Team:UNSW Australia/Public Engagement

Education and Public Engagement

Synthetic biology is the application of engineering design principles to biology in order to develop tools and systems that will benefit society. In order for such engineering projects to be successful, they must not only be physically and technically feasible, but also be socially acceptable. With this in mind, the UNSW iGEM team sought to engage with the wider community, to open conversations about how our project would be received, and inspire further interest in synthetic biology more generally.

During our project, the team developed a variety of activities and resources that aimed to encourage public engagement with synthetic biology research. From speaking to academics our peers, and high school students, we ensured our project was being tested and considered by a wide audience, with our team discovering (and exploiting) many creative points of interaction between our project and public interest.

By taking to the stage in our research symposium and presentations, we were able to share our story, but also challenge the general public to question and consider current ‘synbio’ technology. This work was continued with our published article which summarised our project (and synthetic biology more generally) for a wider audience to consider. We also worked to inspire the next generation of scientists by running a school workshop to bring our project, and the relevant school topics which underpin it, to a group of high school students. Alongside this effort, we developed a package to assist teachers deliver standard high school ‘in-class’ instruction. This enabled us to develop an outreach and education strategy which would have a sustainable impact on the engagement of schools in synthetic biology, that could be built upon in the future.

To learn a little bit more about each of our outreach and engagement pursuits, please click on the following headings:








Breakthroughs and scientific discoveries underpin the new technologies and tools which benefit broader society. As a result, it is important for scientists and engineers to keep in mind the people who will benefit from those advancements. Community engagement and outreach is one important mechanism assisting scientists to ensure that design is purpose-orientated and useful for the community. Open dialogue with a wide range of members from the public, academia and industry has helped our team, and can help scientists more generally, recognise alternate perspectives and values which may inform their work – which is particularly important given the variability of community values.

Considered and purposeful design is particularly important for synthetic biology-based tools, as they have the potential to cause major unforeseen damage to the global community. Research has found that many harmful products are the result of designers being unconcerned with the overlapping causes, content and consequences of their solutions1. This suggests that dangerous and unsustainable systems can be avoided by ensuring that consultation with ethics, regulation and public opinion is undertaken.

This is particularly important in an Australian context, given the steep upward trajectory of the field of synthetic biology, and Australia’s place as a significant global contender, ranking 14th globally for publications in synthetic biology-associated areas.2 Therefore, it is essential that scientists, particularly in Australia, facilitate and encourage open dialogue with the wider community to ensure they remain aware of public expectations and needs. One way to do this is by hosting seminars and research symposiums that involve a two-way exchange between audience and presenters to facilitate learning and collaboration3,4.

On the Day

With this in mind, the UNSW iGEM team hosted a symposium that gathered experts from a variety of synthetic biology-related fields, to engage in a Q&A with members of the wider community. Friends, family and colleagues were invited to listen and pose questions loosely relating to the title of the session, ‘Challenges in the Australian Innovation Landscape for Synthetic Biology’. The experts that made up the panel were:

Carl Stubbings

Carl Stubbings specialises is the commercialisation of diagnostic products, both locally and globally. He’s worked in senior roles in both the US and Australia, part of which included obtaining FDA clearance for, and commercially releasing, the first diagnostic test for West Nile Virus.

He’s also been the VP of Sales and Marketing for Focus Diagnostics, which involved Carl leading the commercialisation of the first molecular H1N1 test. Since 2012, Carl’s been back in Australia, working as the Chief Business Officer at Benitec Biopharma, where he was responsible for corporate and business development of their gene-silencing therapeutic platform, including developing and executing commercialisation strategy and executing licensing/partnership agreements with large pharmaceutical companies. He’s now working with several Aussie biotech companies on their commercialisation strategies, particularly in the diagnostic space.

Matthew Kearnes

An Associate Professor in the School of Humanities & Languages, Matthew is a member of the Environmental Humanities group at UNSW. His research encompasses areas of Science and Technology Studies (STS), environmental sociology, and contemporary social theory.

