Education and public outreach are important aspects of the everyday life of scientific research. When building our project from this viewpoint, as a team, we felt like encouraging children and young adults to have a dialogue in the scientific field and in the field of synthetic biology was most important. Especially focusing on the field of synthetic biology since it is a fairly new field of study in science and engineering. We approached this challenge by having different kinds of presentations, workshops, and social media posts interacting with many different age classes at different levels of education. Our goal was to simplify what synthetic biology is, how it could be used, and what is the science behind all of it. We also wanted to focus on a more practical point of view, for example how one becomes a researcher and what a day in the life of a researcher looks like. It was also important to us to keep our presentations accessible and understandable for everybody. We believe that by encouraging curiosity we can support young people to start their own journey toward the scientific world. Keeping aforementioned in mind, we decided to approach the iGEM gold medal criteria of Communication & Education in various ways. Because communication and education go hand in hand, after reading this you can find more information from our Communication section!
Upper secondary schools TSYK & OSYK
At the beginning of October, we had two upper secondary school visits, where we gave presentations and held discussion panels. On October 6th, we visited Turun Suomalaisen Yhteiskoulun lukio (TSYK) and held a presentation for the third-year students of biology teacher Jaana Hollmen. Also on October 6th, we gave a remote presentation for Oulun Suomalaisen Yhteiskoulun lukio (OSYK) via Zoom. For the presentations, we made a customizable slideshow to ensure accessibility and comprehensibility for everyone despite their level of knowledge in synthetic biology or biology overall. That helped us a lot with discussion panels since everyone was informed about the topic.
Our presentations were about synthetic biology, synthetic biology in practice, and of course our project CropFold. In the presentation, we used a lot of examples and modern-day applications of synthetic biology to keep it understandable and easily approachable for the students. Through the application examples, we wanted to emphasize the endless possibilities of synthetic biology in the future and how they could be utilized for the global problems we are facing nowadays. The examples of synthetic biology applications ranged from plastic-degrading bacteria to vaccine manufacturing in yeast. Since our team consists of students from different fields we also introduced our own fields of study which included biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, and biomedicine. We agreed that it was important because as a team we believe that the aforesaid fields of study are not particularly well represented in today’s curriculum. After the slideshow, we held a discussion about our presentation and possibilities with synthetic biology, while answering the arisen questions. To ensure everyone’s participation and to hold their interest we also organized a little Kahoot.it- quiz about our presentation.
An important criterion for us, when designing the presentations, was to make sure that we explained everything in an understandable way for upper secondary students. During the presentation, we asked and got feedback, and the students told us that we had succeeded in explaining the examples of synthetic biology. Creating the presentations helped us to better formulate our project in a way that the public would understand it.
As a team, we’d like to thank TSYK and OSYK for having us!
Turun Normaalikoulu and Turku International School
On March 29th and 30th, we had presentations for Turku International School and Turun normaalikoulu’s International Baccalaureate (IB) students via Zoom. As a former student of the IB diploma programme, our team leader Malin gave two presentations, one for the first-year IB students and one for the third-year IB students that study biology. In the presentations, Malin discussed her journey from the IB to the research world, synthetic biology, ABOA, and iGEM overall. Especially from the iGEM point of view, Malin reflected on her journey with iGEM over the last two years and recalled what the whole process had taught her. While spreading the joyful word of synthetic biology, the main goal of the presentation was to inform about synthetic biology opportunities and encourage the students on their academic journey. Especially for third-year IB students who are about to graduate, it was useful to get insider information about studies and research at the university level.
On October 5th and 6th, we visited a local primary school, Mikaelin koulu. We introduced a class of 5th graders (11 years old) to microbiology, by arranging a two-day microbe workshop. Before doing the actual hygiene workshop, we held a short presentation about microbes and emphasized that not all microbes are harmful. We know that COVID-19 may have created fear and worry about microbes among children, so we wanted to also provide examples of microbes that can actually be beneficial for humans, plants, and the earth.
The aim of this workshop was to teach children to plan and do their own small science experiments. First, they created a research question, and a hypothesis, and wrote a short research plan (Fig. 5). Finally, they performed their experiment, which included taking two samples from a clean and dirty place with a cotton swab and spreading the samples to an agar plate. All students got to decide themselves from where they wanted to take the samples. We incubated the plates overnight at +37°C and brought them back to the students the next day to see the results (Fig. 6). Reviewing the results included counting the colonies on each plate and reviewing if the hypothesis was correct.
