Continuing the Conversation
In addition to expanding our community, our team works on strengthening past partnership and investing in the sustainability of our programs. These initiatives range from our iGEM wide outreach database and partnering with local high schools to new on campus club partnerships and our internship program.
Building with Biology
On July 18th William and Mary opened their doors to the public for a Building with Biology public forum. We wanted to bring together all our multidisciplinary partners and invited all the members of our community, not focusing on a specific demographic but rather reaching out to anybody interested in the event. We had over 80 attendees- approximately 25 children, 18 teenagers, and 40 adults. The evening started with a catered dinner and brief opening remarks. The attendees were then divided into three categories based on age. This made the event somewhat logistically challenging as three concurrent events were happening simultaneously. We focused heavily on hands-on experiences for the children and teenagers while the adults participated in a public forum program sponsored by Building with Biology. The adult program was called Editing our Evolution, the program packets can be found here.
The adults discussed topics such the ethics behind editing the human genome and potential uses of SynBio in medicine. The program pushed participants to think about where we draw ethical lines. The participants had the opportunity to discuss in small groups as well as engage in a larger discussion. Members of the iGEM team floated around the room, clarifying misconceptions, and answering questions.
We engaged the younger children with a variety of activities. Young scientists could complete a DNA extraction, play a monster alleles game, create a cell cookie, create a DNA double helix out of candy and practice plating isolated colonies with fake bacteria. These activities can be found in our activities booklet . The student scientists enjoyed the DNA extractions so much that they asked the team if they could extract DNA from anything they could get their hands on—broccoli, carrots, and even chicken nuggets. We conducted an impromptu experiment to evaluate what foods would yield the most DNA and why.
The teenagers were invited into the iGEM lab, and were tasked with solving a mystery of a stolen backpack. Using PCR, gel electrophoresis, bacteria streaking, microscopy, paper chromatography, and their own ingenuity, they combined different aspects of SynBio to find the culprit. Having an overarching theme was especially effective, and giving the teenagers a goal to work towards, solving the mystery, piqued their interest and held their attention. They left the lab proudly displaying their paper chromatography and telling their parents about how they learned to use a micropipette for the first time.
Members from all three age groups expressed how much they loved the event. Several parents asked the team when the next Evening of Science would be held. They also asked to be notified immediately when there was another similar event hosted by the team.
This evening would not have been possible without Building with Biology. We are grateful for the materials and support they provided.
Summer Student Interns
Over the summer our lab hosted three high school interns for a month long training program. We formed a sustained relationship with each intern through our extended one on one partnership. By personally mentoring each student, we ensured they had a firm grasp of various SynBio concepts such as cloning and PCRs. As we slowly introduced these concepts we also taught them the associating wet lab techniques until they had a foundational understanding of core Synbio topics. Over the course of the month the high schoolers became proficient at micropipetting, miniprepping, performing colony PCRS, PCR purifications and running gel electrophoresis among other wet-lab techniques. It was amazing to watch the personal growth of the interns.
The interns were also tasked with researching and presenting on a Synbio topic relevant to long term space travel. This encouraged each of the students to conduct higher level research with university resources and the support of the iGEM team. Davis combined his fascination of colonizing Mars with Synbio and spent time in and out of the lab researching habitat construction on Mars using 3D printing with synthesized bioplastic. Nitin dove into nutrition concerns in long term space travel and presented synthetic cyanobacteria as a food source for space colonies, and Nikhil presented on using synthetic bacteria to convert graphene oxide to graphene for a potential source of rocket fuel. Nikhil also came to realize his passion for the math and programming aspect of iGEM, and later emailed the team reflecting on how much he enjoyed his time interning.
On July 26th the iGEM team met with this years PLUS-S (Preparing for Life as an Undergraduate Student - Science) students for a fun science-related activity: making homemade ice cream using liquid nitrogen. This activity enabled the team to converse with the incoming freshmen before the school year started, answer their questions about college life, and introduce them to iGEM. Many of these students had no background in SynBio and had never heard of the field before. Our team was delighted to explain to the PLUS-S students what iGEM and SynBio were, and what the team was working on in the lab. The students were clearly interested in the team, and we strongly encouraged them to join in the spring.
