Connecting with the Stakeholders of Democratized E-Waste Recycling

E-waste recycling is a huge issue with many facets and different stakeholders. Through our decentralized approach, we want to empower communities to take care of their own waste while engaging with innovative and sustainable, synthetic biology. Through our Human Practices, we want to reflect on our values and gather feedback from our stakeholders regarding our project and planned implementation. With their input, we could sharpen our focus on our Sustainable Development Goals and built an exploratory network for local e-waste recycling via metal-binding fungi!

Fig 1. | Our network of collaborators. Click on the map pointers to learn more about them!

Connecting Industry and Academia

To successfully facilitate local and sustainable e-waste recycling, we want to engage communities to deploy our synthetic biology and profit from the recovered Rare-Earth resources. It is important to us that local industry is included in these communities as producers of e-waste, but also as forces of innovation and contributors to regional bioeconomies.

E-Waste World Conference & Expo 2023

Fig 2. | Getting an overview of the interesting companies in attendance.

In late June, we had the pleasure of visiting the E-Waste World Conference & Expo 2023 in Frankfurt to get into contact with the leading innovators and experts in e-waste recycling.

We discussed with various company representatives the potential of our biotechnological approach to Rare-Earth recovery and its implementation in industrial processes. The reception to our ideas was very good: Many companies were interested in the potential of selectively capturing Rare-Earth Elements as this is not done yet with huge amounts of important resources going to waste. Right now, chemical methods of metal recovery are most established, but with the importance of the circular bioeconomy increasing, many companies are starting to look towards biological methods.

We have also met several companies whose technologies could play a major role in decentralizing e-waste recycling and making Rare-Earth recovery more efficient. WEEE Finer is developing water treatment solutions that can selectively recover metals from mining and industry effluxes. Their modular and easy to deploy filtering systems are an interesting framework for future biological approaches to metal recovery. We have also had interesting talks with CYRKL and SECON TRADE who provide platforms to easily buy and sell recycled resources, reducing transportation efforts and opening the market to smaller players, e.g., our envisioned community-based e-waste collectives.

Finally, we met STENA Recycling at the trade fair. They encouraged us greatly in our biotechnological recycling approach and they kindly provided us with an industry sample of e-waste which contained significant amounts of Rare-Earth material, but which would otherwise go to waste.

Fig 3. | Our team at the E-Waste World Conference & Expo 2023.

We felt a great desire for more sustainable and efficient methods of Rare-Earth recovery from e-waste among the companies. We are looking forward to activating the connections we have made at a later stage of our process development!

International E-Waste Day 2023

Fig 4. | Save the date!

We are very excited to participate at this year's International E-Waste Day! International E-Waste Day is a yearly awareness raising celebration initiated by the WEEE Forum and its members. It aims to highlight the growing issue of electronic waste and promote responsible e-waste management. The WEEE Forum is an international association representing fifty producer responsibility organizations.

To further the goals of the International E-Waste Day, we conduct awareness campaigns in our university's laboratories to raise awareness about the growing issue of electronic waste in academic settings. Furthermore, we also started a social media campaign to sensitize a wider audience for our issues. We release new informational materials on our social media channels, reaching more students and researchers.

It provides an excellent opportunity to underscore our strong commitment to sustainable recycling and our efforts to address the pressing environmental impacts of e-waste, and to spread that message throughout our university and beyond. We had the chance to create awareness for the big problem of E-waste all over the world, telling the audience about our learnings from our partners in Nigeria as an example.

So, at the event and on social media we informed about the current situation as well as we explained our innovative approach to recovering rare-earth metals from e-waste. This highlighted the potential of synthetic biology to develop eco-friendly solutions to global challenges, which is important given the low acceptance of this field, particularly in Germany.

Fig 5. | You can recycle everything with a plug, battery or cable!

Case Study: Semiconductor Industry with iGEM NYCU-Formosa

Fig. 6 | Schematic of recycling procedures by iGEM Aachen and iGEM NYCU-Formosa around the semiconductor industry.

