Education and Communication

"If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people" -Chinese proverb


The main goals of the iGEM competition is to raise awareness about synthetic biology, advance on this field, its education and competition, and contribute to the development of a collaborative, open, and unified community [1]. Synthetic biology poses a promising influence in several fields, such as therapeutics, environment, or industry. One could state that synthetic biology holds the key to many current worldwide solutions.

The general public, however, has only a vague understanding of the concept of synthetic biology, even though it has made great strides over the years. The communicative gap that exists between the general public and the scientific world is mainly due to the scientific jargon. Educational outreach from the scientific community to the general public could provide a solution to bridge this communicative gap.

The possibilities to address the general public are endless, but require a thoughtful approach. We started the process of brainstorming to come up with an educational project that fitted in our time span and capabilities. Finally, we decided to direct our educational outreach to the youth in three separate projects: ‘Escape the Classroom’, ‘Elementary school’, and ‘Zpannend Zernike’. These projects are discussed in more detail below. We find it important to bring the subject of synthetic biology closer to students at a younger age. By doing so, new knowledge makes it easier to understand more complex concepts at a later age and hopefully it sparks an interest in them to pursue later in life, as a hobby or perhaps as a career.

All our educational projects have been developed in collaboration with advisors in science communication and teachers of elementary and high schools to make sure that our message would get across to the children.

Escape The Classroom

The first project focuses on teenagers, around the age of 14 to 18. We have developed education materials that would be applicable in the high school biology curriculum. The set-up is inspired by the ideas of Anne de Groot and Joris Koot of ‘Escape the Classroom’ [2]. Our educational materials form a sort of escape room which can be used inside the classroom. In this active form of learning, the students get familiarized with the concept of synthetic biology by solving puzzles in the context of a synthetic biological storyline (see figure 1). Research has shown that an active form of learning in which a student really has to apply knowledge has a better impact on learning than simply learning by listening and repetition [3, 4].

The educational materials are easily applicable in a typical biology lesson. The duration of the escape room is around 30 minutes and only requires a few sheets of paper for the puzzles.

To encourage high schools to make use of our educational materials, we will send out the materials to different Dutch high schools. Unfortunately, the implementation will take place after the Wiki freeze. In addition, the English version of the game is published online on our website. The materials can be printed and cut out (and perhaps plastified for longer sustainability of the materials). By doing so, we bring the opportunity to anyone to use our materials, thus reaching a broader audience. Furthermore, to stimulate the implementation of the synthetic biological storyline to high school students, we created a step-by-step guide to set-up an ‘Escape the Classroom’ by themselves. With the help of this guide, the teachers have the opportunity to integrate it better in their curriculum, including templates of all the puzzles (see figure 2).

Here in figure 1, the entire ‘Escape the Classroom’ is detailed in a PDF-file, followed by the step-to-step guide. All puzzles are present in files at the bottom of this section.

Elementary School

The second project is aimed at children around the age of 12. We visited an elementary school class to talk about our project, bacteria and what it means to be a scientist. This was organized in collaboration with IMC Basis, a foundation that focuses on allowing children to explore future career options.

On our first day, we visited the elementary school with four of our team members and compared children's expectations of being a scientist with our experiences. We gave examples of what our weekly schedules look like, what qualities researchers have, why research is important and our motivations to join the research field (see figure 3). The children were very excited to ask an array of questions, which we were delighted to answer. We also dressed them up like scientists in lab coats, which turned out to be very popular. We also talked about the structure of conducting research. Using the research question “Can Mink fly?”, accompanied by a nice demonstration of Mink’s flying abilities as an easy way to visualize all steps.

Figure 3: Isis, Yasmin and Ronald are presenting in the first guest lecture.

After the break, the class experimented with the differences in bacterial presence after washing their hands with soap or 70% ethanol. Furthermore, they examined the differences in drying their hands after washing, firstly by air and secondly with a paper towel. All students formed their research questions and hypotheses and were encouraged to compare their written work with class members (see figure 4, 5, and 6).

Figure 4, 5, 6: The iGEM team is instructing the children in separate small groups.

A week later, we visited the school again with the colonies that grew in the petri dishes. We discussed the results with the children and they presented their findings to each other. The children worked together to form posters about their research taking into consideration the set structure of conducting research explained on our first visit (see figure 7). .

Figure 7: An example of one of the posters. Great work done by Luna, Niyuba, and Nabi!

In conclusion, our iGEM team enjoyed designing, organizing and executing this educational activity a lot. To add to this, the feedback we received from the teachers and children was overwhelmingly positive. We agreed with the IMC Basis coordinator to encourage next years’ iGEM Groningen teams to extend this educational activity to future years. The IMC Basis coordinator will contact the Groningen team of 2023 when possible. This could be the beginning of a nice tradition.



Zpannend Zernike

The third project entails our attendance at the Science fair ‘Zpannend Zernike’ at the campus of the University of Groningen. This yearly event takes place in the first weekend of October, the Weekend of Science. It is named after prof. Frits Zernike, a professor from Groningen who received the Nobel prize in Physics in 1953 [5]. This event focuses on young children, ranging from the age of 5 to 12, and it is organized to get children enthusiastic about science. On campus, different buildings are accessible for parents and children to visit. Each of the buildings has different types of activities, varying from demonstrations to small experiments. We, as iGEM team, were invited to perform a small experiment related to our project (see figure 19).