Matthew’s current work is focused on the social and political dimensions of technological and environmental change, including ongoing work on nanotechnology, precision medicine, geoengineering and the development of negative emission strategies to anthropogenic climatic change. He has many publications on the ways in which the development of novel and emerging technologies is entangled with profound social, ethical and normative questions.

Dominic Glover

Dr. Dominic Glover is a protein engineer and synthetic biologist. He graduated with a PhD in Biochemistry from Monash University and subsequently conducted postdoctoral research at UC Berkeley developing self-assembling protein templates. In 2017, he joined the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales as a Senior Lecturer in synthetic biology. His research activities seek to understand and exploit the remarkable fidelity and precision of protein self-assembly for biotechnology applications.

Hugh Goold

Dr. Hugh works for the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. His role is in two parts. At Macquarie University's Synthetic Biology Research group, Hugh is building Chromosome XVI of the synthetic Yeast genome, Yeast 2.0. Hugh is also tasked by DPI with identifying research projects with applications to primary industries such as forestry agriculture and fisheries. Hugh completed his PhD at the Université Aix Marseille in France and the University of Sydney in Australia in 2015.

The discussion was guided by one of our team members, and engaged with topics as varied as the importance of educating the public, commercialisation, ethics, open source science, and future applications. To see the full two-hour symposium video, which was uploaded to YouTube, please click here. Alternatively, view the highlight compilation:

Presentations were also given by ourselves, the iGEM team from Macquarie University and the University of Sydney BIOMOD team on our 2018 projects. This gave the gathered audience and experts an opportunity to engage with current innovations in the space, and provide their feedback during the networking hour. Perspectives from the attendees and speakers were not only gathered anecdotally by our team, but also through a short attendance survey that helped us understand the demographic of our audience and encourage their engagement.

Outcomes and Analysis

This outreach experience framed the rest of our human practices work, with key take away messages being integrated into all aspects of our project.

Defining Synthetic Biology

Prior to the discussions, the audience were asked to evaluate their understanding of synthetic biology. Despite over 97% of the attendants having heard of the term before, 32% of them seemed unsure about its definition. This was a common theme that we encountered amongst discussions with our family and friends.

Similarly, the panellists gave diverse answers when challenged to define the term. From discussing the evolution of the field of molecular biology to considering the interface between the organic and inorganic, the speakers all came back to the idea that this space has been built by combining previous research, scientific principles, and an overarching goal to invent promising new technologies. At one point, Matthew Kearnes even included the audience by asking them from what field of science or engineering they identify with, and using the range of responses from engineers, chemists, biologists and social scientists to illustrate the diversity and inclusivity of the field of synthetic biology.

However, the common thread throughout this part of the discussion was that synthetic biology focuses on applying engineering principles to biological systems to build reliable methods and tools. This is backed by the literature1,2, with the key philosophies behind most projects being rational design, modularity, abstraction and novelty; all paradigms that stem from engineering practices and commercialising processes.

Given the imprecise meaning of ‘synthetic biology’, the UNSW team decided to craft our own simple, yet descriptive definition that attempts to encompass the diversity of this field:

“Synthetic Biology is the application of engineering design principles to biology in order to develop valuable methods and tools that benefit society and the world.”

This statement was used throughout the rest of our human practices work to ensure we could clearly portray how we envisaged the context of our project in its research context. Furthermore, it helped shape how our project evolved over time by encouraging us to employ the engineering ‘design-test-build’ paradigm through the iterations of our design, to improve our scaffold design.

Engaging with the public

The symposium emphasised the importance of engaging in multidirectional dialogue to obtain the views of the public, with Matthew Kearnes being a particularly strong advocate. The panel speculated about which interest group drives the conversation behind the viability of a synthetic biology tool, with the importance of community engagement as a recurring consideration.

The speakers touched on how saturating the general public with scientific jargon can be isolating but highlighted the need for scientists to address the natural speculation and fear that the public can have, referencing Monsanto as a case study. From there, the speakers urged our team and the audience to provide the community with appropriate channels for consultation as part of the bioethical due diligence for a project. This will give the public greater access to decisions and information about a certain technological development.