Semiconductors are essential parts of our modern electronic devices like smartphones, hard drives and electric vehicles. Therefore, they play a huge role in enabling our modern lifestyle and a sustainable future. However, the semiconductor industry is also at the center of two major problems: First, in their direct impact, the semiconductor factories contaminate their local water streams with heavy metal effluxes from their production processes. Secondly, many important resources like Rare-Earth Elements that are contained in electronic products via the semiconductors eventually get discarded as e-waste and are removed from the global value chains.

With their metal recovering synthetic biology, iGEM NYCU-Formosa and iGEM Aachen want to combine their powers and ideas to fix these problems. iGEM NYCU-Formosa tackles the metal contamination in waste water by utilizing their adhesive platform “Coplat” with various metalloproteins that serve as the functional proteins in their system. The collected ions can be recycled in further electrolytic process steps. iGEM Aachen treats electronic waste with a biomaterial filter made of fungal mycelium to capture and recycle the Rare-Earth Elements contained in the waste. Via both methods, important resources are taken from places where they cause problems as contaminants of water streams, the local environment and human health, and are made accessible to industrial processes through selective recycling.

With our combined efforts, we want to make the semiconductor industry more sustainable and resilient. By cleaning the local water streams, the semiconductor industry can make a positive impact on the health and environment of their local communities beyond their economic power. And by taking responsibility for the local and global impact of e-waste, they can enable people to recycle their own e-waste and turn consumers to prosumers that provide crucial resources for the semiconductor industry. In times of global change, the resilience of supply chains of vital resources like Rare-Earth Elements and other metals are a crucial competitive factor. By empowering the semiconductor industry and surrounding communities with our innovative recycling biotechnology, iGEM NYCU-Formosa and iGEM Aachen want to future-proof the production of semiconductors and electronic devices that lead us into a sustainable future. We want to show how global partnerships in synthetic biology can strengthen local communities and make a positive impact on our sustainability and resilience!

Connecting with Social Entrepreneurship

Fig 7. | Prepraring our pitch at the iGEM Startups BioHackathon.

From the beginning of our iGEM journey, we were sure that our project’s strength lies in its real-life application. We want to enable people worldwide to process and profit from their own e-waste. This mission lies at the center of our entrepreneurial spirit. We determined, to be as effective as possible, we would need to create a network of partners, think about its economic needs and impact, and determine the best ways to break into this market.

Thus, we were very happy to participate in iGEM Startups BioHackathon and Summer School, where we could learn more about synthetic biology’s entrepreneurial space.

At the BioHackathon, we learned how to organize our ideas and pitch effectively in front of investors and potential customers. We also enjoyed seeing all the innovative ideas of the other groups and it helped us to focus on the key selling points of our project: effective Rare-Earth recycling for everyone!

Between BioHackathon and Summer School, we decided to shift our focus from a profit driven startup to social entrepreneurship, guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Summer School helped us to finalize our approach and gave us a lot of starting points where innovation and entrepreneurship can help advance our sustainability goals.

Fig 8. | iGEM Startups Summer School 2023 was a blast!

Learning from Communities in Nigeria

Illegal shipments of electronic waste from the Global North into regions of the Global South are causing enormous environmental and health-related problems in the affected countries. We hope that our efforts towards decentralizing and democratizing e-waste recycling via cheap and low-barrier synthetic biology could help the people suffering from our illegal e-waste exports. That is why we have interviewed and consulted with various Non-Governmental Organizations in this field to listen to their ideas, issues, and gather feedback for implementing our solutions. We have found many inspiring contacts in Nigeria, which is one of the countries suffering from illegal and unsafe e-waste recycling.

Learning about the Situation in Nigeria

Fig 9. | Our interview with Ibukun Faluyi from Epron.

Through the WEEE Forum, we were made aware of the NGO EPRON (Environmental Protection and Recycling Organization of Nigeria). They showed us that waste recycling in Nigeria often occurs under hazardous conditions, posing significant threats to both the environment and public health. During an interview with them, we delved into the pressing issue of e-waste in Nigeria. EPRON shed light on these challenges and discussed how our project aims to contribute to a positive change in this landscape.

