Education and Public Engagement
On Tuesday 17th July we visited the Gillespie primary school to teach their year 6 students about the dangers of bacteria and plastic pollution. In the process of doing this students of a very young age would gain a keen interest in biological sciences as well as become more aware of the environmental damage, which is a global issue that affects all generations of people. We specifically taught students about the dangers it poses to marine life as well as the key principles of Reducing, Reusing and Recycling plastics so that they are better prepared for combating these issues. The visit consisted of two presentations which were split apart by a number of activities that included revising the material and strengthening the children’s knowledge about bacteria and plastics through quizzes, as well as teaching them about creatively reusing plastics; with a practical example of reusing plastic bottles as flower pots.
Even before the visit, the children showed a keen interest in science as a subject, however both during and after the presentation we saw the young students actively engaging with the subject. Many students also gave their own examples during the plastics presentation, demonstrating their knowledge and curiosity of plastic reuse. The quizzes also showed us that the students were engaging and listening as the majority of students got questions right. Prior to the bacteria presentation, the students had some previous knowledge as they were taught about bacteria earlier in the year however it was basic and simple.Giving the bacteria presentation greatly enhanced their knowledge and improved their sanitary skills.
Throughout the plastics presentation it became apparent that students already knew the importance of reusing and recycling plastics. The presentation served as an opportunity for the students to suggest different and creative ways to reuse plastics.
Science4U Schools Science Conference (9-11 years old)
On Wednesday 18th of April the team participated in the Annual Schools Science Conference hosted by our University. It is an event bringing together students from 19 participating schools and colleges across London. Our team was joined over 100 volunteer scientists working in different fields in presenting scientific work with the aim of encouraging students to get inspired and choose to pursue a STEM career. In addition, the aim was to present the importance of science in everyday life and educate students about the cutting edge discoveries in biology.
Our stand focused on presenting 3 key ideas that the iGem team is passionate about. The first was raising awareness about plastic pollution. Using infographics we tried to show students how plastics are do not ‘decompose in nature’ but only get smaller and smaller. We asked them to reflect on their own usage of single-use plastic on the day of the visit and made them aware of environmental and health concerns associated with the increased presence of plastics in the natural environment. The second idea that we presented was the discovery of PETase and the implications that would have on plastics recycling. Using models we demonstrated the concept and work of enzymes and demonstrated where in the polymer the ‘cut’ is applied. We were also keen on explaining that the enzyme was discovered in a plastics processing facility and how this ties in with evolution and natural selection. Lastly, we tried to explain the principles of synthetic biology. Using different color bands to represent different bio bricks we challenged students to create their own bracelets that they could take home. Every group left the stand after completing an interactive online quiz using Kahoot quiz game software. We made sure that answers to the questions were included in our material so the students, now empowered with the new knowledge could compete to win a prize.
Talk at the Environmental Society event
On the 3rd of October, the iGem team held a talk about our work at the University Environmental societies’ inaugural event. This served as an ideal opportunity to present our project in its final stages to a professional audience of University lecturers and students of various scientific fields. We aimed to present the project of iGem and its mission by outlining the engagement activities the team has done in order to raise awareness about plastics pollution and the need for further research. We also explained or approaches in tackling styrene degradation and the specific problem we faced along the way, outlining the potential impacts of industrial-scale polystyrene degradation. The talk was a comprehensive presentation of all aspects of our work. We were conscious of the fact that this would be the first time many of the students would have heard about the iGem competition and our aim was to encourage a new generation to be inspired by the possibilities offered by synthetic biology and hopefully, we inspired a new generation of young scientists to get involved with the competition.
Plastics management has become an attractive buzzword used by politicians, scientists and increasingly the general public. The fact that single-use plastics are a public health hazard, environmental pollutant and generally a bad agent is now known by most people. We believe that to truly understand the significance and dangers of plastics it is important to examine our relationship with the polymer family from their discovery through their transition into an everyday consumable. Further, looking into the future, we have set the country of Rwanda as an example of how best to limit plastics in the environment.By eliminating them. Talking with students in Rwanda and conducting interviews with their peers in Europe we demonstrate how baseless our obsession with plastics actually is. Through making this video we had we aim to educate about the significance and dangers of plastics and show that not so long ago we lived without single-use plastic packaging and at this very moment the same is being done in Rwanda. The process meant learning about video production and how to use it as a tool for science communication. We tried to involve as many people as possible in order to increase the impact of the piece by creating a feedback loop where we would provide the knowledge on polymers and the initial viewers would provide us with feedback on the video production. Further, we have tried to engage with students internationally in order to try to get them to film plastic pollution in their city and thus show the big picture of the problem, unfortunately, the video quality of those submissions was too low to include. The video was posted on Youtube and shared through our social networks educating everyone whom it reaches on the history of plastics and gives them a positive example to follow.