found the best ways to gather the public and interest it as well as realised the importance of sincere contact and close communication. We even found parallels between subjects we never thought existed and had a possibility to consider questions and problems that have never crossed our minds before as we are maybe too concentrated on our field and lack wider sight ourselves.
To sum up, we held many activities that, hopefully, were beneficial to both us and public.