Highlighting a significant concern, EPRON mentioned the influx of non-functional e-waste from other countries through illegal shipments. This waste is often passed off as used electronics and ends up in Nigerian garbage sites, exacerbating the problem. The importance of E-waste recycling in Nigeria was underscored with the statement, "E-Waste-Recycling is really important, as it can reduce the burdening of the environment and increase the living conditions of people living in Nigeria." In the fight against illegal black-market recyclers who employ harmful environmental practices, EPRON is resolute, stating, "There is a big problem with illegal black-market recyclers, who recycle in a harmful way for the environment. We fight against that and want to stop this unregulated way of recycling." Concerning this they made us aware of one important step we must look at when bringing MycoFlux to Nigeria: "It's important that you distribute your boxes to formal collection centers to not give informal recyclers the chance to use it." Their commitment to regulating and improving recycling practices is a crucial step towards a greener, more sustainable future and their dedication to expanding access to responsible recycling is commendable and aligns with our project's objectives to reduce pollution and health risks.

Fig 10. | An e-waste junk yard.

Fig 11. | Statistics about global documented and undocumented e-waste.

Getting in detail of our project EPRON recognized the potential of our solution and its role in generating employment opportunities. This acknowledgment underscores the dual benefit of addressing the E-waste problem in Nigeria—both environmental and economic. EPRON also expressed interest in collaborating, saying, "We could imagine integrating your solution into our collection centers; it gives people the opportunity to not only collect the E-waste but go on to the next step and recycle it (in a green way)." Such collaboration would not only streamline E-waste management but also promote sustainable recycling practices.

Their enthusiastic support for our project's potential to create a green circular economy is encouraging. Together with organizations like EPRON, we can work towards a sustainable solution to the E-waste crisis, benefiting both the environment and the people of Nigeria. So, building a network with recycling organizations confirms us in pursuing our focused goals of the SDGs - protecting the environment but also contributing to improved living conditions for Nigerians.

Building a Network to Promote Safe Recycling

Fig 12. | Our interview with Babafemi Okegbenro, Program Officer of the E-Waste Relief Foundation.

Through our interview with EPRON we got to know E-Waste Relief Foundation and realized we share the same vision – safe and sustainable recycling of E-Waste. We enthusiastic about the idea creating a network in Nigeria as a pilot project for collaboration of several organizations with RareCycle. They underlined the facts we discussed in our interview with EPRON which strengthened our decision to tackle the E-Waste problem especially in Nigeria.

First, we were discussing the problematic situation with e-waste in Nigeria. They explained: "The amount of waste being generated is increasing daily, and currently, we lack sufficient recycling capabilities. The government is overwhelmed by the situation." But the complexity of e-waste recycling has deterred many startups from entering the field. This way they account RareCycle powerful.

One major challenge in tackling e-waste in Nigeria is the informal recycling sector, which operates without formal regulations or safety measures. The government's inability to provide benefits to formal recyclers has hindered the integration of this sector. A key strategy is to integrate the informal sector into formal recycling practices, ensuring safety and control in the process.

Creating awareness about the enormity of the e-waste problem is essential. Education, public events, media coverage, and partnerships with NGOs play a pivotal role in this regard. The scale of e-waste accumulation in Nigeria is staggering, with landfills growing rapidly and new e-waste imports exacerbating the issue – this has to change. The E-Waste Relief Foundation emphasizes the importance of building a comprehensive network with various stakeholders to address the significant e-waste challenge in Nigeria. They confirmed the potential of collaborative efforts we saw to tackle the problem effectively. We also got in detail about safety guidelines. Safety measures, including protective gear for recyclers are essential aspects of responsible e-waste recycling: "It is imperative to furnish suitable safeguards, such as gloves and vests, for individuals engaged in the recycling process.”

