Education and Public Engagement
Human Practices is an aspect of iGEM that serves to broaden the scope of a project, which in our case meant investigating synthetic biology in a social/environmental context. As New Zealand’s first ever participating team, we considered multiple options and settled on youth education as our primary focus for public engagement. Public education programs functioning to promote and educate high school and primary school students about the importance of recycling have been considerably effective in waste management. One of the main causative factors for this is that students simply relay knowledge to their families. We hoped that by approaching secondary-level students, a similar outcome can be produced in terms of synthetic biology and the future use of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
Spreading Public Awareness
We presented our project at four different high schools located within the larger Auckland region. Each of these schools varied in their socioeconomic status and cultural composition, among other equally-important qualities, so as to reach the widest audience possible. During these talks, we informed students about the challenges currently faced by the environment, focussing heavily on plastic-based pollution and its downstream effects from landfills. We also covered the modern technologies available to combat these threats and how limited they are in terms of their ability to keep these issues under control. Furthermore, interactive-based activities were held to introduce synthetic biology, to discuss the positive and negative implications, and to clarify any misconceptions about both the field and the use of GMOs. We then conversed about our iGEM project in an open forum-like manner, with students raising some very intriguing questions!
Our presentations enabled us to approach a diverse population and to deliver insight into the uncommonly-known field of synthetic biology and the possibilities it holds. We were able to create an effective dialogue with students, with some even asking if a course on synthetic biology was offered at our university – the teachers even politely requested that we attend again to present to the rest of the student body!
We went to 3 different high schools all over Auckland. On September 6th we went to ACG college in central Auckland to present to the year 13 biology students. On September 16th we went to St Dominic’s College in west Auckland where we spoke to a group of passionate young biology students. The third school, Aorere College, was visited on September the 21st where we spoke to a class of science students in their last year of secondary studies.
The presentation outlined the negative impacts of plastic as well as the flaws in the recycling initiative and how our project would help minimize these. The presentation also included encouraging students with the problem “How would you decrease plastic waste using synthetic biology?” and were very interactive during the presentation with lots of queries. The students all had positive responses to the presentation. They were very curious as to how everything worked and how it could both positively and negatively impact society.
After the presentations, we would take pictures and take questions. The questions helped us bond further with the students as they asked about student life as well as our work with iGEM. It was amazing talking to all of the students and we highly appreciated there passion and thinking.
“It was a wonderful and engaging presentation. It’s so great to see one of our past students educating us about plastic and it’s effects” Manjula Handjani HoD of Science Aorere College
“I didn’t know plastic was so bad. This was a real eye opener.” Sam Lomo- Student at Aorere College
In New Zealand, synthetic biology and the iGEM programme are both relatively unheard of with the latter also being very new. With that in mind, we believed that it would be a great idea to promote these by utilising Facebook as our primary social media platform. With updates on our progress through the competition, photos taken of our team behind-the-scenes, and videos showcasing our goofy (yet hardworking) characters, we managed to spread awareness across our university campuses—reaching both staff and students—and members of the wider community! Coupled with this, we hope that more New Zealand teams are prompted to participate in future competitions and to promote the synthetic biology field even further.
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