Throughout the course of project FEDDS we worked extensively within our community to encourage interest and engagement with science. Our various education initiatives were open to all ages, however we specifically targeted youth with many of our outreach events. This was intentional as we wanted to cultivate a passion for STEM among the younger generation. These events required creativity and patience while promoting an inquisitive mind among participants. For every education outreach program we planned, we kept three key goals in mind:

  1. To enhance the understanding of synthetic biology and the goals of iGEM among the general public.
  2. To integrate both the biology and technology aspects of our project into our initiatives.
  3. To educate the public on the impact of fungal infections on agriculture, both in Canada and internationally.

Overall, the goal of our education outreach programs was to make science both accessible and enjoyable!

Bannerman School

May 31, 2023

To engage within our community, and encourage science at a young age, the 2023 UAlberta iGEM team presented at Bannerman School to the grade 3 and 4 classes, 19 and 24 students, respectively, on May 31, 2023. This event involved three iGEM team members presenting a lecture on plants, including requirements for growth, and pathogens that plants face. Additionally, we tied our lecture to our project via educating the students on Fusarium and explaining what iGEM is. Providing the students with a matching game tested their knowledge, and facilitated their learning.

Following the lecture, we assisted the students in planting beans, in which they were encouraged to track the ongoing growth, and health of the bean plants. To finish, the students completed a worksheet where they developed hypotheses that predicted how a plant's growth will react to the presence/absence of specific growth requirements. The goal of this event was to introduce botanical concepts to youth, and encourage them to pursue their scientific measurements throughout the summer, as well as presenting our project in a simplistic way.

Coralwood Adventist Academy

June 8, 2023

Another educational outreach our team did was visit Coralwood Adventist Academy on June 8, 2023. Our team members presented a lecture on Electrical Engineering toward explaining how to build an electrical circuit. This was followed up with a propeller car activity where six groups spent an hour developing, and executing their design. This allowed students to gain hands-on experience, and test their knowledge while constructing a car, and building an electrical circuit. The group then raced their cars to see what design was the most efficient, and produced the fastest car. The goal of this project is to make students develop an interest in STEM.

Telus World of Science Edmonton (TWOSE)

July 22, 2023

Our team worked with Telus World of Science - Edmonton to take over the Learning About Biology (L.A.B.) space at the science centre on July 22, 2023. The team of 10 iGEM members developed and facilitated two different activities: Microbial Masterpieces in the L.A.B. and a LEGO payload challenge in the nearby gallery space. Science centre guests were able to drop in to try out the hands-on activities with the help of the iGEM team. During the activities, they learned about both the biology and technology aspects of our project. For the Microbial Masterpieces, participants were set up with PPE and then they began streaking bacteria to draw a picture. The bacteria used were altered to fluoresce under UV light to make the pictures stand out after incubation. For the LEGO Payload Challenge, participants were tasked with a challenge to create a drone payload replica out of LEGO to support a makeshift multispectral camera. Next, we tested the payload they designed by attaching it to a 3D printing base plate to see whether it was capable of holding the camera in place. This was a wildly successful event that boasted roughly 150 participants, from toddlers to grandparents, where everyone enjoyed the activities and learned something. The goal of this event was to educate the public on synthetic biology as well as the challenges of drone technology.

Chappelle Gardens Social House

August 28, 2023

On August 28, 2023, our team hosted a "Fun Science Session" at a community centre in Edmonton. The event included eight iGEM team members, and about 18 participants, including parents and children. The team started the event through a presentation of iGEM, and the overall project of the team. The presentation was followed by science activities. The participants were split into three groups, where each group would visit a designated station, and participate for 15-20 minutes before rotating.

  1. Station 1: Since our project focuses on proteins and DNA, we had a designated station for DNA extraction activity where participants were guided to extract DNA from strawberries using household materials.
  2. Station 2: As agriculture and plant health are also a focus of our project, we conducted a botany related activity in this station.
  3. Station 3: We introduced parents and children to the wonders of AI by using a demonstration code that we had developed for our project, guiding them through the process of fruit detection (an orange, green apple, tomato, and a banana) using colour detection techniques. Participants did not need to write code, and instead were asked to identify the wavelength of light needed to detect each fruit.

