Team:Stony Brook/Public Engagement


Education & Engagement

Science is not just defined by the work you do in a research laboratory. Although your experiments with culture plates and Erlenmeyer flask are important, outreach is also an essential component in the field of science. Through outreach, scientists can spread understanding to the general public.

Stony Brook iGEM E. coli buddies activity

This year, Stony Brook iGEM created a new activity to help teach kids about synthetic biology - E. coli buddies! Through this activity, children learned about transformation and the fundamental basis of synthetic biology through an interactive means. The main goal of synthetic biology is taking DNA with genes of interest and inserting them into microorganisms such as E. coli, so that they can produce the proteins that the genes code for. Before the activity, we attached velcro to the E. coli we received from Giant Microbes, as well as to cardstock. This would stand as a base for the proteins that the kids would make. At the start of the activity, we explained to the kids the structure of DNA, namely that it is double stranded and has a double helix. Then, we asked them to pick two different colored strings which they twisted together to form the helix. Then, this string was tied to the E. coli in a ring to represent transforming the organism with a recombinant plasmid. Next, we explained that the DNA encodes for proteins. The kids were able to design the proteins that their DNA coded for using pom poms, glitter, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, and beads onto the base we precut for them. In the process of this activity, the kids were able to see how synthetic biology actually works and imitate what scientists do. We were successful in educating while entertaining, ultimately allowing us to create other activities. To help future iGEM teams make activities like this, we have made our activity video publically available on YouTube in addition to posting it on our wiki. One key feature of the video is that it is searchable by a number of tags, and that our team has added closed captions allowing for greater accessibility.

Stony Brook iGEM Gene Circuit activity

Traditional gene circuit activities allow students to combine elements from a pre-made genetic toolbox. Our iGEM Team built upon this to create a expanded gene circuit activity in which students would be able to create their own tools to make a genetic circuit, stressing key features in science, such as creativity and problem solving. First, this activity was precluded with a presentation on iGEM and basic concepts of synthetic biology. Then, students were able to think of promoters and genes that they would want connected together to solve issues in the world, which they would then restriction enzyme digest and ligate together. This tied together their creativity and the information they learned from the presentation. For example, one of the students created a biosensor for bicarbonate in the oceans to determine areas with increasing acidification. We also have made available on our wiki a PowerPoint® presentation of this activity that we used at one of the schools. We hope that other teams can utilize this activity to learn from the students as we did!

Collaboration with Queen’s University iGEM 

During the summer we collaborated with Queen’s University iGEM team in Canada to create an informational pamphlet and brochure about directed evolution and the methods by which to perform directed evolution. Both our team and Queen’s University iGEM team considered incorporating directed evolution into our corresponding projects. Upon doing some research into directed evolution, we found a lack of resources regarding this topic online and thus, we sought to ameliorate this issue. Both teams collaborated to make create a pamphlet that provides detailed information regarding the methods by which directed evolution can be performed while taking into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of the methods discussed. In addition, the accompanying video about directed evolution present much of the same information as discussed in the pamphlet but does so in a more concise way. We hope that this resource is beneficial for future iGEM teams and other researchers interested in performing directed evolution in their labs. Through this collaboration we expanded our knowledge of synthetic biology and we learned how to collaborate with other student scientists within the community in a meaningful way.

Admitted Students Day

During this event, our members met with many prospective high school students. We used this opportunity to both speak about iGEM while educating our audiences about research opportunities are Stony Brook. Through our detailed explanations, we introduced the students to synthetic biology and tried to incite interest in the field of research. We clarified to the students that iGEM is an excellent research opportunity as it does not require prior lab experience. Many were intrigued by synthetic biology. By the use of questions and discussions, we were able to clarify common misconceptions of synthetic biology and were also able to detail its many applications in the field of biology. We were happy to be able to partake in this event as it allowed us to interact and educate students who will be entering college. We were successfully able to explain synthetic biology was also able to bolster public awareness of the field. 

