Details about our human practices activities. Check out our human practices summary page and the gold medal criterion page for more about human practices.

Public Engagement

Camp BioE

We visited each of the four cohorts of middle- and high-school campers at Camp BioE on DNA Day to talk about synthetic biology. Our presentation included an introduction to transcription and translation, applications of synthetic biology, and a brief introduction to iGEM and our project. After our presentation, we sang "The PCR Song" and danced to the Bio-Rad "GTCA Song." Then, we helped the campers amplify DNA made of beads using the PCR process to see which table had the fastest enzymes! Take a look at the presentation slides Maddie and Aife put together here.

TECBio and DiSCoBio

Claire, Maya, and Aife met with the students of TECBio and DiSCoBio, who are in high school and college. After reviewing transcription and translation, they talked about applications of synthetic biology, their project, and iGEM. Take a look at the presentation slides here. Following the presentation, they had a great discussion with the students about the project and about what comes after research--papers, patents, and more.

"Carnegie Science Center" by Allie Caulfield / CC BY 2.0

Carnegie Science Center

Maya and Aife visited the Carnegie Science Center's H2Oh! exhibit to teach guests about lead and thallium contamination of water. They also covered synthetic biology and its applications in solving environmental problems. The kids were able to extract their own DNA from a saliva sample following this protocol provided by North Carolina DNA Day. Take a look at the poster Claire and Maya made for the event here.

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Product Design

Claire, Maya, Aife, and Praneeth met with Dr. Daniel Bain, a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science, to discuss practical considerations in developing a thallium sensor as an at-home screening test. Thallium levels in most water are minimal. Because thallium's water solubility is so low, it may be present in the water but not dissolved in the sample used to rehdrate the paper sensor. In addition, the EPA's MCL for thallium is only 50 parts per trillion, which is a low threshold. Thus, our sensor needs to be extremely accurate to detect thallium without producing false positives.

Thallium is not much of a problem in most areas of the world. Lead, on the other hand, is a huge concern for many people, especially for parents with small children. Lead levels are currently measured using ICP-MS, which costs ten to twenty-five dollars per test. In addition, water is not tested at the request of a single concerned resident. With a sensor of our design, however, the cost of each test could be reduced to 35 to 65 cents (Pardee et al.). The simplicity of its usage will also make the device accessible to the general public. It can also be used to quickly screen water in water treatment facilities.

While our thallium sensor is an interesting project, its main practicality lies in its circuitry, which can be adapted to sense more abundant metal pollutants such as lead.

Thank you to Dr. Bain for talking to us. Read more about Dr. Bain on his profile here.

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Risk Assessment

To gain more insight about modeling a population, Maya met with Dr. Werner Troesken of the Department of Economics. Dr. Troesken has written about population effects of public water quality and health effects of lead contamination,such as infant mortality and worker productivity. While none of us are probably going to die from lead poisoning today in the United States, worker productivity and children's health are still concerns.

Thank you to Dr. Troesken for talking to us, offering great suggestions for our model, and directing us to helpful resources. Read more about Dr. Troesken on his profile here.

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