Team:William and Mary/outreach


Education and Public Engagement


Our main outreach initiative is a series of Synthetic Biology learning modules which we call After the success of our 2015 educational outreach, we wanted to switch gears and target our outreach efforts to a demographic which has not received as much attention for educational outreach.

Most outreach seemed targeted either to young children, with the hopes of introducing them to science in general, or to the general population, with the hopes of sparking a discussion about the ethical concerns and societal implications of synthetic biology. But we found comparatively little that reached out to high school students who are on the cusp of deciding potential career paths in a way that introduced them to synthetic biology as an actual scientific field. These students seemed like an ideal audience for our outreach efforts.

Since many of the core concepts within synthetic biology are fairly simple to understand with only limited background knowledge, we set out to create educational materials targeted explicitly towards these high school students in order to introduce them to the field of synthetic biology as a potential, and perhaps exciting, career option.

LearnSynBio consists of four modules of instructional videos and supplemental materials (worksheets) which are meant to introduce high school students with basic biology and math background to the ideas in Synthetic Biology. LearnSynBio is organized into four modules: an Introduction to Basic Biology Concepts, an Introduction to Experimental Techniques used in Synthetic Biology, an Introduction to Genetic Circuit Theory and Mathematical Modeling, and a module on the Ethics and Implications of Synthetic Biology.

In order to develop our materials effectively, we spoke with our former high school biology teachers to ask them what features they would like to see present in LearnSynBio in order to best facilitate its incorporation into the classroom. They emphasized the relatively short, discrete nature of the videos (preferring several videos in a module to one long video), and really emphasized the importance of supplemental materials like worksheets which reinforce and complement the material presented in the videos, and we incorporated these suggestions into the design of LearnSynBio.

for a PDF of more examples of learnsynbio exercises, click here.

Because LearnSynBio is hosted on an independent domain, it is easily accessible anywhere by anyone and can easily be maintained and updated with feedback from teachers who use it. This allows our outreach efforts to continue even in places and times where we cannot be physically present!

Finally, we are taking measures to get LearnSynBio incorporated into actual classrooms: We have established a collaboration with the high school team Broad Run iGEM (see Collaborations page) to incorporate our modules into their advanced science classes and after-school science clubs. Additionally, we are working with some of our former high school teachers to introduce LearnSynBio to VAST, the Virginia Association of Science Teachers, for incorporation in classrooms all around the state. Lastly, it is our hope that the presentation of LearnSynBio at the Jamboree will encourage the spread of LearnSynBio to schools all around the world!

In addition to LearnSynBio, we also completed several public outreach events. We were awarded a grant from Building with Biology to host public outreach events over the course of the iGEM 2016 season. We held a science workshop targeted at at local children and their parents which allowed them to get some hands-on experience with the exciting world of modern biology. We had more than 70 people in attendance and together we extracted DNA from strawberries, learned about synthetic biology and the benefit of standard biological parts, and discussed our questions and concerns with GMO food.


We also held a forum on the topic of Genome Editing targeted at the general public. At the forum, we briefly discussed the implications of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tool and explored various ways that it could be applied to real world problems. Among the topics discussed were: stabilizing the Honeybee population by increasing expression of ‘hygiene’ genes, engineering yeast for efficient biofuel production, and using CRISPR to decrease human susceptibility to HIV infection. We had over 30 participants for the forum and we received great feedback from our attendees!


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