All in all the afternoon was a great recruitment activity for iGEM. The sustainability of the team depends on bright, incoming students, and this year’s team made sure to generate interest for next ensuring we have a strong 2019-2020 program.
High School Partnerships
Maintaining positive relationships requires continued communication. One of our major goals this year was to create partnerships which spanned more than just a single event. A key component of this is our partnership with local high schools. High school students are future researchers and iGEM team members; we want to do all we can to inspire a passion for synthetic biology. High school teachers are tasked with teaching a diverse array of subjects, and we need to make synthetic biology an exciting part of their curriculum to teach so that their students are eager to learn. In order to support teachers in providing positive lab experiences for their students, and in the hopes of inspiring and interest in STEM, we have partnered with John Leone, a high school biology teacher with Williamsburg-James City County Schools. We worked closely with Mr. Leone to create outreach programs which aligned with the lessons being taught in class and ensured the level of sophistication was appropriate given his student’s backgrounds. We integrated synthetic biology lessons into the topics Mr. Leone was already teaching his class and arranged for a series of lab visits.
The lab visits were scheduled based on the lessons being taught in Mr. Leone’s class and they fell outside of the traditional iGEM schedule. The first event was held April 24th and was a collaborative effort between the iGEM 2017 team and this years team. This gave our teams an excellent opportunity to get together while promoting synthetic biology to high school students. 30 students attended the event. At the event, we taught the concepts of a restriction digest with an activity and practiced micropipetting before performing a real restriction digest. Students then completed a gel electrophoresis activity using their own DNA samples from the previous experiment. After lunch students jumped into bacteriophage activities, completing a soil enrichment and a direct plating. Students had brought their own samples and were on the hunt for novel bacteriophage; after the event, it was determined that 15 students successfully found phage! Students ended the day by analyzing their gel. The event was picked up by William & Mary News, check out the video Below.
We are working to expand this event each semester. This fall Mr. Leone is bringing three classes of 30+ students to our lab for a similar event. They will be visiting November 13th,14th and 15th.
Here are the awesome activities we have planned for this year's partnership. A huge thank you to iGEM alumnae Alyssa Luz-Ricca for all of her help in developing these class protocols!
Our team is dedicated to creating lasting relationships with our community partners. To ensure these relationships are sustained and that we are able to provide the community with high quality educational programs and products, we actively seek out additional campus partners. This year our team is increasing our year long programing; we will be continuing the conversation and holding community events from November until April, post iGEM season. To support these initiatives we are working with the William & Mary biology department to create BIOL 444: Mentored Teaching in Synthetic Biology. This is a for credit course for undergraduate students with a background in synthetic biology and an interest in public engagement and outreach.
Students who have assisted with an outreach event during the fall semester are eligible to enroll in the 444 course. These students review protocols and synthetic biology literature to prepare for open lab events which take place throughout the spring semester. Students receive advanced training in synthetic biology techniques and gain experience teaching secondary school students in a laboratory environment. The protocols which are carried out with local high school students were developed by iGEM alumnae Alyssa Luz-Ricca and cover techniques as foundational as pipetting to the more advanced phage assays and restriction digests. This new course simultaneously enhances the undergraduate experience while providing wonderful learning opportunities for high school students who wouldn’t be able to complete this kind of work in their own science classrooms.
This year the William and Mary team is proud to say that we have partnered with the newly founded Steminist club to take on even bigger female focused events. This new organization’s mission is to encourage women to join STEM fields. This partnership will help sustain our year round programing event and ensure our team always has more than enough hands for all our events. Their team is 100 women strong and they will be supporting us in our Girl Scout event Ladies in the Lab in November.
As a part of our dedication to sustainable and honest access to outreach programs we have added another 713 outreach events to our outreach database for all iGEM teams to access and learn from.