Bake Sale

During our Bake Sale Fundraiser, we spread knowledge on synthetic biology, while giving students brain fuel during Finals Week and raising money for our research. We were successful in communicating our project with fellow students and faculty. As we were in the library, many students passed by and were intrigued by our poster (and snacks). When they asked what our cause was for, we introduced them to the iGEM competition and the field of synthetic biology. As they learned about synthetic biology, we also explained our project, which they found fascinating. During this event, we were also fortunate to meet Dr. Devinder Mahajan, the Graduate Program Director for the Chemical Engineering Department, who was fascinated by synthetic biology and our project and offered to meet with us to discuss the ramifications our project may have in the energy sector.  

W. Tresper Clarke High School

With this visit, two of our team members presented to a research class with students ranging from sophomores to seniors at W.T. Clarke High School, a local high school in the East Meadow School District. We explained what iGEM is, the importance of synthetic biology and how it works, and what our project entails. In addition to spreading the knowledge of iGEM, we discussed how important it is to engage in research, and explained how one could start obtaining research experience at an early age. As a reminder of how molecular biology is fun and exciting, we gave the students temporary DNA tattoos. The teachers at WT Clarke High School enjoyed our visit and asked us to come back to present to first-year students. We gifted the faculty with the forum activity from Building with Biology called “Should we genetically engineer mosquitos?” to bring further interest about the ethical considerations of synthetic biology. We also sent them our PowerPoint® as a resource for future students. While engaging students, we hoped to spark more interest in the field of synthetic biology by showing them the many opportunities that are available for them.

Benjamin N. Cardozo High School

During our visit to Cardozo High School, located in Queens, three members of our team presented to an accelerated biology class. Spending two class periods, our members explained iGEM, research opportunities, and common misunderstandings of synthetic biology. As this was an accelerated high school biology class, the students were able to ask insightful questions. We approached these aspects by explaining the concepts of synthetic biology and the misunderstandings the public may have by holding an opening for a general discussion. We learned many school curriculums are not focused on all aspects of synthetic biology and often diminish all of its applications. Providing more examples than just GMO’s, the class was elated to learn about our project. Our presentation was beneficial to the students as we were contacted and thanked by the class teacher.

Eastern Long Island MIni Maker Faire

We appealed to a younger audience by changing our activity from last year which involved the “See DNA” kit from iGEM. While the kit produced interesting conversations with attendees, we wanted younger children to gravitate towards us, so we decided to hold interactive arts and crafts instead. We had the children make necklaces out of centrifuge tubes, colorful strings, colored water, and glitter. Although the children were younger than our typical audiences, we formulated a discussion along with their parents to address concerns that they had about synthetic biology. Another way we attracted attention in educating the public at this fair was by bringing along a parrot. Just like our cyanobacteria, the parrot (Gosha) is just as green and very friendly. Our table was filled with eager parents and children ready to learn from us. We learned that using interactive activities helps foster questions and discussions about synthetic biology. Additionally, using these activities, we can help explain biology, and more specifically, synthetic biology, in basic terms.

Freshman Orientation

We talked to the incoming freshman class and their parents about synthetic biology, what it entails, and how students can be involved in research and make a difference in their fields of interest. Specifically, we talked to them about what iGEM is, what past projects have done, and what our project entails this year. Many were interested in our research program and asked about the workings of synthetic biology and undergraduate-led research. We were also able to address many of the ethical concerns parents had. They left with a positive outlook on synthetic biology and its’ applications. We approached students by handing out iGEM flyers and were happy to learn that high school students have a sincere interest in bettering their community and world through applications of synthetic biology.

