Aquamatic Technologies used a variety of educational methods and materials to reach out to students about Synthetic Biology and iGEM.

Why Students?

The future of Synthetic Biology and science fields as a whole rests in the hands of younger generations, current elementary, middle, and high school students. Knowing this, our team focused our outreach efforts on the younger generations, and students who may not have heard of Synthetic Biology prior to our workshops and presentations.


Our first educational outreach was to a group of visiting elementary and middle school students who were participating in a variety of on-campus STEM based activities. We created a short but immersive presentation for the students, and after introducing ourselves, gauged their existing understanding of Synthetic Biology with an interactive activity. Then, we further explained Synthetic Biology and its applications, the iGEM competition, and our STEM pathways program, before detailing our project and how/why we chose it. A short video helped us explain the field of microfluidics and its potential uses in science, including our own project's inclusion of two microfluidic devices. We ended the presentation by creating small groups of students and having each member of our team rotate through them with a different microfluidic chip from our lab to show and explain to the students, answering questions and brainstorming other uses for this technology. The purpose of this presentation was to share our project as an iGEM team but also share the field of synthetic biology with the students. We took time to talk with the students on what they wanted to do as future engineers and researchers. It was our willingess to give the students a platform to talk and share their ideas that made the experience more rewarding for them.


Our second educational outreach was to groups of visiting high school students. We again created a presentation, this one shorter with quick introductions to ourselves, Synthetic Biology, and iGEM; our collaborator and mentor Hailey then introduced the main activity, a bioethics discussion regarding how humanity could potentially colonize Mars in the future. The iGEM team helped create 4 groups, each assigned a different option on how to approach this issue: terraforming Mars, para-terraforming part of Mars, building bubble pods, or genetically engineering humanity. We then split ourselves up to help facilitate constructive discussions in each group, asking questions to the students and helping them work through the pros and cons of their assigned option. After about 20 minutes, we returned to the big group and students individually shared their thoughts as part of a larger discussion. Throughout this activity we all theorized with students how Synthetic Biology could be used as a potential help when exploring other planets like Mars and finding ways for humans to survive outside Earth. At the same time, we introduced the concept of ethics to the students and made them question their decisons; while synthetic biology could be used for great advancement for humans in all areas of life like the interplanetary life, they also pose serious areas of conflict and debate. Some of the pros and cons that the students came up with are listed below:

Figure 1: The iGEM team facilitating discussions with students about the role of bioethics in synthetic biology

Figure 2: Students participating in our activity were given four options for colonizing mars and considered pros and cons of each option.


We collaborated with the educational non-profit organization BioBuilders by visiting one of their Learning Labs, industry standard research spaces for students, teachers, scientists, and entrepreneurs to work in. While at their location, we spoke with a group of high school students working on mini Synthetic Biology based projects. Our team introduced ourselves and the iGEM competition to them, before focusing on an in-depth explanation of the novel microfluidics field and Synthetic Biology. Then, we transitioned to an explanation of our project, engineering design process, and the lessons we had learned so far from iGEM. After answering students' questions about our project and its relation to Synthetic Biology in the large group setting, we spoke to the students in their smaller teams about the mini Synthetic Biology projects they had just begun. We gave advice on how to approach their assignment, creating a single input output system to recognize allergen inducing contaminants in one's body, and what steps of the engineering design process they should follow to succeed. In the upcoming months we plan to continue our collaboration with this Learning Lab via weekend workshops and seminars that our team will help facilitate.

Figure 3: Members of the iGEM team and BioBuilder program participants exchanging ideas about genetic circuits

Synthetic Biology Course:

An ongoing educational effort of ours is in collaboration with our PI, Douglas Densmore. Professor Densmore teaches a synchronous, online synthetic biology basics course to high school students to introduce synthetic biology, its implementation, and applications over a three day period. This past summer the course was first introduced, and Aquamatic Technologies was present to assist our PI and gauge students' understanding and levels of involvement throughout for improvements in the future. Beyond our initial participation, we also collected feedback from attendees to better understand where the course could benefit from improvements.

Students ranked their levels of understanding of Synthetic Biology and how the course affected that understanding along with their career ambitions. They also left written feedback about what they learned, enjoyed, and want to learn more about after the course’s completion. This was a big part of our education goal because we wanted to make education as fun and interesting as possible. Hearing from the students and catering our material to them was what allowed us to improve our content moving forward. As a team, Aquamatic Technologies read through this feedback and decided to make additional materials for future iterations of the course and for students to have access to beyond its three day length. To help improve Professor Densmore's course and increase its impact on the students in attendance, Aquamatic Technologies created a new syllabi, interactive worksheets and videos, a dictionary/vocabulary list for students to refer to, and additional discussion materials. Our team is proud to say we will participate as teaching assistants in the next iterations of the course throughout the Fall even after the iGEM Grand Jamboree.

Cambridge Science Festival:

Each year, the Cambridge Science Festival, a celebration of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, brings together science enthusiasts from all over Boston and Cambridge for a 10 day interactive event. With more than 100,000 annual visitors, events are hosted at over 70 different venues with over 100 different collaborators. This year Aquamatic Technologies was one of the many booths that offered activities, demonstrations, workshops, tours, debates, contests, talks, and behind-the-scenes looks into scientific inquiry and discovery. We were prepared with a series of fun and educational hands-on activities involving Synthetic Biology, tissue engineering, and microbial ecology. Our team used paper pH strips and household liquids to teach students about the pH scale and importance of clean water. At our booth we also had the opportunity to introduce students to the Synthetic Biology field with discussions about its potential future uses and applications. Additionally Aquamatic Technologies took this chance to explain the BU iGEM project this year, providing further information regarding the water treatment and testing processes, our improved aquatic environment simulations and testing system, what biosensors are and how they work, and their integration into our system. This educational outreach of ours was a culmination of our summer and fall efforts as an iGEM team, and we were able to help further our goal of two-way communication with the local student community about Synthetic Biology and the science behind it. We learned from these conversations how necessary it is to begin introducing young minds to Synthetic Biology early on, seeing how unique their perspectives are regarding the potential future of synbio.

Figure 4: Our team members helping kids discover the pH scale through fun activities

STEM Pathways:

We’d like to thank the STEM Pathways Program and Executive Director Hailey Lenn Gordon for their help in all these efforts. Their connections and resources assisted us greatly in our outreach and we will continue to collaborate in the future. As students return to school this fall it will be easier to reach larger audiences through classroom visits and tours, and Aquamatic Technologies will maintain our involvement with students for as long as we can, spreading the message of Synthetic Biology and iGEM with us.