Figure 19: Ronald (in the middle) is performing the experiment with two children, while Laurens (left) and Bindert (right) are setting up materials for the next group of children.

We brainstormed about what kind of experiment would be suitable for this particular audience, and we decided to perform the ‘Pepper & Soap’ experiment. This experiment lends itself to be used as a nice storyline about the spreading of disease and the importance of hygiene.

In the beginning of the ‘Pepper & Soap’ experiment, a bowl is filled with water. This represents the clear environment surrounding us. However, as the children already know, everywhere they go, there are bacteria and viruses that have the potential of making them sick. The pepper represents the bacteria (and viruses) in the environment and the children are asked to add a bit of pepper to the bowl. Pepper will stay afloat. The children are encouraged to hypothesize what would happen if they dip their index finger in the bowl. Afterwards, they execute the experiment. Pepper sticks to their finger, which looks a bit disgusting. The children get the chance to get rid of the pepper with the use of a paper towel. Later on, they are asked to wash their hands with a droplet of soap one of the iGEM’ers has placed on their finger. Again, the children are asked to hypothesize what would happen if they dip their finger into the bowl. Once they do, all the pepper shoots away from the children’s finger, relatively similar to the effect of soap on bacteria. In figure 20, the effect of soap on pepper in this experimental set-up is shown in an animation.

The children were surprised and asked to perform the experiment again most of the time.

Figure 20: A chicken performing the ‘Pepper and Soap’ experiment

Our team really enjoyed spending the day at Zpannend Zernike and hopefully raised children’s interest in the world of science. As a giveaway gift, we handed out the Synthetic Biology Coloring Book created by iGEM Usafa, America, so the children could enjoy science a bit longer. More can be read about this on our collaboration page.


To reach a diverse demographic, we also organized eight alternative forms of science communication. All are oriented towards different target groups, varying in living area, age and educational background. Additionally, multiple are published online, three on paper and two in audio form.

These include our faculty newspaper called Lifeline, the newspaper of the University of Groningen named the Ukrant, Sciencelinx which is part of the University of Groningen website, the online science paper NEMO Kennislink and we wrote five blogs about the developments of our project on Additionally, we spoke on the SynBio podcast, OOG Radio and wrote an article on our research on avian influenza for Dagblad van het Noorden, the local newspaper of the North of the Netherlands.

UKrant is the daily independent news media for the University of Groningen. The newspaper is available in physical and online form, oriented towards all students and staff of the University of Groningen.

Science LinX is the science center of the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Groningen. Their article on the Nanobuddy project was published on both their site and the general University of Groningen homepage.

The five blog posts on have the goal to clarify the journey of iGEM Groningen team. organizes activities on biotechnology and its social impact.

NEMO Kennislink bridges the gap between scientific research and everyday life. Aimed towards a national and international public of all ages. We expect to see the article we contributed to published in October 2022.

Lifeline is a quarterly published paper made by and for students of Biology and Life Science and Technology students at the University of Groningen. Due to the quarterly schedule, we expect to see our article published in December 2022.

Bench talks at SynBioNL, the podcast about the current landscape of Synthetic Biology in the Netherlands. It is aimed at an audience with specific synthetic biology knowledge.

Dagblad van het Noorden is a daily newspaper published in the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe and on the Frisian island of Schiermonnikoog, aiming at a wider audience.

OOG Radio is the Groningen Broadcasting Foundation. The foundation is the licensed local broadcaster for the municipality of Groningen, providing continuous radio programming. Because this is in radio format, the content is widely accessible. Our contribution is planned for November 2022.

Future perspectives and contributions for future iGEM teams

During our months as an iGEM team, we developed multiple educational outreach programmes, each aimed at different target groups within society. We were able to fully implement most of the activities, including different target groups. In the case of the ‘Escape the classroom’ activity, it is designed in a way that allows and encourages teachers to set it up themselves. Furthermore, a great part of the science communication projects aimed outside the classroom has been published. The remaining ones are planned to be brought to the public in the upcoming month.

To conclude, all our educational programmes are fully available online and can be repeated or brought into practice in future years. We, therefore, encourage the iGEM teams of the future to make use of our multiple educational designs, templates and hand-outs. To increase the usability of our educational designs we have made the elementary school activities available to download in both the English and Dutch languages.


[1] Igem (no date) iGEM. Available at: (Accessed: October 1, 2022)

[2] (2018) Escape the Classroom. Available at: (Accessed: September 14, 2022).

[3] Teitler, P.I. and Fenijn, F. (2022) Lessen in Orde: Handboek voor de Onderwijspraktijk. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho.

[4] Ast, M.van et al. (2020) Effectief Leren: De docent ALS Regisseur. Groningen: Noordhoff.

[5] (2022) Zpannend Zernike. Available at: (Accessed: October 4, 2022).


Nemo: Not online yet


Lifeline: Not out yet


Podcast Bench Talks SynBioNL: Will be posted October 2022

Dagblad van het noorden:

OOG Radio: Not out yet