Museum of Natural History Summer Program

Two members of our team spoke to a program with students that ranged from the high school to collegiate level. Since most of our team has just finished their freshman year, we felt this was a great opportunity to mentor students who are entering college. We focused most of our talk and discussions on synthetic biology and our project. We presented common misconceptions and basic terminology of synthetic biology through a PowerPoint® presentation. Students, eager to learn more, asked many thought-provoking questions, ultimately leading to more friendly discussions about the implications of synthetic biology. 

DNA Learning Center, Dolan and West

During our visit to a science camp, held at the West DNA Learning Lab, three of our members presented to students in middle school and high school. Our presentation outlined the basics of biology, synthetic biology, and iGEM. Through our presentation, students were also able to learn about research opportunities at the high school and collegiate level. As an incentive and approach to have the students participate, we handed out iGEM pens and DNA tattoos. The camp was structured around learning about DNA, proteins, and plasmids. Therefore, since the students had an introductory synthetic biology background, allowing them to ask astute questions about our project, its’ implications, and overarching concepts of synthetic biology. The faculty at the DNA Learning Lab enjoyed our visit and asked us to present at future camps. In order to involve them in our project, we asked for their opinions on which promoter they would believed would be more beneficial towards society. We hope to spark further interest in students through our presentation and positive personal experiences in research.

Smithtown SCOPE Summer Enrichment Program

A few of our members went to the Accompsett Middle School to engage with elementary school students participating in the SCOPE Summer Enrichment program. We presented to two groups of children. With the first group of children, we gave a presentation about biology as well as synthetic biology and led the students in an activity in which they extracted DNA from strawberries. They were able to isolate and visualize the DNA from a mixture of strawberry fruit clumps, dish soap, salt, and rubbing alcohol. The children learned to transfer the DNA into a microcentrifuge tube using a micropipette. Finally, we helped them attach a string to the microcentrifuge tubes and allowed them to take their extracted strawberry DNA home as a necklace or bracelet. They were ecstatic with the activity and asked us many questions regarding DNA and our project. With the second group of students, we gave the same presentation, but the students took part in the E. coli buddies activity, allowing them to interactively learn what synthetic biologists do. We feel that it is important for an interest in science and sense of curiosity in children to be fostered at a young, and by reaching out to such a young group of students, we were able to introduce the basics of biology to them in a fun and engaging way. By performing strawberry DNA extraction with the kids and allowing them to store and keep the extracted DNA in a creative way, the basic knowledge about the origin or appearance of extracted DNA will be firmly grasped. Furthermore, we learned that young students love asking insightful questions during presentations, and we made sure to accommodate with a longer Q&A session in future presentations.

LaValle Movie Night

To increase awareness of synthetic biology, we held a booth at the LaValle Movie Night, where parents and children from Suffolk County came to our University's football field to watch the animated movie Sing. To engage the children before the movie, we gave out pompoms and explained the basic principles of biology and what molecular biology means. For older audiences, we handed out flyers explaining our project and spoke with parents and members of the community about what synthetic biology entails. Parents shared their personal concerns with GMO’s and synthetic biology in many aspects of day to day life. We were able to ease their worries by explaining the benefits and applications of synthetic biology. Young children were also able to grasp the advantage of our project in helping the environment. We approached reaching the general community by attending this event and speaking with parents and children. Our pom-pom activity and flyers were both informational as well as engaging. We learned that the best way to educate young children is with hands-on activities and props. Nonetheless, many were very interested to see what we were doing and teaching! This was a fun event for the community and for the iGEM team as well.

Girls Inc.