This emphasis on including the general public in conversations about synthetic biology and the development of associated technologies, struck a chord with our group. Taking this concept of transparency and greater access to information, we wrote up an article on our project for the non-profit society, Synthetic Biology Australia (SBA). We also gave presentations to academics in our school and students from an arts and social sciences background, to ensure we were presenting our idea to individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds. We also focused on engaging in open dialogue whenever we could get the chance, which meant our team was exposed to different perspectives on whether our project has a place in the wider community.


Carl Stubbings, one of the panellists, also ensured that the commercial reality of science was presented in conjunction with the ‘scientist’s view’. He spoke about how any technology has to have a market need and a reason for adoption. The panel discussed how without an identifiable need in the community, even the most brilliant new technology would not be used. As a result, our team realised how important it is for scientists and engineers to go out into the community and not just look for ethical issues, but ask if people think the technology is valuable.

By highlighting the importance of a tool or product to have a defined marketplace need, the iGEM UNSW team was inspired to start looking more into the commercial viability of our scaffold system. Through our commercialisation work we were able to focus on a model enzyme pathway that would enable us to better illustrate the value our scaffold could provide to industry and research. The points brought up by Stubbings were part of the process that led us to taxol side chain synthesis, from which point we could use modelling to illustrate just how effective our scaffold could be.

Our understanding how our scaffold system would appeal to consumers was furthered by the results of our symposium’s attendance survey. When the audience members were asked from which field they would most want to see synthetic biology advances, over 46% of respondents said pharmaceutical synthesis. This helped us shape the direction of our commercialisation work, validating our choice to focus on the taxol side chain synthesis pathway as a case study for our scaffold’s commercial viability.

Challenges for Innovation

As suggested by the title of the symposium, the panellists were prompted throughout the questions to provide insight on the challenges or barriers they perceived were faced by teams developing innovative synthetic biology tools, especially from an Australian perspective. In addition to the previously discussed issues of product adoption and clear public engagement, other issues such as research costs and access to funding were explored. The fact that projects developed in Australia had a much lesser prospect of accessing the “Bay Area Scene” in the United States highlights how innovation in Australia is somewhat less advantageous. However, as mentioned by Kearnes, the innovation culture in Australia is booming regardless thanks to growing support from the government, with A$13 million invested by CSIRO to establish the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform2.

The symposium wrapped up with positive conclusions about the opportunities that young scientists and engineers have today, whilst reflecting on the importance of exposing high school students to interdisciplinary pursuits, such as those promoted by synthetic biology projects. This is backed in Australian literature, with Gray et al. (2018)2 stating that:

“The development of synthetic biology research and industry will be underpinned by strong education programs in high school.”

This influenced our decision to get involved in educational outreach initiatives such as the school workshop and educational package.


  1. Agapakis CM. Designing Synthetic Biology. ACS Synthetic Biology3(3) 121-128 (2014).
  2. Gray, P. et al. Synthetic Biology in Australia: An Outlook to 2030. Report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies, (2018).
  3. Rowe, G. and Frewer, L. Public Participation Methods: A Framework for Evaluation. Science, Technology, & Human Values25 3-29 (2000).
  4. Abelson, J. et al. Deliberations about deliberative methods: issues in the design and evaluation of public participation processes. Social Science & Medicine. 57 239-251 (2003).

School Workshop


Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology are two emerging fields of Australian research, both of which have the potential to make significant contributions to the health, environment and agriculture sectors1. In order to reflect this, the Education Department of the Australian state of New South Wales has recently rewritten the syllabus to include ‘Biotechnology’ and ‘Genetics’ modules in its an elective two-year biology course for high school juniors and seniors (American equivalent Grade 11 and Grade 12). Previously, these modules could be chosen as part of an intensive elective study, however, they now must be completed by all students taking the course, which is one of the most popular in the state. As a result, resources relating to the ‘Biotechnology’ and ‘Genetics’ topics are limited.

