Team:Dalhousie Halifax NS/Engagement

Public Outreach

The purpose of our Human Practices this year was as follows:

  • Educate the younger generation about the importance and usage of synthetic biology
  • Allow them to draw the cross discipline connection (link engineering/computer science with biology)
  • Develop career interest in younger students
  • Reach out and attempt to make iGEM a more sustainable effort at Dalhousie University and in Atlantic Canada
  • Work with the Community and Provincial Government to make connections for iGEM teams in the future

We attempted to achieve each of these purposes through a few different approaches we undertook this summer. One of the major parts of our iGEM project was community involvement. For this section we decided to present to young SuperNOVA summer campers at Dalhousie University. Our objective was to educate the next generation about the importance and application of synthetic biology. This would in turn allow the future scientists to draw connections across disciplines and help them develop an interest in this field. We also reached out to the Advanced Education Minister with the Nova Scotia Provincial Government to find new way to make iGEM a sustainable initiative. We worked with Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, which is run by Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources, in order to complete our project and make connections for future iGEM initiatives.

Initially we presented to SuperNOVA camps to spread the word about iGEM and synthetic biology. For the actual presentations we split into two groups of four, and we visited an Engineering camp for Elementary students and a Junior High student Computer Science camp. The presentation was outlined as follows:

  1. An introduction to the human microbiome.
  2. A brief exploration of the technologies used in synthetic biology (ie. Mass spectrometry).
  3. A talk that provided a summary of this year’s iGEM project – investigating the mechanisms to use bacteria from porcupine gut to produce biofuels from mill wastes.
  4. Interactive activities and games that allowed campers to learn actively. This was done through modelling the microbiome by using analogies incorporated in the activities to encourage participation.

The different parts of the presentation all contributed to the common themes - informing young students of the growing field of synthetic biology and encouraging them to consider careers in synthetic biology..

Generally, the presentations were well received. It evoked interests among young individuals as displayed through their enthusiasm. However, there were concerns about delivering presentations of the appropriate difficulty level. One group found the information oversimplified, while students in the other group were not responding actively to the interactive questions. Consequently, the feedback we received and the responses we observed during the sessions will allow us to make amendments for future events.

It was apparent that we reached the goal of developing an interest in synthetic biology among the young students. Evaluating from this perspective, this event was deemed successful and we had fun doing it!