 Although there is a steady increase of women entering STEM field, they are still outnumbered by men. Girls Inc. is an organization that focuses on empowering young girls with research-based activities and other programs. Our visit to Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), where the Girls Inc. event was held, was both stimulating for the girls and for our team. We started our visit by observing a panel of executives from companies and corporations, such as National Grid, providing insight and advice on how to succeed. Next, we presented about iGEM, our project, synthetic biology, and even gave a “crash course” on basic biology terminology. The girls were captivated and asked us questions about our research experience and advice on what classes they should take. To further captivate the girls, five team members created a game to crystallize the concepts of genes and promoters, a major aspect of synthetic biology. In order to solve a real-world problem, the girls were asked to create theoretical gene circuits with promoters, genes and restriction enzymes. The girls were creative in producing their gene circuits. For example, one girl came up with a sensor that would detect high acidity and would show bioluminescence in the presence of pollution and other girls tried to tackle diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes. Then, they were given two different colored string to represent the DNA that they twisted and tied together to create plasmid DNA. Our approach to educating a higher educational level of students was a success as we were invited back to present to BNL. We, as a team, believe that we learned to question more real-life situations stemming from the curiosity of the girls. 

STEP/BNL Summer of Science

After spending hours perfecting our interactive presentation, we were successful in introducing synthetic biology to students between the grades of 7 and 9. We began our visit by explaining iGEM, our project, and the many applications and misconceptions of synthetic biology. Afterward, we gave a quick “crash course” on specific terms and concepts in synthetic biology such as restriction enzymes, DNA ligase, proteins, and how recombinant DNA is formed. Ultimately leading to our interactive activity in which the students were able to insert their creative genes into plasmids. Many of these middle schoolers had fascinating questions, and the iGEM team members were able to answer them diligently. After the activity, the students walked away with a complimentary iGEM pen, a plasmid made up of twisted string, a syringe that represented the tools that biologists used, and the basic knowledge of synthetic biology. The pictures we took can not even express how rewarding the students felt with their experience in this interactive event. We approached this event by preparing an interactive and captivating activity in which participants were able to use their creativity and imagination. We learned that students are more inclined to participate and learn if activities are interactive.  

iSTEM Biotechnology Summer Scholars Program

The iSTEM Biotechnology Program is a summer program offered at Stony Brook University to high school students. In an effort to educate and engage the youth, we presented pertaining information to these students. We explained the basis of iGEM, our project, and gave a “crash course: in synthetic biology". In an effort to liven up the program, we built upon activities used by previous iGEM teams at Stony Brook. Many students already had a basic understanding of synthetic biology and were able to ask us insightful questions. They were quite curious about the workings and implications of our project. We were more than happy to explain, leading to insightful discussions. We learned that these summer programs are paramount in fostering research opportunities for high school students. The students are able to gain basics about biology and synthetic biology. 

Involvement Fair at SBU

 The involvement fair, held every semester on campus, allows Stony Brook clubs and organizations to advertise to prospective members. An iGEM member, who is also the secretary of the Synthetic Biology Society, advertised both organizations to students at the university. With a small poster board set up, she was able to share the impact of synthetic biology to those who were not familiar with the field. Using activities from past outreach events, she was easily able to give a crash course in synthetic biology and answer common misconceptions. Using this approach, many were captivated allowing us to explain synthetic biology with a hands-on method. Those who came to our booth left with a basic understanding of synthetic biology and our project. Since those who came to our booth were of different majors, we also learned quite a bit. One member in specific inquired and advised us on various modeling aspects. 

CommUniversity Day at SBU 

 CommUniversity is one of the biggest community celebrations at Stony Brook, where different Stony Brook organizations and community leaders interact with the general public to celebrate the Stony Brook region. At our booth, children, adults, and giant arthropods learned how to use micropipettes, and pipetted food coloring into microcentrifuge tubes that they were able to bring home as a necklace or bracelet. They also had the opportunity to learn how to do a fruit DNA extraction using oranges and take the DNA solution home as well. As this was another hands-on experiences, we thought it would be optimal in attracting the general public and explain the concepts of synthetic biology. Having discussions with all those who came to our booth, we were thrilled to see that children and adults were open to learning about synthetic biology. A previous researcher from the Laufer Center at our university stopped by our booth and shared her experiences with synthetic biology within her own research. 