Universities have been supporting the syllabus changes, running workshops and educational activities to provide support to educators. Our team similarly wanted to get involved with this and as such, have focused on assisting with the syllabus changes by running a high school excursion and creating an educational package. Not only has this allowed us to meaningfully help science educators, but it has given us the opportunity to inspire high school leavers with current biological trends – and thereby encourage the next generation of scientists and engineers.


Previous studies conducted on short-duration science outreach programs highlight the benefit of engaging students to help them develop new views on science and scientists2. Student engagement naturally increases when such programs also present inherently interesting topics, many of which can be found in the fields of biotechnology and synthetic biology. However, teaching these cutting-edge areas to Grade 11 and 12 students has been reported as challenging, as teachers have struggled to find appropriate practical work and students finding concepts challenging3.

Universities running workshops directed at these complex curriculum areas is one well-researched way to help teachers, and this need is particularly acute given the new syllabus. The novelty of different presenters running engaging and hands-on activities with authentic science materials and equipment can enable previously challenging science topics to seem new and appealing – and thus inspire further effort2. Past iGEM teams have also shown an interest in innovation in this area, with other local Sydney teams, such as the Macquarie University and University of Sydney 2017 iGEM teams running practical investigations for younger students.

However, our team has decided to follow the lead of the University of Melbourne 2016 iGEM team, who focused on targeting students in the final years of high school. Given the local context of a changing high school syllabus in the New South Wales state this year, this proved a logical focus for our team. The session we chose to run was based on enzymes, which are integral to our project, but are also important more broadly within society. This allowed us to present on a topic of relevance to synthetic biology, aligning with the major focus of this workshop - to inspire student interest in the field of science as a whole4. Not only was this topic in the new education modules, but it also conformed with the theory that successful biotechnology education requires presenters to focus on the basic concepts of biology5 - of which enzyme properties is arguably one.

Having decided this, we were able to get in contact with the Year 11 Biology teacher at Roseville College, a Sydney girls’ school, whose students had chosen to do enzymes for their depth study. This teacher was also a former iGEM-er!

On the day

UNSW iGEM created and ran a ‘University Biology’ taster workshop for a group of students from a Sydney girls’ school (Roseville College). The day included presentations from the team, hands-on experiments and handouts, in order to engage the students in stimulating conversations about enzymes, synthetic biology, and university life more generally.

The excursion started with presentations from the team to teach the students about more advanced enzyme concepts, like inhibition, before diving into some hands-on practical work. This included teaching the students how to use air displacement micro-pipettes, a piece of equipment they could not access at their school. These skills were used as part of an investigation into the digestive function of lipase, which was then linked back to nutrition (and other school modules) that they had previously studied. The team ended the day with a discussion of genetic engineering, particularly with regards to the use of genetic switches, by providing the students with Pichia Pastoris plates to observe. These plates had genetically recombined lipase activity, and were able to illustrate to the students how methanol in the plate media could switch on lipase activity.

As the students left, they each received an envelope detailing a different one of our team’s favourite enzymes, with an image and short description. Their teacher had previously informed us that each student had to be very familiar with one enzyme for a depth study, and so we provided them with information on a range of enzymes that were likely novel for them.


The session was a generally positive experience, with the teacher giving us praise for our efforts and enthusiasm.

Julia Gale (Roseville Ladies College):

“Dear iGEM and Chris,

Thank you again for Thursday. The girls really enjoyed the day and absolutely loved receiving the ‘My Favourite Enzyme’ envelopes after the session. Thank you for attaching the PowerPoint and again for all your hard work in making sure the day was filled with valuable learning about enzymes.

Kind regards,


The students were asked to do a survey after completing the excursion and they also had a positive response to the experience. The survey allowed students to make comments on the excursion, enabling us to gauge possible improvements to the session for the future – some of which are detailed below.

Table 1: Suggestions from the survey of students conducted after the excursion that could be used to improve the session.

