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 page!

School visits

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 quiz about our presentation.

A picture of three of our team members who gave presentations for the upper secondary schools with their colorful student overalls.
Figure 1. Presentation at the upper secondary school of TSYK and OSYK.

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!

A picture of presentation slides held for the upper secondar school students. The name of the presentation is: “What is synthetic biology” and the slides include information about Ideonella sakaiensis bacteria and our CriopFold project.
Figure 2. Example from our presentation at the upper secondary schools.

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.

A picture of presentation slides held for Turku International School and Turun normaalikoulu’s International Baccalaureate students. The name of the presentation is: “The journey from an IB student to a researcher” and the slides include information about iGEM, Aboa 2021 team and Aboa 2022 team.
Figure 3. Presentation for the Turun normaalikoulu´s International Baccalaureate students.

Primary school

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!

A picture from the classroom with our team members giving instructions of the microbe workshop to the students.
Figure 4. Microbe workshop for the 5th grade students of Mikaelin Koulu.

A picture of a student’s agar plates and works sheet from the microbe workshop in a local primary school.
Figure 5. Microbe workshop research plan made by students of Mikaelin koulu.

 A picture of one of the student’s agar plates with bacterial growth.
Figure 6. An example of an agar plate from the workshop. Sample taken from hands after wash.


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.

A picture of three of our team members in our pH-workshop in Heureka.
Figure 7. ABOA team members at the workshop at the Finnish Science Center Heureka.

A group picture of our team members with Aalto-Helsinki team members in Heureka.
Figure 8. ABOA and Aalto-Helsinki team members at the Finnish Science Center Heureka.

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 page.

Educational social media posts

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 page!

Comic book

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!