Learnings and Reflection with Experts

In our quest to incorporate different viewpoints and stakeholder into RareCycle, we decided to consult experts in the different fields connected to our project idea. It was important to us, to get an idea of the safety regulations and legislature in place regarding community biology and DIY kits. We also wanted to gain a wider perspective on the topic of Rare-Earths and how they are traditionally mined. Finally, we also talked with experts on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to best align our vision with these goals and learn from best-practices.

Safety First!

Fig 13. | Our interview with the Central Committee on Biological Safety.

In RareCycle it was important for us to have a look about safety measures related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Therefore, we had an interview with experts from ZKBS (The Central Committee on Biological Safety) to shed light on the crucial precautions that must be taken when working with these organisms. First, we were informed about general safety instructions working with GMOs to make sure we do not forget anything important. The interviewee emphasized that the level of safety measures required depends on the risk group classification of the GMO in question. "The safety measures depend on the risk group to which a GMO is assigned. In this case, we can assume it's a GMO of risk group 1, the least hazardous category. For such cases, specific organizational safety measures are needed, such as having a project leader who is knowledgeable about handling the organism and a designated Biological Safety Officer," the experts stated.

Then we got into detail about our project and what in specific is important for our work on MycoFlux. The expert stressed the importance of ensuring that GMOs do not escape into the environment from MycoFlux – it must be a safe system.

Another critical aspect that must be closely monitored is the presence of antibiotic resistance genes as selection markers in GMOs the experts noted. A fundamental requirement in working with GMOs is to ensure that gene flow between the modified organism and wild-type organisms is minimized to the greatest extent possible, reducing the risk of gene transfer and crossbreeding.

"In your case, working with metals, it's particularly important to be mindful of their aquatic toxicity."

"We sometimes feel that people lack sufficient information, and education plays a vital role in addressing this gap."

The Global Importance of Rare-Earths

Fig 14. | Visiting the Chair of Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling.

Our project is inherently interdisciplinary. We are dealing with components and ideas whose application in synthetic biology is not very common. It is clear that we needed perspective outside of biology to teach us about Rare-Earth Elements and incorporate their knowledge into our project. This is what we achieved with a visit to the Chair of Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling of RWTH Aachen University. Its resident expert in mining and recycling of Rare-Earth Elements, Dr Srecko Stopic, kindly talked with us about the potential of his and our research.

He explained to us that in Europe, we are heavily reliant on monopolistic countries in the supply of Rare-Earth Elements. Recycling serves as a crucial step in reducing this dependency and ensuring that everyone can access these crucial resources for a sustainable future.

Dr Stopic emphasized the necessity for our project to distinguish itself through innovative approaches and unique solutions in the realm of recycling methods. We believe our decentralized approach and community application could be such a distinguishment.

After discussing Dr Stopic’s specialized research and receiving his insights on our project, we then broadened our conversation to explore the benefits and importance of recycling compared to primary production. He explained that Europe's lack of Rare-Earth sources and strict mining regulations make primary production of Rare-Earths challenging. Therefore, developing and adopting recycling is crucial, as it’s more eco-friendly and offers great opportunities for us, allowing used materials to re-enter the cycle instead of extracting new ones.

“China already knew in the 1970s under Deng Xiaoping that its Rare-Earth deposits gave it a strong geopolitical and economic advantage compared to other countries.” - Dr Stopic

"Your project must stand out from the others, and you have to show people what makes it unique and better compared to other recycling methods!" - Dr Stopic

Ultimately, Dr Stopic concluded that project ideas like ours can bring that transformative effect that we need to create a greener future.

Aligning our Mission with the Sustainable Development Goals

In our endeavour to grasp the significance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their effective integration into projects like ours, we had the privilege of engaging in a discussion with Heba Aziz, a recognized expert in this field. During our conversation, she shared invaluable insights into the SDGs on a global scale and how they can serve as a guiding framework for projects in a wide range of sectors.