Finding Improvement
Many students said that their favourite part was talking to the instructors and hearing about their research. We could incorporate this into the presentation, with each student instructor having the opportunity to explain what they are studying, and why.
The students appeared unsure about the concept of synthetic biology, even after the presentation. We could have a very clear “mission statement” for synthetic biology, which would lead into a group discussion about what the statement means.
The majority of students enjoyed using air displacement micro-pipettes. We could introduce other university equipment and techniques that students are not exposed to at high school, such as handling microbial cultures.

The survey also indicated that there is potential for development of other sessions that are specific to the other modules of the syllabus, particularly since the majority of students (when asked) expressed interest in ‘genetics’ and ‘medicine’. Expanding on either of these topics would allow for improved engagement with the concept of synthetic biology.

However, time and resource limitations meant that further lesson development was alternatively channelled into a creating a teaching package from the lessons that were given in the workshop. This is also targeted at upper high school students, particularly those learning the new Biology syllabus.


  1. Biotechnology Australia. Developing Australia’s biotechnology future. Canberra, Australia. (1999). 
  2. Laursen, S. et al. What Good Is a Scientist in the Classroom? Participant Outcomes and Program Design Features for a Short-Duration Science Outreach Intervention in K–12 Classrooms. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 6(1) pp.49-64 (2007).
  3. Steele, F. and Aubusson, P. The Challenge in Teaching Biotechnology. Research in Science Education, 34(4) 365-387 (2004).
  4. CRS. Practical support for great science teaching. Berkeley, CA. (2006).
  5. Simonneaux, L. A study of pupils' conceptions and reasoning in connection with 'microbes', as a contribution to research in biotechnology education. International Journal of Science Education, 22(6) 619-644. (2000).

Educational Package


Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology are two emerging fields of Australian research, both of which have the potential to make significant contributions to the health, environment and agriculture sectors1. In order to reflect this, the Education Department of the Australian state of New South Wales has recently rewritten the syllabus to include ‘Biotechnology’ and ‘Genetics’ modules in its an elective two-year biology course for high school juniors and seniors (American equivalent Grade 11 and Grade 12). Previously, these modules could be chosen as part of an intensive elective study, however, they now must be completed by all students taking the course, which is one of the most popular in the state. As a result, resources relating to the ‘Biotechnology’ and ‘Genetics’ topics are limited.

Universities have been supporting the syllabus changes, running workshops and educational activities to provide support to educators. Our team similarly wanted to get involved with this and as such, have focused on assisting with the syllabus changes by running a high school excursion and creating an educational package. Not only has this allowed us to meaningfully help science educators, but it has given us the opportunity to inspire high school leavers with current biological trends – and thereby encourage the next generation of scientists and engineers.


In deciding to create an educational package based around our school workshop, we looked to previous iGEM teams to get ideas on the best way to construct such a tool. We took inspiration from the William and Mary 2015 iGEM team, who developed a comprehensive booklet of experiments and activities relating to synthetic biology for schools in the state of Virginia, USA. Other iGEM teams have pursued similar ideas, including Aachen 2016 and Toulouse 2016, however both of these documents were seen as difficult to adapt to an Australian context, due to language barriers. Using the William and Mary 2017 iGEM team’s educational outreach database, we discovered that such distributive educational tools were limited. Noting this, our team was confident that adapting previous educational documents to an Australian context would effectively emulate the ethos of accessible synthetic biology education.

In order to develop a truly useful package that addressed the new state syllabus, the team discussed ideas with a syllabus notes developer named Maddie, who specialises in the upper high school Biology courses. This allowed the ‘package’ idea to be fine-tuned, part of which included introducing a “How to Use This Package” document for teachers, that outlined how their required teaching outcomes were met by the package content.