Throughout the workshop, we helped the students and provided examples to guide them with their research planning. We got a lot of good feedback from the teachers, who said that the workshop was simple enough for the students, and well executed pedagogically. For us, the experience was also valuable, and it was great to see how excited some of the kids got from doing their own experiments.
As a team, we want to thank Mikaelin koulu for having us!
The Finnish Science Center Heureka
As a collaboration with another Finnish iGEM team, Aalto-Helsinki, we arranged a workshop for children on September 10th in Heureka. Heureka is the Finnish Science Centre, which introduces science and technology for the public, and especially for children, in a fun and engaging way. Our team was extremely excited to plan and organize one of the workshops, which included introducing the participants to the concept of pH, and then organizing food ingredients into an order according to their estimated pH. Finally, they measured the ingredients with pH paper to see the correct results. We used familiar ingredients, such as water, lemon, and Coca Cola, for the younger participants, and some more challenging ones for older children and adults. As an example, the challenging ones included ginger, mQ-water, egg yolk vs. egg white, and tofu, and these were really interesting and surprising for the participants!
This workshop was well-liked, and even though it was mainly focused for children, the adults enjoyed it as well. We believe that engaging people in educational science activities creates a stronger engram and inspires them to be involved with science also in the future.
Study in Turku fair
At the beginning of the semester on August 31st, we took part in the Study in Turku fair as exhibitors. The Study in Turku fair is mainly aimed at the new university students here in Turku, an event where student organizations, school services, and free time activities are introduced. Our goals were to spread awareness of synthetic biology, promote ABOA, and recruit new members for future teams. Since iGEM is a fairly new and unknown organization and competition here in Turku we found the Study in Turku fair a brilliant chance to root the iGEM culture amongst the students. While recruiting new members for the future ABOA teams, we arranged little activities for educational purposes where one could use the pipette, guess the pH of various items, or use a microscope. We wanted to bring everyday laboratory equipment for a wider audience to use. Easy, approachable, and inclusive activities were favored and found fun by our visitors. You can find more about the Study in Turku fair from the Communication section.
To reach a larger audience for our educational efforts and materials, we decided to also use different social media platforms as effectively as possible. Social media being an ever-growing part of our everyday lives, we found it a foregone conclusion to have a strong representation there. Throughout the calendar year of iGEM, we made various social media posts about synthetic biology, plant diseases, biosafety, and food security. In the modern-day jungle of disinformation, it is vitally important to spread reliable information that is easily approachable and accessible for everyone to read. Our content can be found on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and LinkedIn. In the light of reachability, we chose Instagram as our main platform for educational materials, since we had the largest audience there. More about social media posts can be found from our Communication section!
In addition to the aforementioned educational materials, we made a collaboration with the iGEM team Chihuahua. They gathered comic strips from different iGEM teams. We made an educational comic strip of our detection system CropFold. All the teams created comic strips in English and sent them to the Chihuahua team. The Chihuahua team translated the comic book into Spanish, whereas we translated it into Finnish. The comic book was distributed around schools for children aged 6 to 12, both in Mexico and Finland. Here you can read the English version and Finnish version of it!
iGEM is not only doing research in the laboratory but also spreading awareness and knowledge of it and of other important concepts to a wider community. We will all need science in our future and its importance is only increasing. Thus, it is important to engage more people to be involved in the scientific community and to raise awareness of it. This applies to all age groups, but especially children and young adults are in a crucial role in establishing the future in which science is greatly appreciated. Keeping these points in our mind, we conducted our communication activities.
From the beginning, it was important for us to create our own website in addition to the wiki page (Fig. 1). In that way, we can more easily communicate about our project to the non-scientific community. The website was also a platform for us to collect all published news, sponsor logos, and information about both this year’s team but also former ABOA teams in the same place. All the information on our website was written as clearly and popularly as possible so that all people, regardless of scientific background knowledge, were able to understand it. This included, for example, the general public as well as possible collaborators and sponsors. We also wanted to create a separate page for our partners to emphasize the significance of their sponsoring.
