Team:METU HS Ankara/Public Engagement



Education and Engagement

Each and every person is a part of a community, from the time they are born to the time they pass. More than being in a community, we are responsible for it and the better living of the people in it. To do our part as a team and as a member of the iGEM community, we took responsibilities throughout the establishment of our project. By doing so, we have had a two-way dialogue with the public, the students of our school and educators from all around our country. In all these events, we have attended and organized, we showed incredible efforts to reflect iGEM values while raising the interest of many people and serving as a model.

To dig deeper into the topic, here is what we have done outside iGEM and the rationales for our approaches:

Presenting Synthetic Biology to Middle School Students

As the youngest group to participate in iGEM is high school students, a few days after the DNA Day, we have prepared and given a presentation to middle school students. We thought of the middle school students as the future representers of the competition, our school, and our country. Our goal was to reach out to them and provide them with information about synthetic biology and iGEM.

The presentation was interactive and we had so many questions coming from the students as well as answers. We were amazed by how one student even knew what CRISPR Cas9 was!

During the presentation, we have additionally shown them projects about synthetic biology beyond iGEM as well as providing information about those projects. It was incredibly inspirational, for us, how students were enthusiastic about our project and synthetic biology overall.

Celebrating DNA DAY

Interview with the Middle School Students:

2 days before the DNA Day, we prepared general knowledge facts about DNA, genes and so on. Those were simple but interesting facts such as “The human DNA is 98% identical with a chimpanzee’s.”

After everything was set, we visited the middle school students during their lunch break, asked whether the facts were true or not. Even though not all of the students got the questions right, they were hooked by the topic and demanded more information from us.

The video we recorded was shown to them in the next morning, before class. They were exhilarated to see both themselves and their friends trying to answer DNA questions. And, we were so happy to see younger minds being so interested in the DNA and the thrilling qualities of it.

Murder Mystery Game with the Middle School Students:

On the DNA Day, we went back to the middle school and set up a Murder Mystery Game.

The game was about the fictional murder of a biologist, right here in our school. The leads the students had to solve the mystery was in the different stations of the game and as we aimed, the students used their knowledge of DNA and performed a teamwork in order to get to the end.

More than the questions and facts we also set up an experiment that was based on the students’ skill to use a microscope. We taught them how to adjust a microscope to see the specimen.

It is important for us to see younger students learning how to use lab material because in the future they will follow our lead and become scientists. In doing that, we saw that students were already quite interested in using the lab equipment.

At the end of the game, the students had learned more about the DNA, genes and microscope skills. They were additionally send off to class by a little handmade gift in order for them to remember the DNA Day.

Introducing the concept of Ethics, DNA, and Lab safety to Primary School Students

In order to raise the awareness of primary school students, the youngest classes learning biology, we prepared a handmade game consisting of three stations; matching DNA strands, memory cards and which were furthermore followed by an experiment of extracting the DNA of strawberries.

Starting with the concept of synthetic biology first, we had a Q&A session with students. They were all amazed by how we could transfer genetic qualities to bacteria and asked whether we could do this with humans or not. There, we explained the ethics of science to students and they were all convinced about the limitations of scientists.

At the game stations of the workshop, the first station’s, matching memory cards’, the goal was to introduce lab safety, types of equipment and overall the things we can find in the lab. As the students matched the memory cards in teams, we explained what it was on the cards for them to gather more knowledge about the lab environment and safety. We remember, the students kept on saying that they wanted to be in the lab, wearing special suits, doing experiments in the future.

The second station, finding the pair to a DNA strand, aimed to teach the structure of DNA, base pairing and nucleotides. Of course, because they were primary school students, first we had their opinions on those letters. Just as we hoped to, they likened the DNA to a code like the ones used in computers, phones and so on, which was, however, composed of four letters. As we further explained the complementary strands and the double helix structure of DNA, they successfully matched the strands.

The last station, extracting DNA from a strawberry experiment was furthermore an interactive station. As we carried on, we helped the groups to perform the experiment and gave them information about the use of the materials specified in this experiment.

By the end of the day, the students had learned about the DNA, ethics of what we do, lab equipment, lab safety and they had seen a real DNA which was the most thrilling part for them. The message of science ethics was also conveyed with the interactive Q&A session. It was an opportunity for them to meet the DNA at an early age, broaden their imagination and knowledge about life sciences.

Adding the Subject of Synthetic Biology to Our Curriculum

We had a meeting with the department of biology in our high school and spoke about how we can integrate the subject of synbio in our lessons. We agreed with the teachers on the idea of talking about the subject on the last topic of the grade 10 curriculum, as it was the most suitable one being "Biotechnology". We believe that introducing this subject to our peers will attract more attention to this field, maybe even raise scientists in the future or lead to more iGEM teams being born. We have also discussed this with our school principal to carry this topic to the Ministry of Education Regional meeting and to share our ideas with other school principals. We convinced them about how synthetic biology and iGEM have the contribution on 21st-century skills and prepare youth to future jobs.

Training Future iGEMmers

We assisted our school's next iGEM team and shared our experiences; like the hard works, assignments and spent precious time to come up with an intricate project. This interaction was really important for us as they were exploring synthetic biology for the first time as some high school students who were about to step into a project.