Developing the document from the workshop involved cutting out elements that had been identified as key in engaging students in challenging topics such as biotechnology and synthetic biology. Students would most likely no longer have access to authentic research materials and equipment, and would be learning from their teacher rather than a novel presenter. Although these sacrifices were necessary to ensure students state-wide had realistic access to this educational support, the team used other techniques to ensure that the resulting package was still interesting. This included adapting certain parts of the package to use group based learning and inquiry-based practicals for high engagement levels, rather than the more inefficient ‘transmission of information approach’2. This idea of “workshop-based biology” was developed throughout the whole package3.


The package was distributed to a range of high school biology teachers throughout the New South Wales state via a sharable Google Doc. Please click on the icon below to view our finalised package as of the end of iGEM 2018:

Click on the icon above to review the package

Our package has also been uploaded to a Google Drive folder because it allows our team to edit and add resources to the package, even after its distribution. For example, future teams could build on the content in the package, potentially addressing other syllabus modules and adding new experiments. It also allows teachers and schools to easily share the package with colleagues using standard online communication methods.

To further ensure this package was accessible and adaptable, the team decided to provide the components of the package in editable document formats (such as Word and PowerPoint), rather than in fully formatted PDF files. This allows teachers to download the files as a base, and modify them however they see fit to effectively teach their class. We believe this is important, as there is a move within the education system to encourage flexible teaching and learning approaches and it is therefore necessary to have a package that is similarly able to adapt to the needs of teachers.

Outcomes and Analysis

The overall feedback from the distribution of the package to educators was positive. We were also able to collect several constructive critiques, which we have carefully and creatively considered in order to help us develop the package into the future.

Christine Fira (Maclean High School, NSW):

“I am highly impressed with the package as it covers a range of syllabus outcomes and ties them together in a very interesting way. The segue sections are most interesting. The powerpoint was clear and succinct and the simpler experiment could be easily achieved by all students in a typical class with a wide range of abilities. Thank you for the opportunity to view this. Your team has produced and interesting and quality package that I look forward to using.”

It was interesting to learn that teachers noticed and valued our attempts to link together components of the syllabus in a succinct manner, such as connecting the enzyme experiments to the topic of nutritional requirements. The reception of the PowerPoint was also appreciated, as it validated the hard work that had gone into improving the PowerPoint used for the school workshop.

The range of responses we got regarding the difficulty of the practicals somewhat reflects the variety of practicals we provided to teachers. Whereas the ‘Lipase Experiment’ was reviewed as simple and easy to achieve by all students, the ‘Quantitative Assay’ brought up issues with accessibility.


“While I can see that the educational package is great, it seems like it would only be possible to perform the experiments in well-funded schools. Just as a constructive criticism, I think you guys should do more research on what is readily available in schools in NSW, especially public schools. A lot of public schools don’t have access to things like spectrophotometers and microcentrifuge tubes. I can see this package working well in a selective school/private school setting, but not in the classrooms of regular public schools in NSW. Criticisms aside, I think that it’s great you guys are thinking about the future generation of scientists by providing teachers with such resources!”

On review of the package, we realised that the disparity in views could have been caused by the lack of clarity as to which experiments teachers should start with. Although it is clearly outlined in the “How to Use this Package” document, it appears the second reviewer assessed the level of difficulty of the “Quantitative Assay” practical only, which was only included as extension for schools that had the capability to perform it. We realised that this confusion could have stemmed from the confusing way that the documents were organised in the drive, therefore we rearranged the drive to make things clearer to future users (Figure 1).

Figure 1: (Left) The original layout of the distribution of our educational package. (Right) The updated layout of the distribution of our educational package.

Despite this, the constructive feedback did cause us to consider how we could adapt our package to be more accessible to public school classrooms. Research on strategies employed in low socio-economic status (SES) schools shows that an emphasis on student engagement in technology related areas shouldn’t be constrained by the funding and resources available to teachers5. The way to achieve such goals is by supporting activities using accessible resources to engage and excite students. In this way, our package does start to address this, providing experiments for teachers to run with their students. But improvements can be made by developing easier and simpler experiments like the “Lipase Experiment”.

We hope to continue to monitor the use and reception of this package, and gather more feedback especially from teachers who have had then chance to trial it in their class rooms.