After being honored with the most impactful project award at the Nordic iGEM Conference in Linköping, we decided to write and publish a press release and a piece of news on the University of Turku webpage (Fig. 2). In addition, a local newspaper Turun Sanomat (TS) published a piece of news about us and our iGEM journey. With the help of these media publications, we raised awareness of the iGEM competition and ABOA itself.
We decided to use four social media channels, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and LinkedIn, to communicate science to slightly different target audiences. The most active one was Instagram since we considered it the most used platform in all age groups.
Instagram can reach a wide audience if used wisely. Nowadays, people from all age groups use Instagram daily, which is why we decided to use Instagram as our main social media channel to target widely different age groups. We created posts, stories, and reels with slightly different purposes. Posts were created with slightly higher standards when compared to stories. In stories, we also wanted to share fun activities we did as a team to promote team spirit and thus promote new students to apply next year. The reels were created to boost our purposes that were implemented with posts and stories.
Four main aims for our Instagram activities were to; educate, communicate, promote, and share the team spirit.
Education & Communication: We decided to use Instagram as our main platform for educational and communication posts. Educational posts included themes from synthetic biology and agriculture to food package labels and biosafety (Fig. 3) (read more from our Education page). In addition, we created a post as well as a video about iGEM in general to raise awareness of the competition. On Instagram, we also participated in social media challenges and even created our own Emoji Challenge in honor of World Emoji Day (read more from our Collaboration page). In addition, we wanted to take part in national days and other traditional days. On women's day, we shared information about unbelievable women scientists who have inspired so many of us over the years, and on the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, we spread knowledge about ways to reduce food loss.
In addition to posts, we also created educational Instagram stories. A day in the lab -story was created mainly for young adults or teenagers who may not be in the field of laboratory sciences or who may wonder where to apply after high school. In our opinion, there is not enough guidance towards synthetic biology and other laboratory sciences studies in general. Young students in high school might learn about the possibilities of biochemistry and biology, but the practical work at the lab might stay vague.
Promotion: Instagram was also the main platform for our sponsorship and partner posts. Since we have a great number of followers on Instagram, we used it to convince the sponsors about our significance in this field. Our account can reach people across the world, mainly highly educated young scientists so the platform creates a great communication place. Thus, we used Instagram to promote our sponsors and to spread information about those amazing companies who have supported us on our iGEM journey (Fig. 4).
Sharing the team spirit: We wanted to create a library of Instagram stories, which could be slightly less formal than actual Instagram posts, to share the joy of our journey. Stories were also a great tool to interact with our audience. For instance, we created polls about our team members' favorite sports and let our followers guess our field and subject.
In conclusion, our aim was to increase the follower number by 200 by the end of this year. We started with 640 followers at the beginning of February and now in October, we have 817 followers. Our dancing reel achieved the biggest audience, with 10,4k views. This great amount of audience can guide new people on our page to learn and enjoy the journey with us as well as to learn new things about synthetic biology and the opportunities that it has to give!
When it comes to Facebook, we used it almost similarly to Instagram, but with fewer posts. We considered people following us on Facebook to be in general older than our Instagram followers, since not so many children or youngsters use Facebook nowadays. Therefore, our Facebook posts were a bit more formal than the published posts or stories on Instagram, even though we used almost the same posts on both channels. Facebook was not as actively used as a communication channel when compared to Instagram, but we tried our best to publish our main achievements and announcements there, too.
TikTok was a new and intriguing communication platform for us, but we decided to use it actively since it is currently quite popular, especially among young people. Our TikTok account was used to share the joy of our journey and to spread awareness of science in general, but also for educational purposes. Our educational and more scientific videos included an introduction to iGEM, a brief summary of synthetic biology, and short informative videos about lab safety and pipetting. In addition, we tried to spread awareness of the competition and research in general by creating TikTok videos of our team, our everyday work and life, and our topic (Fig. 5).
One way to try to catch children’s or teenagers’ attention was to create a few “trending” dance videos, with our lab coats on. We thought that in that way also our more formal fact-based videos could get more visibility. The main aim of our activity on TikTok was to somehow get children to learn about science and possibilities in the science-related career path without even noticing it.
We succeeded to gain 96 followers and 290 likes and some of our videos were played over thousands of times!