We initiated the interview by delving into why the SDGs hold global significance. Heba Aziz referenced other frameworks such as the Millennium Development Goals, which concluded in 2015 and were subsequently replaced by the SDGs. She explained, "There was always a sense that something needed to be done, but this 'something' often lacked specific indicators and targets. It was not clear what actions people should take." According to her, a pivotal feature of the SDGs is the inclusion of subtargets and indicators, enabling precise measurement.

Fig 15. | Our interview with Heba Aziz, UNESCO Chair Professor at the German University of Technology in Oman.

She pointed out that what often falls short is how countries can achieve these goals, as the SDGs primarily offer a measurement framework: "What has not been adequately discussed is how these countries can attain these goals and what steps are needed to address these issues. That's a significant gap."

She emphasized the lack of enforcement mechanisms for countries, saying, "Signing on to the SDGs does not come with a condition that mandates immediate changes to national laws reflecting this international agreement." As an example, she mentioned the Paris Agreement. In her view, governmental commitment is key, and while the SDGs provide an excellent framework, they require legislative action. Signing an agreement alone achieves little if no corresponding laws are enacted.

Fig 16. | Key Sustainable Development Goals we identified with experts.

Heba Aziz stressed that this is where innovative projects like ours can fill the gap. She believes it's crucial to promote a profitable green industry.

We then delved into the specifics of our project. Heba Aziz identified Goals 9 ("Industry and Innovation, Infrastructure") and 12 ("Responsible Consumption and Production") as the most relevant to our project. She emphasized the interconnectedness of all SDGs and how our project can address multiple goals through appropriate concepts, models, and industry connections. As an example, related to our project, she mentioned Goal 8 ("Decent Work and Economic Growth").

In alignment with Goal 17 ("Partnership for the Goals"), we discussed our implementation ideas in Nigeria and our existing network there. Heba Aziz highlighted potential challenges that may arise during the implementation of decentralized, community-based projects like ours. These include the need for government support to establish our project and the necessity of NGOs willing to train local personnel. Additionally, she emphasized the importance of promoting the safety of our bio-organisms and establishing a green supply chain for our entire process.

In conclusion, Heba Aziz stressed the importance of building relationships right now to ensure the success of our project. She advised us to seek support from individuals in the region and to include team members with non-technical backgrounds such as sociologists and economists. She recommended reaching out to local universities and involving local researchers, stating, "It will ensure its sustainability, and they will have a sense of ownership for their contributions. I think it will be fantastic."

Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a Tool for Collaboration

Fig 17. | Our interview with Professor Fredrik Björk.

In our quest to understand the significance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they can be integrated into projects effectively, we had the privilege of sitting down with Fredrik Björk, an expert on this field. He shared invaluable insights into why the SDGs are pivotal and how they can serve as a guiding framework for projects across diverse sectors.

The SDGs, as Björk highlighted, possess a unique global perspective, transcending national boundaries and involving various sectors of society. They act as a common language, fostering collaboration among partners with differing backgrounds. One of the advantages of the SDGs, according to Björk, is their practicality and specificity, making them accessible to a wide audience. He explained: "I like about the SDGs that they are applied: they are quite detailed and focused. You don't have to be a sustainability nerd to know what to do."

Björk emphasizes that the SDGs facilitate cross-sector collaboration, ensuring that projects like ours can bridge gaps and tap into a shared language to drive innovation. But we also had a critical discussion about the SDGs, which is important to form a differentiated opinion. While acknowledging their importance, Björk highlights that the SDGs are not exhaustive but represent a positive step forward in the global development agenda: "You also can be critical of the SDGs: they're not covering everything, and some important things are missing. But they're a step in the right direction."

Then we got into detail about our project. For RareCycle, Björk identifies Goals 3 and 8 as pivotal, given our focus on improving health conditions in technology recycling and promoting responsible consumption and production at the local level. He warned us not to choose too many goals to align ourselves with. He advises us to focus on a select few SDGs that align closely with their mission, as this can streamline efforts and create a more profound impact. Having a focused approach, he explains, can help in clearly defining a project's objectives and outcomes. Furthermore, he gave us the advice not to get blinded by the SDGs, so that they are more important than the key ideas of our project.