We believe in inspiring people; trying to get them in this endeavor to make synthetic biology known by more people. We believe that this way; science will be a primary branch in the development of our world and preferred by more and more people; all with fresh new ideas, approaches and different perspectives.

Since -just like we were- high school students are incredibly impressionable; we wanted them to be attracted to this field from such a young age in hopes that they will be passionate scientists, making major breakthroughs. They are our future and we wanted them to see the infinite possibilities from renewing our Earth to whatsoever they can imagine.

To us, the conference taught that further steps have to be taken with our project and the range of our human practices, that we have to reach out to more and more people and to show that, the problem we are focusing is not just the problem of our country, but the problem of the whole world and that we are all of changing.

Understandably so, every future iGEMmer was a bit anxious; but we could see the determination in their eyes. They had many questions aiming to understand the concept and the challenges they were about to face. We explained them the process and how to overcome the obstacles in their path. Perhaps from the presentation, we have done back in April, they had some familiarity with what we were doing and actually, some were influenced by that presentation while signing up for the project.

We wanted them to see that iGEM is beyond the lab bench; having many aspects to it other than just the lab work. They were surprised when we revealed that we have done many outside-the-lab works to contribute to our project. We also assured them how necessary teamwork and time management is in iGEM; and how they will learn so much about everything while preparing a project.

In full awareness of how very little can make or break something, we are proud of inspiring our successors and we hope many among our peers there will be future synthetic biologists.

Our SEBİT workshop

In collaboration with SEBİT, an educational technology company, we took a role in a workshop that would increase attention to science and biology in children. We dressed up as biologists that work in the laboratory section of a facility. We pretended to do experiments in accordance with the concept of the workshop and introduced lab environment to children. At the end, we felt so happy that the responses from children were in a way showing praise to science and biology. They said they wanted to be like one of us in the future and do great work for the sake of the world.

Inspiring Enthusiasm among Scientists of the Future

We visited primary school students of our school in their Science lessons to introduce them to the synthetic biology and biofuels. We had a chat on why different people, animals or plants have different characteristics, why bread mold and how scientists made a tobacco plant glow to teach them the existence of DNA. As soon as they heard that we changed genes of other organisms, they said they wanted to “transfer lion DNA to warriors” which we explained how bad it is to do so and good scientists would never do such a vile thing, introducing them to bioethics. To debunk some myths they may have believed in, we told them how some bacteria are good whereas some are bad, and thus excess antibiotic use is bad for them. Most importantly, we taught them how bad fossil fuels are, and how we can abandon their use, particularly with our project. They were stunned when they heard we made cars run on wood. We stated how biofuels would “save the world” which they said was “very cool”.

It was encouraging to see young, primary school kids are enthusiastic about biofuels. Since they will be the future scientists, they are almost “future aspects” of our project.

Presenting Biofuels on The VI. Intelligence and Talent Congress

Tugba Inanç, our PI, gave a speech introducing our project on VI. Intelligence and Talent Congress held annually by the Turkish Intelligence Foundation. This congress hosts educators, families, and students from all over Turkey to have a discussion on skill, craft, intelligence and success with gifted individuals with extraordinary abilities or inspiring stories of entrepreneurship.

With this Congress, we found a chance to introduce biofuels to a diverse audience. It was refreshing to see their enthusiasm; as we received many questions on the matter after the speech. The crowd also seemed to be pleasantly surprised by the fact that us, high school students could come up with such an intricate project.

Overall, this congress served us as a platform in which we reached a large audience (1000 people) to introduce them bioethanol.

Synthetic Biology Day ‘18 with Bilkent Unam

Two weeks before the Giant Jamboree, we attended a conference in Bilkent University, that the Bilkent UNAM iGEM team was organizing. From the start of the event, many biologists, project coordinators, and university students gave presentations on the innovative projects they have done. When we realized we were the only high school students at the conference, we got more and more nervous.

During our presentation, we highlighted the importance of replacing fossil fuels, how our country is not taking the steps needed and the urgency of changing. We showed the results we got from our survey to our audience consisting of educators, future biologists, and professors. The significance in showing our survey was that it actually indicated a lack of knowledge amongst our community that educators can change by influencing their students.

As we carried on by presenting our own project, Bio-E, we did more than teaching them about biofuels and bioethanol, we taught them about even little changes made by with the age of whatever, can contribute to something bigger than themselves. For us, we are a part of many communities, from the iGEM community to our country’s, and in all, we are responsible for doing better and for the better. By this means, the conference was our key to have a two-way dialogue with a room of people who will and already has dedicated their lives to have an influence on others.

Furthermore, we have realized that we should also direct more of our human practices to university students and to graduates. With this thought in mind, we have arranged an interview on a radio station at the 9th of October.

On the Radio to Increase Awareness about Biofuels

We gave an interview to maxFM, a local radio station in Ankara, Turkey, in a radio program hosted by Özgür Aksuna. We got to share our project, our impact, the importance of bioethanol, and biofuels on a wide platform, in a very popular radio station, reaching hundreds of thousands. We explained the obstacles to bioethanol use, how bioethanol is a rival to petrol. Our aim was to bring awareness and on a platform that reaches to thousands regardless of profession, we consider ourselves successful.