LinkedIn was also a new platform for ABOA teams and we wanted to keep it more professional, science- and business-focused. However, we tried to share the most important milestones and achievements also there, so that the people following us there were also able to follow our journey! In addition, we used our LinkedIn account to, for example, reach out to new possible partners, share our visits to different companies, and share our team’s tips for improving the quality of meetings.
In the autumn, we participated in the Study in Turku fair as exhibitors (Fig. 6). The aim of the annually arranged fair is to introduce student organizations, hobby opportunities, and other city services to new students. We, as a team, tried to spread awareness of the competition and ABOA teams to gather new interested students for future ABOA teams. Another goal was to spread awareness of synthetic biology and science in general. We had two workshops at the fair, one for pipetting and one for microscopy. In that way, also students from other disciplines could get interested in laboratory work and scientific career opportunities. Meanwhile queuing for our workshops, we had a great opportunity to chat with students and tell them about our journey! We met with many students from different backgrounds and talked about different tasks in an iGEM team. We got plenty of new contacts who were interested in joining the ABOA team next year, and we will hopefully meet many of them in our recruitment events! To aid in contacting us, we delivered flyers that contained all relevant information about iGEM and ABOA (Fig. 7).
Together with the Aalto-Helsinki team, we had an opportunity to give a presentation for the Afternoon in the Science Basement talk series (Fig. 8). The audience consisted of early career scientists, and our shared presentation included information about synthetic biology, iGEM as a competition, as well as the project topics of each team. Before the actual presentation day, we had coaching sessions in which we got valuable feedback and tips to improve our presentation. We especially learned to adjust the presentation according to the audience, since this event required a simpler and clearer presentation compared to other events and we needed to learn to popularize the content well enough for everyone to understand it.
In February, we had an amazing opportunity to go and give a presentation at the Plant Biology Seminar, held by the University of Turku (Fig. 9). The audience consisted mainly of the staff of the department of life technologies, but because it was an open event, it also attracted some other people. The aim of our presentation was to spread awareness of iGEM as a competition as well as to introduce the new ABOA team to the staff. In addition, we talked about our initial possible project ideas and got valuable feedback from other scientists. All in all, it was a great opportunity to spread awareness of iGEM and to practice our presentation skills!
In July, we gave a short presentation at a fundraising event organized in a local restaurant (Fig. 10). The audience consisted of young entrepreneurs and other company representatives, to whom we introduced the iGEM competition and introduced our project briefly. The main goal of this presentation was, once again, to spread awareness of iGEM and synthetic biology, but also to network with possible partners and acquire future ABOA members.
In addition to more formal presentations, we got an opportunity to pitch iGEM as a competition to all first-year biochemistry students at our university. The speech also included some general information about synthetic biology, and the aim was to spread awareness of both the competition and synthetic biology in general.
To promote the uniformity of our team and to create a vision of a well-organized team, we decided to order team clothes (Fig. 11). Fortunately, one of our sponsors, Tekniikan Akateemiset TEK, was willing to support us financially so that we were able to invest in sustainably produced hoodies. We also wanted to order T-shirts with our logo but, at the same time, to respect one of our core values, sustainability. Therefore, we decided to have only hoodies due to ecological reasons. The main goal regarding the communication was to spread awareness of ABOA and to attract more people to get interested in applying to future ABOA teams after seeing us walking around the campus with our fancy team clothes on.
The history of ABOA is quite short; thus, Turku does not have a well-established iGEM culture. After discussions with other iGEM teams in past years, ABOA teams have learnt that many other teams all around the world get either study credits or money, or even both, when participating in the iGEM team. Thus, the ABOA 2021 team started to negotiate with the administrative personnel of the University of Turku about the possibility of receiving study credits for working on the iGEM project.
After fruitful negotiations, this year we finally managed to enable present and future ABOA members to get 0-10 study credits (ECTS) based on their input! This was a crucial milestone in establishing an iGEM culture in Turku and spreading awareness of synthetic biology and iGEM as a competition! We hope that this will facilitate future ABOA teams enormously since more students will take this chance to develop crucial working skills by working on a project with a multidisciplinary team!
In order to spread the knowledge of synthetic biology and current issues in agriculture, we created a farmers’ handbook with our partnership teams Patras and TecCEM. You can find the handbook and more information about it on our Partnership page.