“In the example of your project, you can choose the relevant SDGs and communicate with business partners, with governments, with local organizations, and even when you don't speak the same 'language' you have the same language in form of the SDGs. In your example: you have your fungi recycling e-waste. That's the technical part. But would you be able to launch it and spread it around the world? There you need different expertise." - Professor Björk

Targeting Goal 17, we told Björk about our network in Nigeria. He considered as very useful for RareCycle: "It's very great that you already have a local network in Nigeria. In projects like yours, you need partners who know the local context in terms of culture and language, for example.” The combination of local expertise and technical solutions is the basis of success for RareCycle.

In closing, Björk expresses optimism about our project's potential to bring about positive change, emphasizing the importance of local knowledge and partnerships.

"The idea of your project to take the box to communities and make it community-owned is so powerful. If you could make it work, it's going to be sensational." - Professor Björk

Inspiring Early Adopters

Recycling e-waste and recovering desperately needed resources is a generational task that we must face. Young people especially are consumers of enormous amounts of technology that makes our lives easier and connects us to our friends and family. Therefore, we must also take on the responsibility of sustainably recycling our e-waste. We want to place our innovative recycling technology into the lives of communities everywhere on earth. Thus, we have the mission to involve young people in our project as early adopters and engage them for a greener e-waste future! That is why we have – from the beginning – reached out to students and young professionals and taken on their feedback and ideas.

Harvard OpenBio - Future of SynBio Conference

In April, we hosted a workshop at the Harvard Synthetic Biology Conference. The conference provides a platform for students like us, who are engaged in spreading their knowledge and fascination for projects in the field of synthetic biology. Throughout the day, there were keynote speeches and workshops in which students from all over the world were able to participate.

One of those workshops was planned and carried out by four of our team members. We divided our workshop into three parts. In the first part, we informed the audience about our project and the iGEM competition in general.

Fig 18. | Bringing awareness to students about the potential of synthetic biology in Rare-Earth recycling.

After that, we assessed the students' knowledge about topics concerning our project by conducting a quiz with them. It turned out that most of the students underestimated the amount of e-waste produced in the world and that their knowledge of important biological methods, like bioleaching, was improvable. In the last part, we gave the listeners the opportunity to develop a possible solution based on their gained knowledge during the workshop. Using a Google Jamboard, they received different biological puzzle pieces with which they could build a circuit for the purification of e-waste. The results we obtained were quite sophisticated and demonstrated that they understood the general concept of our project idea. Later, we discussed their puzzle solutions and presented them ours.

iGEM Meetup Düsseldorf x Münster x Aachen

Fig 19. | Meeting up with iGEM Düsseldorf and Münster!

In the beginning of May, our team had the privilege of being invited to visit Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf. This visit marked an important step in our iGEM journey, as it provided an opportunity to connect with fellow iGEM teams from the Düsseldorf and Münster. iGEM Düsseldorf presented "Fungilzier," an initiative focused on phosphate remediation through the use of fungi. The iGEM Münster team introduced "Beevax," a fascinating project aimed at developing a vaccine for bees, addressing a crucial ecological concern. Our own iGEM Aachen team presented "RareCycle" our innovative fungal-based solutions for the remediation of Rare-Earth Elements (REEs). We engaged in open discussions about our projects and the iGEM competition. Our conversations extended to various aspects, including organizational strategies, ethical considerations, and potential future collaborations. This day served not only to strengthen our connections with like-minded individuals but also as a reminder of the collaborative spirit that defines the iGEM community. This exchange was both enlightening and inspiring, as it offered us a chance to share our mutual enthusiasm for synthetic biology.

Inspiring the Next Generation: School Visits

On Wednesday, June 14, 2023, seven team members, Tom, Leonie, Alexandra, Frederik, Rochelle, Ragul, and Johanna, embarked on an educational excursion to Einhard Gymnasium in Aachen.