World Maker Faire

 We were invited to have a booth at another Maker Faire, World Maker Faire, in New York City, to teach attendees about synthetic biology. We had an amazing time with the children there, showing them the basics of biology with a more visual and interesting method: extracting DNA from strawberries and oranges. To make the activity as hands-on as possible, the children themselves became “scientists” and through dish soap, salt, and rubbing alcohol, were able to visualize clumps of fruit DNA. They then learned how to use a micropipette, and pipetted their DNA solution into microcentrifuge tubes, which they were able to bring home as a necklace or bracelet. We chose this as an activity in order to inspire and introduce younger children to the fields of biology and synthetic biology. For high school students, parents and other adults who visited our booth, we presented our project and explained the importance of synthetic biology. For this fun event, we invited the Columbia iGEM Team to help bring supplies and manpower. 

Cleary School for the Deaf

 Although science has reached almost every aspect of life and field we can imagine, it has not quite reached the Deaf community. Therefore, our iGEM team decided we should pioneer and educate those in the Deaf community about iGEM and synthetic biology. Three members of our team, one of whom has a background in American Sign Language, ventured to the Islip Middle School, a satellite center of the Cleary Deaf School, packed with activities, posters boards, and presentations. We first gave a presentation on biology, synthetic biology, and our presentation -- translated with the help of an interpreter. We thought hands-on activities would be the best way for the students to get a visual of biology in action. The first activity we presented was DNA extraction with fruit. As soon as the DNA began to clump up, the students (and teachers) were beyond excited. With just this moment, we were touched and were grateful for the opportunity! Next, we introduced the students to pipettes. They pipetted liquids and the DNA from the previous activity into small tubes. These small tubes were then turned into bracelets and necklaces. We fostered small discussion within groups with the help of the interpreters. The students asked insightful questions about many aspects of biology. With just this event, we learned that, just like the Deaf community, there are many groups that are not often reached. Although we may not have been able to reach all these communities, we are beyond happy to have been able to reach the Deaf community and are humbled by our experience.

Meeting with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Staff Members

Members of our iGEM team met with County Executive Laura Curran and two of her staff members, Sean Sallie and David Viana, to discuss the science behind our project, the implications of biofuel use on the economy, and the process of making biofuel. More specifically, one topic we discussed was how the revenue from producing biofuels could trickle back into funding the research behind these improving these processes. To this extent, her staff was very interested in increasing the sustainability of our project, and so we agreed to send our project poster and full wiki information after the Jamboree, such that they could help reach out to other leaders to help making carbon sinking more of a reality. We reached out to Laura Curran because she is a powerful and respected leader within Nassau County’s local government and we not only wanted her perspective on the importance of funding biofuel research but also we aimed to share our knowledge with an individual who had the ability to make impactful change in the community. The success of this meeting with local members of politics informed us of society’s growing acceptance towards using biofuel in reducing carbon emissions as well as the receptiveness of local politicians towards the concerns of local citizens. While most of our outreach events involve young children, this meeting provided us a chance to engage with political leaders on the topic of synthetic biology and create a dialogue centered around synthetic biology.

SBU Library STEM series

The Stony Brook Melville Library invited some members of our team to give a presentation on summer research as part of their new STEM presentation series. During our presentation we discussed our research problem, experimental design, data results as well as the conclusion and implications of our results. In addition, we hosted a host Q&A session afterwards where many students and faculty members asked us questions about our research. We enthusiastically agreed to give this presentation because this event not only provided this with an opportunity to practice our presentation skills for the Jamboree but also allowed us to engage with students and faculty on our campus about our project and the field of synthetic biology. Many of questions asked during the Q&A session concerned interpretation of our data as well as the impact of our work on combating climate change. We learned that, just like us, many of the students and faculty members that attended were aware of the grave impacts of climate and seemed to understand the importance of our research. 

2018 Stony Brook iGEM 

The Stony Brook iGEM Team is proud to present to you their sweet and energy filled project! Made with love <3