Cornell iGEM

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Outreach Overview

Cornell iGEM aims to foster a meaningful impact on the local and global communities by sharing our knowledge in synthetic biology and engineering principles with those around us. To this end, we have reached out to community members of all ages through the YOURS mentorship program, project presentations, and community involvement, to garner a greater understanding of synthetic biology as a whole.

YOURS Mentorship Program

Cornell iGEM’s main outreach focus this season was a one-on-one mentorship program between team members and elementary school students through Cornell University’s Youth Outreach Undergraduates Reshaping Success (YOURS) program. The purpose of YOURS is to provide kids living in low-income mobile home parks near Ithaca, NY with opportunities to learn and grow. Our mentorship program aims to introduce under-served local elementary students to synthetic biology and to develop a better understanding of genetic engineering and its underlying principles within each mentee.

Our mentorship program not only taught students core concepts of science, but also emphasized our 2015 project. Each week, we crafted a hands-on modular lesson which built upon scientific principles introduced in previous sessions. We showcased the direct application of synthetic biology in the world around us by explaining how each concept could be used to combat bacterial coldwater disease in salmon. We began with basic biology lab techniques, progressed to learning about proteins and the cell, and culminated our seven week program with a visit to a fish hatchery.

Many of our mentees are not exposed as often to science in the classroom as Cornell iGEM students were during their own childhoods. But, limited access to instruction in science did not stop the local elementary students from jumping into the projects we set before them with enthusiasm. We were inspired by the curiosity, creativity, and tenacity of these students as they strove to learn as much as possible about the world around them. We mentored local students, but they taught us that the beauty of science truly lies within the messy yet fun aspects of scientific experimentation.

Below is a general outline of the 7-week lesson plans during our collaboration with YOURS.

Every lesson began with a mentor-mentee game and recap of the last week.

The mentees were also given this survey at the beginning and end of the program.

Week Lesson Plan
1: What is science? We gave a lab tour of the iGEM space. Then, we taught a mini-lesson about working with DNA and plasmids.
2: Why should we care about DNA? We explained the forms of DNA in different organisms. We also talked about how scientists can manipulate genes, and then related that to what Cornell iGEM does. We extracted DNA from strawberries and learned how to pipet. The kids played around with different colored water, writing down the amounts of each color that they pipetted to create their own color. Then, they gave their recipe to a friend to see if that friend could make the color too.
3: How do we know we have the right one? We learned about antibiotic resistance and compared two plates with colonies: one with antibiotic in the agar, and one without. Next, we explained how gel electrophoresis works and practiced loading a gel.
4: What are proteins? We asked the kids what proteins were, and talked about amino acids, which make up proteins. Next, we delved in deeper into enzymes, which are a type of protein that causes chemical reactions. We explored the different kinds of proteins in everyday solutions. The kids mixed milk with an acid and soymilk with magnesium sulfate and saw the protein precipitating out. We measured the amount of protein and collected the data.
5: All about bacteria! We gave a lesson on what bacteria is and what it can be used for. Next, each mentee was given an agar plate split into four quadrants, and was asked to pick four places around the building to swab bacteria onto the plate. Next, we explained the benefits of using bacteria to hold the genes that we want. We showed the kids how to grow bacteria in LB cultures, explaining that this was the first step to getting a plasmid out of bacteria. Finally, we gave an overview of our project and bacterial coldwater disease.
6: Fish Hatchery Tour We took the kids to Bath Hatchery, where an employee gave us a tour. We were able to feed the fish, see where they were housed, and learn about the day to day operations at the fish hatchery.
7: Celebration! We celebrated the end of our program with superlatives and ice cream!

Quotes from our YOURS students before and after the outreach program

Before: What is synthetic biology? “living..something.” - Jessica

After: “Biology is a really cool thing to learn.” - Jessica
“You need DNA to keep yourself going.” - Jess
“DNA is what you are made of.” - Nora
“I like to experiment!” -Nikki

Research Presentations

SILS Presentation:The Summer Institute for Life Sciences (SILS), a program of the Office of Undergraduate Biology (OUB), invited undergraduates to give a talk on their summer research activities. Talks included published research, on-going research, technology applications, and future research directions. The Cornell iGEM Team represented by Sachi Koide and Saie Ganoo presented this year’s project, fishPharm, to an audience that consisted of faculty and students and were able to discuss with fellow researchers possible problems that could rise regarding the innovative fish tag’s application.
Splash! at Cornell: Splash! at Cornell is a one-day educational program in which hundreds of high school students from all over the United States come to Cornell to take classes taught by undergraduates in any subject. We teach a hands-on synthetic biology crash course in the fall and spring through the program. Splash! is an excellent opportunity for the team to shed light on the iGEM experience to young minds.

Community/Student Education

ENGRG 1050 : Our team conducts a series of presentations targeting students in introductory engineering seminars (ENGRG 1050) to introduce them to synthetic biology. These seminars are a mandatory course for all freshman engineering students at Cornell, and thus is a great way to expose potential future participants to how rewarding the Cornell iGEM experience can be. We touch upon our projects in the past and discuss the multidisciplinary focus placed upon our designs over the past years. In doing so, we emphasize the integral role of various fields of engineering as well as synthetic biology in providing comprehensive solutions to real-world problems.

Lab Tours: Cornell iGEM is always eager to share our lab experiences with members of the community, and to this end has offered a series of educational lab tours. We invite underprivileged incoming Cornell freshman through the Pre-Freshman Summer Program (PSP) as well as local Ithaca High School female students interested in pursuing engineering to come visit our lab space. During the tours, we teach students how to get involved in research as Cornell undergraduates.

Ithaca Sciencenter’s “Building with Biology”: This year we volunteered at a Sciencenter event which is part of a series of Building with Biology pilot events being held at 8 science centers across the U.S. iGEM team members helped carry out various activities related to science experiments that were designed to educate visitors of all ages at this event. All the activities were developed by 12 science centers and museums in partnership with scientists (universities, AAAS, Synberc, BioBuilder). We taught kids how to spread plates, demonstrated the possibilities of 3D printing, and simulated rearranging genes with legos. Next year, a kit of activities (selected from this year's materials) will be sent to 200 sites across the country. In fact, the 2015 iGEM competition in late September will showcase the activities.

Public Awareness

PSP Panel: Following the PSP lab tour of the iGEM space, we participated in a large panel where PSP students could ask questions about joining research on campus. Not only did we discuss with students the benefits of engaging in synthetic biology research at Cornell, but we also strived to spark discussion on the ethics surrounding synthetic biology.

RAW Expo/Spring Forum: The RAW Expo was designed to connect people from various disciplines who have created something. We were able to feature our 2014 iGEM device and garner design feedback from science, architecture, art, and fashion organizations.

Charter Day Weekend: Student Innovators in Action: Charter Day Weekend was a series of events held to celebrate Cornell’s Sesquicentennial, and was attended by hundreds of alums, trustees, and current students. We were chosen to be one of 50 student groups featured during the Student Innovators in Action forum, and through this, were able to represent our school.

Humans and SynBio: We believe that it is important for members of the community to be informed about synthetic biology, which the public is often misinformed about. To this end, the team has developed a novel social media platform, Humans and Synbio, as our take on the popular Facebook page, Humans of New York. We ask members of our local Ithaca community as well as friends around the world for their opinions on synthetic biology, and share the responses on our platform, allowing us to better understand the vast opinions on this rapidly evolving field of science. Humans and Synbio has shown us that no matter their opinion, the people we meet always have stories to tell. We aim to share our story with them, too.

B07 Weill Hall, Ithaca, NY