Their mission was to engage and enlighten an attentive 11th-grade chemistry class, offering them valuable insights into the realm of iGEM and, more specifically, the pressing issue our team has chosen to confront: the substantial reliance on Rare-Earth Elements in today's world. We provided a comprehensive introduction to iGEM as a program, ensuring that the students had a solid understanding of the broader context of our involvement in the competition. Subsequently, they delved into the core of their project, the Rare-Cycle-Process, elucidating its fundamental principles. To make these complex scientific concepts accessible and tangible to the students, two interactive experiments were conducted.

Fig 20. | Bringing awareness to students about our reliance on Rare-Earth Elements.

In the first experiment, the students were guided in the synthesis of a metallic complex. This practical exercise served as a vivid illustration of complex bonding. In the second experiment, the students created a dilution series with varying pH values, spanning the spectrum from acidic to basic, and observed the resultant impact on the activity of a specific enzyme. By drawing parallels between the metallic complex formation in the experiment and the specific peptides employed in our project, which form analogous complex bonds with metals and enzymes, we facilitated a deeper comprehension of our project. Furthermore, this hands-on activity underscored the profound influence of environmental factors on enzyme performance.

This engaging educational session not only introduced the students to the intricate world of synthetic biology but also underscored the real-world implications and applications of our scientific endeavors. Through these interactions, our team aspires to ignite a passion for scientific inquiry and discovery among the next generation, paving the way for future innovators and problem solvers.

Fig 21. | Teaching students about the potential of synthetic biology.

On Monday, June 5, 2023, our team members, Tom, Alex, Frederik, Ragul, Leonie, Alina, and Melissa, embarked on an educational mission to Carolus-Magnus-Gymnasium in Übach-Palenberg.

Our primary objective was to engage with a 10th-grade biology class, providing them with a glimpse into the world of iGEM and the compelling problem that our team has chosen to tackle: the excessive reliance on Rare-Earth Elements in our world. Our presentation gave a comprehensive overview of iGEM as a competition, ensuring that the students grasped the broader context of our involvement. They then delved into the heart of our project, the Rare-Cycle-Process, elucidating its key principles. To make the scientific concepts of our project tangible and accessible to the students, we conducted two experiments. In the first experiment, the students were guided in the synthesis of Berlin Blue, a metallic complex. The students were able to draw parallels between the metallic complex formation in this experiment and the specific peptides utilized in our project, which form analogous complex bonds with metals and enzymes.

The second experiment was equally enlightening. Here, the students explored the activities of the enzyme urease under varying temperature conditions. This hands-on exercise illuminated the profound impact of environmental factors on protein performance.

Overall, this engaging educational session not only introduced the students to the intricate world of synthetic biology but also demonstrated the real-world applications and implications of our scientific endeavors. It is through such interactions that our team aspires to inspire the next generation of scientists and innovators, fostering a passion for inquiry and discovery.

Spreading Awareness On- and Off-Campus

On July 6th, 2023, our team participated in the RWTH Campus Festival. This festival provided a fantastic opportunity for student initiatives to connect with both the broader community and fellow students of the RWTH.

At our booth, the team had the chance to showcase our project to a diverse audience and receive valuable feedback from the general public. Additionally, we organized an engaging quiz about our project, "RareCycle," and synthetic biology in general. We also discussed key sustainable development goals with a wide variety of people, attaining enlighting opinions and perspectives on our project.

Participants who successfully completed the quiz were rewarded with delicious waffles and fun stickers. This platform allowed us to raise awareness about the iGEM competition and generate interest among potential participants for the upcoming years.

The Campus Festival was a resounding success for our team, fostering enthusiasm for synthetic biology.

Fig 22. | On-campus outreach.

Fig 23. | Broadcasting on the radio.

We recently conducted an interview on RWTH University's campus radio 99.1, where we discussed our project RareCycle and the field of synthetic biology.

We also emphasized the project's alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through our discussion, we aimed not only to inform but also to inspire and engage our audience. We hope to have piqued the curiosity and interest of those who may have been previously unfamiliar with synthetic biology, offering them a glimpse into the exciting possibilities and potential impact of this field.