In order to expand the field of synthetic biology, education is essential. Our outreach events were able to expand to a variety of age groups. Our team is passionate about fostering a love for science and engineering in younger members of our community and engaging with parents about how iGEM research can produce cutting-edge solutions to real-world problems. Every year, we volunteer at local science fairs and STEM events, sharing our work and promoting interest in the biological sciences.
This year, we hosted exhibits at the Shoreline STEM Fest, Bennett Elementary Science Fair, and UW's Engineering Discovery Days. At the UW Engineering Discovery days, local elementary schools visit the University of Washington to learn about more events in the STEM fields. At this event, we created a Strawberry DNA Extraction demo. After mixing a strawberry smoothie with some detergent and isoproply alcohol, students were able to see the DNA rise to the top of our test tubes. During this activity we were able to ask kids what they thought about DNA and gave them the opportunity to visualize it and touch it. We also took the time to answer questions and explain our project. Many parents and teachers were also interested in our research on campus. For those unfamiliar with our project we were able to explain the essence of our field, and go into more detail about our project on campus.
Our exhibits at Shoreline STEM Fest and Bennett Elementary Science Fair allowed students to try their hand at DNA purification from strawberries, identifying fluorescent proteins and chromoproteins in yeast and bacteria, and performing a pH test. At each event, our activity was well-received and allowed us to inform both students and parents about synthetic biology and its applications. We were also able to adapt our curriculum for different audiences, downsizing for smaller fairs and emphasizing different aspects of our experiments for different age groups. At some events, such as the Shoreline STEM Festival, we were able to reach out to high school students who wanted first-hand information about college STEM programs and research opportunities.
One of the most important aspects of education today is to spark curiosity. iGEM has created Comic Series devoted to educating children in elementary school and middle school on the fundamentals of synthetic biology and lab safety. Our story revolves around two characters, Dr. Tom and Marie (a current student), in their synthetic biology lab. Tom serves as a mentor to Marie who is not familiar with the field of synthetic biology. The comic discusses PCR, Gibson Assembly, and fundamental concepts of DNA.
Launching a High School Team
We’ve received numerous emails from high-school students interested in joining the University of Washington (UW) undergraduate team. Thus, we have decided to launch the first high-school iGEM team in Washington with students from the Tesla STEM High School in Redmond and the International School in Bellevue, but open to all interested high-school students. The Tesla STEM High School has agreed to let us use its BioSafety Level 1 facilities which contain the basic equipment needed for an iGEM team, including a PCR machine and an autoclave.
We are also in contact with a number of teachers at high-schools within reasonable distance from the Tesla STEM High School who have expressed interest in acting as PIs, instructors, and advisors for the team. We plan to train students in the lab using the online lesson plan for iGEM training designed by members of our team that includes a syllabus attached to useful videos, lecture notes, and numerous protocols for the most common lab techniques used in an iGEM project. The lesson plan has been effective with new members of our own team and with the help of official team PIs, advisers, instructors, and general support from members of the UW iGEM team, we hope it will also prove effective for the high-school team.
Recruited High-School iGEM Team Leaders
Our only current high-school iGEM team member, Roya Amini-Naieni, who has been with us for two years now plans to branch off to become a leader and founder of the high-school team, providing it with constant access to an experienced individual in the iGEM process along with student Anna Vasyura from the Tesla STEM High School. Below are the steps the UW iGEM team plans to take with them.
Setting the Space & Admin Up: October 20 – November 14
We will take inventory of the lab at Tesla STEM and calculate the funding necessary to acquire lab equipment and fundamental supplies it is lacking. We will also set up an address box for out-of-lab orders for the iGEM team. Lastly, we will set up a meeting with the faculty at Tesla STEM high school and teachers from other schools who’ve shown interest to confirm the three required authority figures to fill the positions of Primary and Secondary Principal Investigators for the team and instructor. We will also set up a slack group for the team to stay connected with the administration and eventually the entire team.
Planning, Funding, Recruitment: November 15 – December 31
We plan to meet with the administration team we helped set up to answer questions about iGEM, devise a schedule for the season, discuss funding, and start reviewing the lab training syllabus. Leaders of the high-school team will also meet with an expert on the UW iGEM team to learn which companies to ask for funding and how to connect with them. The high-school team leaders plan to hold a 1 to 1.5-hour long interest meeting open to all high schoolers in Washington to introduce them to iGEM and the opportunities available to them. Surveys will be taken of attendees to include in funding letters and to gain contact. Our team will offer feedback and evaluation for funding letters. We hope the high-school team will have at least $6,000 by this period.
Season Kickoff & Project Idea Generation: January 1 – February 14
The high-school team leaders have planned leadership meetings to alternate with team meetings which will happen after school, two times a week at Tesla STEM. The first team meeting will encompass dividing the team up into groups of interest such as Outreach & Education, PR, Wet lab, Dry lab, and Fundraising. Members of the UW iGEM team have agreed to be present at certain meetings to help determine the feasibility of project ideas along with the PIs and instructors. Ideas will also be for synthetic biology education outreach. By the end of January, the team hopes to have agreed on a project. However, project ideas are never really static, and will probably change throughout the year.
Team Outreach: January 14 – February 29
The high-school team plans to implement its outreach ideas during this time at various public events throughout Seattle. The high-school outreach team will be involved in hosting booths and transportation to these events.
Dry & Wet lab Training: February 14 – April 14
Students planning to work in the wet lab will be required to turn in all necessary lab safety forms and finish all necessary online courses before training. The high-school team leaders plan to have lab training happen on the weekends and Mondays and Fridays for about 2 to 4.5 hours a day. The instructor will lead lab training sessions along with help from experienced members of the UW iGEM team. The high-school team leaders plan to use the syllabus used by the UW iGEM team to train students and notes will be posted on the team google drive. Students planning to work on the dry lab portion of the project will be encouraged to take codecademy courses online tailored to the specific project and determined by Kevin Li, the drylab helper from the UW iGEM team. Kevin plans to also give a lecture on the iGEM wiki and the role programming plays in iGEM outside of the main project.
The summer research plan will depend on the nature of the iGEM project the high-school team plans to pursue and thus, hasn’t been determined yet.