Looking Forward

The aim was to set up this package as the foundation for developments and contributions to the upper high school Biology community in years to come. By setting up the groundwork for a comprehensive educational package within an Australian context, we hope that other Australian teams and interested parties can develop the package to continue to be part of the movement of universities incubating the scientists and engineers of the future.

In reviewing the package and the feedback received, we propose the following improvements that could be made upon the package:

  • Expanding on the experiments that are provided, with a focus on accessibility for all schools.
  • Developing similar resources (PowerPoints, experiments and handouts) for different syllabus modules, such as Genetics of Medicine, as these were the topics highlighted by the girls from the school workshop.
  • Working with a specific teacher or class group to get inspiration from those who the package will be used by. This sort of interaction would be beneficial for both parties and result in the development of a highly effective package.
  • The creation of documents or actives that relate to current topics or technologies in the synthetic biology space (this could include brainstorming issues the students would like to fix).

The scope for future work is endless, with a vast choice of inspiration to draw from other iGEM teams. We hope that this package will continue to be developed so that young STEM students in Australia will be given the same opportunities and inspirations that our team has been so lucky to receive.


  1. Biotechnology Australia. Developing Australia’s biotechnology future. Canberra, Australia. (1999). 
  2. Handelsman, J. et al. Scientific Teaching. Science 304 521-2 (2004).
  3. Udovic, D. et al. Workshop Biology: Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Active Learning in an Introductory Biology Course. BioScience, 52 272–281 (2002)


After developing an understanding of the importance of providing greater access to information regarding synthetic biology technologies, iGEM UNSW decided to compose an article for the non-profit society, Synthetic Biology Australia (SBA). The article, which detailed the science behind and needs addressed by our project was published on the SBA website and then shared via our social media and faculty connections. Please read the article by clicking on the picture below:

The SBA society was established in 2014 to support the growing synthetic biology research field in Australia, New Zealand and the broader Australasian region. It achieves this by facilitating collaborations within its community hub, assisting academics and industry in public outreach, and providing education and training – making it the perfect channel for us to spread the word about our project.


Although the analytics about page viewing numbers could not be accessed, the SBA has a broad reach with over 200 participants attending their 2017 conference. This article has allowed for our team to reflect on our project development as, being written in early July, it is an example of the earliest iteration of our project. In conjunction with the description page, it shows all the learning process and changes the team has gone through in shaping the scaffold system and its proposed application. This is the result of significant wet-lab testing, mathematical modelling and human practices work all contributing to the refining of our modular and novel tool.



The field of synthetic biology encompasses a range of interconnected disciplines beyond molecular science and chemical engineering, which was verified at our symposium. As such, the iGEM UNSW team wanted to engage with different groups within the academic space to consider different perspectives on our project. Two members of our team gave a lecture to students in an Arts and Social Sciences class. They gave a basic overview of our scaffold’s use and the underlying science, but then focused on the ethical, legal and commercial implications of our system. The team also presented to academics from the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular sciences at a staff meeting. This discussion was focused on the science that formed the basis of our scaffold, and was a platform from which academics could later engage with us – by establishing in which parts of our project they were interested.

Outcomes and Analysis

Presenting to the Arts and Social Sciences class was an opportunity to expose the students to synthetic biology, whilst giving us the chance to answer questions from a ‘human practices’ perspective. The presentation was a great way for us to experiment with how people from a non-science background would respond to our project. We were able to fine tune our presenting skills to inspire audiences across a spectrum of possible scientific backgrounds (none, in this case). The presentation itself focused on the open-source nature of the iGEM competition, and compared this with the usual secrecy associated with scientific research and the protective legal frameworks which require secrecy. The questions asked by students were generally more focused around safety concerns.

The feedback received from both groups was positive, and led us to opening up further avenues for future discussion and research. We also managed to shed new light on the challenges surrounding the future of synthetic biology from both a biological and social perspective and how overcoming these challenges will change how we practice medicine, produce food and energy, and manage the environment.