In early September, we visited one of our team’s former secondary schools, Watford Grammar School for Girls, to deliver a talk about the future of chloroplast engineering to over 60 members of staff and science & maths students from years 10-13.

The presentation included a brief background to the iGEM competition and synthetic biology, discussing the concepts of standardisation and open science as these were both new areas for the students to learn about. Using examples of previous iGEM team’s projects, we showed how diverse the areas of interest and tracks in the competition can be, and the vast potential of synthetic biology in solving real world issues.

This then led us onto the subject of our own project this year: chloroplast engineering in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. We captivated the students’ imagination by discussing the potential of this technology, with applications in areas such as healthcare, energy production and biomaterials, but also explained the main bottlenecks currently hindering the field. This included the issue of democratising the technology for laboratories around the world to have access to, and how our low cost hardware is tackling this. The students particularly engaged with this part of our project, asking many questions about the process of designing and building such hardware in our Q&A session after the talk. It was particularly promising to see how the students understood the interdisciplinary nature of our project and the field of synthetic biology, when they had held the previous impression it was an area only suited for academics in lab coats all day.

Explaining how we had achieved all of this as only 10 undergraduates, with one of our team having been in the place of the sixth form students just two years ago, really engaged with our audience. It was particularly rewarding to have a queue of students at the end of the talk asking for advice on choosing university courses which would allow them to get involved in an iGEM project in the future.

We aimed to promote the field of chloroplast engineering through this event, and walked away feeling confident that the issue of lack of motivation for research into the field will be solved by these iGEMers and synthetic biologists of the future inspired from our project.