Team:FAU Erlangen/Public Engagement

iGEM Erlangen

Education and Public Engagement

The interaction with the public placed a particular importance in our iGEM project. Our aim was to influence the general public by conducting detailed discussions, raising their awareness towards synthetic biology and creating new incentives relating to science.

General public

Information stand in the city center of Erlangen

To give the broader public the opportunity to learn about our iGEM project, as well as to learn about their opinion towards synthetic biology and our project, we organized an information stand with the title “Erlangen meets science” in the city center of Erlangen.

Pedestrians had the opportunity to learn about lab work and biosafety by playing a lab game, win prices (donated by Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg FAU and different companies) and try delicious pretzels in the shape of plasmids (donated by local bakery Brezen Meyer).

Also representatives of the FAU visited our information desk and promoted this activity on their Instagram account. This effected that many students stopped by and got to know iGEM competition.
Different posters and discussions with team members gave pedestrians the opportunity to learn about our project, iGEM and the opportunities and risks of synthetic biology in medical and industrial applications. These discussions and an additional survey offered valuable insight to the public opinion on these topics. 17 pedestrians with diverse professions took part in our survey, which deals with basics of synthetic biology and biology in general to check the knowledge of the public.

According to the several occupations it can be seen that a large part of the participants were students, which demonstrates that Erlangen has a strong student population.

We wondered, how many participants know about possible work fields of biologists. This issue arises from the existing prejudices, after which all biologists work e.g. as zoologists or botanists. Our survey showed that only approx. 40% of the respondents are aware of the working fields.

According to synthetic biology, we were also interested in the general knowledge about CRISPR/Cas, which is strongly represented in the media, as well as basics like the definition of a gene or synthetic biology in general.

The results of the survey show that around 60% of the public heard about CRISPR/Cas and nearly everybody knows about the definition of a gene. Synthetic biology, which presents a modern field of biology, is not well known, which is demonstrated by the survey.

Coverage in the media

To reach a wider audience, we cooperated with the radio station afk max by contributing to a radio report about our project. Moreover, an editor of the student magazine V-magazine interviewed our team and produced an article about synthetic biology and the work of our team. By presenting our team activities on social media (e.g. facebook), we furthermore ensured higher public attention and increased our reach.

Finally, a self-made 2D animated video clip was produced, in which our work with S-Layers is explained in a comprehensible way on YouTube. This ensures that people with all levels of knowledge have access to the basics of our iGEM project.

Education at School

As one side project of our Human Practice we visited the Helene-Lange-Gymnasium (HLG), which is a school in the neighbouring city Fuerth. There is one huge problem teaching scientific subjects in German schools. Even if some school buildings have well equipped laboratories the German curriculum does not provide time for student experiments. We therefore decided to work with 11th grade courses and designed a bio-chemical workshop in accordance to their syllabus.
On September 29th six members of our iGEM team met at HLG. But only two of us met at 9 o’clock in the morning, because the public transportation failed, as so often in Germany. It remained exciting until the end if we could carry out our workshop as planned, but finally everybody arrived just in time. As the last preparations were done 54 interested students poured into the room. After Lena gave a short presentation about our team and project, Sven continued to discuss the function principles of enzymes and their importance for biological systems. Furthermore, Sven gave a short introduction to DNA. Little by little the pupils’ interest increased and they began to participate.
Of course, the focus of our workshop was not only on theoretical background knowledge but rather on the practical part. Natalie, Markus, Nico and Lena, Sven, Natalie supervised the children in two school laboratories. For the experiments the pupils split up in groups of three. In our DNA extraction workshop the children were able to extract DNA from strawberries. We instructed the pupils step by step via a PowerPoint presentation and clarified the theory behind the single work steps. In our second experiment we tried to deepen the understanding of enzymes and were concerned with the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide by the enzyme Catalase. Therefore, every group was equipped with one raw and one cooked potato, pipettes and hydrogen peroxide (0,25%). Subsequently we discussed the outcome of the experiment.
We concluded our little workshop with a little quiz and a question-and-answer session. Furthermore, we provided information about scientific fields of study as the pupils are in the last two educational stages before university, which found much appeal. The day in school was a total success, it was interesting to see how the pupils approached our project and how much fun they had, while performing these little experiments we had planned.

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