We understand the importance of informing students about synthetic biology and its use in ensuring a sustainable future.
We understand that a strong understanding of the ethical considerations of each application has to be instilled to avoid misuse of the technology.We believe that without training our students, we cannot train a new generations of researchers which can carry the research forward.
Our flagship project was running a creation competition called Strange Nature. Strange Nature was started in 2013 and was highly successful with the previous iGEM teams. Our major issue in developing this competition was finding a way to expand the competition from pervious years to target a wider audience. We achieved this by:
- Removing the "undergraduate section", as there was insufficient interest in the 2014 undergraduate competition.
- Adding the team multimedia component where students could chose to answer the question by creating a 5 minute podcast, documentary, or video.
- Opening the competition to school students of all levels, not just those in high school.
- Increasing our advertising and presence across Australia through contacting local papers to promote the competition.
- Contacting a significantly greater number of schools than in previous years.
In total we contacted 2223 schools in New South Wales, 220 in the Northern Territory, and 2184 in Queensland schools and 6 Australian-wide organisations. We were published in 4 papers including the Science Education News, a magazine that is distributed to all Science Teacher's across New South Wales. Indeed the editor of the magazine said "I was most impressed at your group's initiative re such a competition".
Strange Nature is a great opportunity to introduce students and teacher to the world of Synthetic Biology. This year we focused on the design and application of synthetic biology rather than the technological advancements as was done in previous years. This switch was to ensure the students thought about how synthetic biology can be used in the "real world", and hopefully break down some of the barriers and myths surround the uses of synthetic biology.
On the 18th of September we received 20 entires, however as the competition does not close till early October we are expecting many more.
Check out the website here for more information.
School and Educational Events
Compass Presentation: 6th of May
Compass is an organisation that assists underprivileged school students by providing tutoring sessions and trips to Sydney University to inspire and encourage the students. On the students in year 6 attended the "Discover Uni Day" at Sydney. The iGEM had a stall which the students visited and learnt about microbes and genetic engineering. Activities included looking at agar plates and posters, and using light microscopes to look at bacteria, along with general discussion about microbes and genetic engineering.
Alexandria Park Community School Outreach: 22nd of July
APCS is a public school in the inner suburbs of Sydney, and Matt's previous school. We conducted two workshops at the school for year 10 and 12 school students. In the morning session, we talked to year 12 biology students about university, biology, genetics and cloning. We also talked about the ethics behind making GMOs. The students were greatly intrigued, asked questions, and were highly engaged in the content. All this was done over delicious scones, jam and coffee thanks to Mr Peter Miller, the students' very generous biology teacher.
Following, we conducted our workshop for year 10 science. We began by giving a talk about synthetic biology, the use of cloning to generate GMOs and also explaining the process of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in the context of forensic analysis of a crime scene. Using all that knowledge, we explained what we are trying to do in our project. We also ensured to highlight the ethics behind the use of synthetic biology, where it should only be used in appropriate projects such as making good quality pharmaceuticals products. We have provided links to these worksheets in the hope they can assist future iGEM teams in school specific outreach activities.
At the end of the session, we received a heartwarming applause form the students and the teachers were really thankful and impressed by our workshop. But at the end of the day, the enthusiasm of the students in listening to us, answering challenging questions and participating in the activities was what really made us leave the school with big smiles on our faces.
Kambala School: 21st of August
We presented to high school students at Kambala Girls School during National Science Week. We spoke about the project, iGEM, synthetic biology, and the importance of scientific research. The girls were incredibly engaged and enthusiastic about the project and asked numerous questions after. We also promoted Strange Nature and recieved a few entries from Kambala.
University of Sydney Open Day: 29th of August
We had a stall at the annual University of Sydney Open Day. We spoke to prospective students about microbiology, research, genetic engineering, and the iGEM competition as well as having a wide range of activities for them to do. The students were fascinated by the competition and many expressed their interest to be involved in a few years time.
Investig8 Uni: 8th of September
Similiar to the Discover Uni Day on the 6th of May, the Compass organisation ran an introduction to university day for year 8 students. The aim of this day was to inform, encourage, and inspire the students. We ran two workshops with small groups. The students examined bacteria under the microscope, spoke to them about genetic engineering and its potential, and introduced them to the wacky world of DNA. The students were incredibly engaged and fascinated by our project.
Australian National Science Week: 15th - 23rd of August
Science in the Swamp: 15th of August
On the 15th of August, Centennial Park in Sydney held their annual event called Science in the Swamp. This event was part of the Australian National Science Week. Between 11am and 3pm, the park was filled with over 10 000 visitors ranging from toddlers to teenagers. The team was fortunate enough to have a stall alongside organisations such as Taronga Zoo, UNSW Science, and many others. We had thousands of visitors to our stall whom all throughly enjoyed our activities. Visitors examined pond water under a microscope, created paper DNA chains that spelt their name in codons, examined numerous plates containing wild type and genetically modified bacteria and even had the opportunity to load a gel.
In total over 10 000 people visited the stall and the national wide media exposure was over 20 million.
We were also featured on Chinese television.
Australian Museum Science Festival - JAMS Stall: 11th - 20th of August
During the Australian National Science Week the team joined forces with the JAMS Organisation to engage with thousands of school students at the Australian Museum in Sydney. We had a stall which contained giant microbes, a light microscope to view amoebas in pond water, a hand held microscope, and numerous agar plates containing normal and genetically engineered bacteria. The week was a huge success and the school children from Year 1 to Year 12 were all incredibly fascinated by our stall and the concept of synthetic biology.
We participated in giving talks to various Rotary clubs to communicate with communities across Sydney and different demographics, most prominently with no to little science background and passed the stage of tertiary education. At every talk, we were posed with many questions ranging from the previous applications of synthetic biology to how we use various techniques such as cloning to create our genetically modified bacteria. We were also asked about patents which we found to be the hardest question. Maybe next time we should include a lawyer in our team!
The best response was received from a member of the Kings Cross Rotary club - "only 50 years ago we just found the structure of the DNA, and now not only we know so much other than the structure, but that we are creating new organisms." This really gets you thinking and gives you a very enlightening perspective.
You can download the presentation here, we hope this will be useful for future iGEM teams.
Sydney University Mathematics Society: 1st of September
Our modellers spoke to the Sydney University Mathematics Society (SUMS) at their weekly lunch guest-speaker series. The audience was captivated by the project and asked many questions: Though most did not have biological backgrounds, they were interested in our our mathematical models were being used to optimise these natural processes. This was a great chance to share our modelling work in detail, whilst showing the importance and relevance of maths and modelling to biology projects.