Learning, inspiring, and outreach inititives


Fostering Synthetic Biology's Fruitfulness

iGEM Calgary cares about communicating our scientific knowledge and resources to a wide variety of people so that we can better understand the problem as well as share that knowledge ourselves. A strong focus on education and science communication is foundational in connecting science with the general public.

Our collaboration efforts with the Calgary Composting Facility was aimed to help families and households with tips on how they can better utilize composting at home. Another important mission for our team was to reach out to children and school’s in our local community to promote science education and to promote synthetic biology as an exciting and creative field. We worked with local elementary and junior high schools within Calgary on a series of school talks as well as lead fun science experiments that inspired interest and showed kids the possibilities within scientific research. Using feedback from the students, we created a video toolkit on basic lab techniques which we can redistribute back to schools. We also partnered with a local non-profit organization, IndigiSTEAM, to aid in their summer camps that promote STEM and arts to Indigenous communities.

Our education and outreach efforts exemplify Cellucoat's belief that the work of today plants seeds that bear fruit for future generations, and we watch in awe the growth we are yet to witness in the minds of the future.

MDSC 507

Introduction to Synthetic Biology Course

Before we started our education and communication inititives, we first had to educate ourselves. All 10 of our iGEM team members were enrolled in a university-level course (MDSC 507) throughout the winter 2022 semester. From January to April, we learned about the foundational components of iGEM, through 19 lectures and 4 major assignments. We learned about wet lab topics including the design of genetic circuits and choosing the right chassis, along with dry lab topics including machine learning and neural networks. As our entire team consisted of new iGEMers, this course was catered towards fostering a sense of community. Through this course, we explored potential projects for our upcoming iGEM season: ranging from treating bee-specific diseases in honey hives, to detecting prosthetic injury infections. MDSC 507 provided us with the opportunity to begin our iterative design process, as we held stakeholder interviews and recieved feedback from judges at the Mindfuel Tech Futures Challenge competition on the feasibiliy of our ideas.

School Talks

Teaching Elementary and Junior High Students about SynBio

We began our school talks in May and June of our iGEM season as we were eager to teach students about our knowledge from MDSC 507. We reached out to dozens of schools in our public school system, and gave several presentations on synthetic biology and iGEM to classes spanning from elementary to junior high school. The basic goal of the talks were to explain complex topics such as DNA replication, protein expression, and synthetic biology tools, in ways that students ages 7 to 14 could understand. We wanted to inspire and spark curiosity for biotechnology and research, and show that science can address a variety of global issues - such as food waste! Additionally, we wanted to give a clever view of what synthetic biology is capable of and to show how there are many aspects of the field that require a wide variety of talents.

Figure 1.a. Presenting about bacterial cellulose to Grade 9 students!

Figure 1.b. Strawberry DNA extraction experiment.

Along with our presentations we brought samples of green fluorescent protein-expressing E. coli, fungi samples, and even pieces of bacterial cellulose that we had grown in our lab. We finished each visit with a short demonstration on DNA extraction from strawberries, and passed out materials for the students to try it themselves! We used these presentations to also gauge interest and understanding both before and after, via Mentimeter polls. The responses we received as well as the feedback from forms was insightful to review, and inspired our efforts to create educational tools for their classes to use in the future.

Figure 2. Mentimeter poll results comparing before and after our presentation.

Impact and Metrics

We visited three schools across Calgary, engaging with approximately 250 students. We received feedback from over 150 students and educators that indicated these presentations were effective and engaging. 80.8% of respondents found the workshop enjoyable, and 58.7% felt that the workshop increased their understanding of synthetic biology. 78.4% of respondents expressed potential interest in a future synthetic biology class integrated into their curriculum.

Figure 3. Results from our feedback form, distributed to students in junior high school after our synthetic biology presentations.

SynBio Toolkit

Integrating Feedback and Creating New Education Tools

We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, who found the presentations informative and engaging, and educators who hoped to have visits from iGEM again in the future. We adapted our presentations into a toolkit for educators looking to introduce synthetic biology to their students. This included a video introduction to synthetic biology, a video for educators explaining how to do the demo we performed, and a video for students demonstrating the demo. The toolkit also included additional resources and FAQs for teachers. We plan to disseminate this toolkit to educators at the schools we visited, and continue gathering feedback about how this toolkit can be better and expanded.

Your device does not support embed PDFs. Please click the following link to open up the PDF. Calgary2022_JuneNewsletter.pdf

Composting and Recycling Campaign

In Collaboration with the Calgary Composting Facility

Although a huge component of implementing Cellucoat in the supply chain system is rooted in manufacturing, we also put emphasis on the sustainable and biodegradable qualities of our material. Education is needed around how to properly compost our packaging. Our meeting with Belinda Li, a bioplastics experts, taught us that this is especially relevant for bioplastics as many of them are disposed of as garbage or families are encouraged to dispose of them as garbage. Thus, tackling the plastic waste side of Cellucoat and ensuring that it is disposed of sustainability not only requires the proper infrastructure to be in place, but also requires education around how to dispose of plastic.

Figure 4. A brief guide on how to properly sort your waste.

After our trip to the Calgary Composting Facility, we messaged Natalia Gonzalez, a Waste Diversion Specialist at the City of Calgary, about developing a campaign series on composting tips. We were inspired by our city’s “What goes in your green cart” website page, which provides individuals with information on what is acceptable to put in their composting “green” carts. Our goal was to iteratively improve the pages current tips by discussing with Natalia what information would be useful for the average Calgarian to know. We are working to develop the tips further to put them on the Calgary Garbage Day App!

Figure 5. Our complete list of composting tips developed with the Calgary Composting Facility, and an example of how a tip would be formatted on their app.


Science Collaboration with Indigenous Youth

IndigeSTEAM aims to increase the provision of Indigenous-led and culturally relevant programming in STEAM to support and facilitate a better future for Indigenous youth The Cellucoat team partnered up with IndigeSTEAM and mentored Indigenous youth regarding their interests and aspirations in science. As part of the full day event, we gave the Siksika High School Robotics team (who we first met during the Mindfuel Tech Futures Challenge competition back in February!) a tour of our lab and learned more about their project involving a bioreactor. Our team also volunteered to facilitate experiments such as painting with bacteria, and bacterial transformations to engage youth in science in a fun and interesting way. This experience taught our team how to communicate complicated science to youth, allowed us to hear about and give feedback on their science project, develop connections, and overall allowed us to pique the interest of those considering pursuing careers in STEM. To end the day off, we attended a dinner and had fun getting to speak with some of the organizers of the event!

Figure 5. IndigeSTEAM highlights! We showed members of the Siksika High School Robotics team our iGEM lab and shared about our science projects.