Participants were very engaged in the activities and were inquisitive. The goal of these activities were to introduce concepts of synthetic biology and AI to parents and children, while educating them about our project.

Windermere Farmers Market

August 31, 2023

A couple days later, on August 31, 2023, we set up a booth at the Windermere Farmers Market in the city of Edmonton. There were three iGEM team members with a poster outlining the project, and 3D models for visualization. It was a busy event with diverse groups of people. We educated and intrigued individuals on iGEM, our project, and progress. Many of the individuals who approached us were farmers who reassured the cause of our project, therefore maintaining its relevance. We also had science enthusiasts drawn to our stall by the drone and AI components. Having 3D models, and a drone on display, enabled viewers to better understand the concept of our project visually. The goal of this program was to introduce our project to different people, and allow them to visualize the concept using demonstrations.

St. Peter the Apostle High School (SPA) Field Trip

September 29, 2023

In late July, our team received an enthusiastic inquiry from a dedicated science teacher at a local high school, St. Peter the Apostle High School (SPA). This teacher was eager to establish an iGEM team at their school. As we engaged in ongoing discussions, we decided to foster an appreciation for synthetic and molecular biology in the high schoolers, by organizing a field trip to the University of Alberta.

The teacher shared their passion for this idea, saying “As a science teacher with a background in molecular biology, I always knew I’d want to share my passion for biological sciences with my students. I started teaching Synthetic Biology for two main reasons: (1) It is the ultimate interdisciplinary field that ties in many diverse student interests! High school science curricula does a great job at separating the three sciences: physics, chemistry, and biology, but in the 21st century we know that science is much more integrated with other fields. (2) it's a great way to expose high school students to hands-on science.”

On September 29, the students embarked on an enlightening journey through three distinct laboratories at the University of Alberta. Our first stop was Dr. Lisa Stein's Climate Change Microbiology lab, where we delved into the profound impact microorganisms can have on climate change. They learned how methane oxidizing bacteria, with their remarkable ability to consume methane, play a pivotal role in mitigating one of the most potent greenhouse gasses impacting our climate. Additionally, we discussed how these organisms can be used not only for methane consumption but also for the production of value added byproducts, such as biopolymers. Furthermore, their exploration extended to ammonium oxidizing bacteria (AOB), which also possess a critical role in the complex carbon and nitrogen cycles that influence greenhouse gas dynamics. Our team specifically wanted to expose the students to Dr. Stein's lab because the research being conducted there aligns specifically with iGEMs core values of using synthetic biology to solve real world problems, such as climate change.

Transitioning to the realm of molecular biology as a fundamental tool in synthetic biology, we visited the Molecular Biology Services Unit (MBSU) within the Faculty of Science and the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. Here, students gained insights into contemporary sequencing techniques, including the Sanger sequencing method, which has been a cornerstone of genetic analysis, and the newer NextSeq, and MiSeq sequencing technologies. They also learned how such facilities support researchers across various disciplines, enabling them to harness molecular biology tools to their fullest potential for the advancement of their research endeavors. The MBSU was instrumental in the success of our iGEM project, and with their commitment to supporting various members of the scientific community with molecular tools, their relation to the goals of iGEM were clear. Exposure to this facility allowed students to form a greater appreciation for the relevance of molecular biology within various disciplines and the role it plays in an iGEM project.

Following these informative tours, our iGEM student mentors delivered a short seminar entitled ‘Unlocking the Code of Life: Exploring DNA work and Synthetic biology’ where we discussed the application of synthetic biology in FEDDS. You can find a link to our seminar presentation here. The seminar introduced common techniques and concepts they might use in an iGEM project of their own. They even got the opportunity to look at some of the wet lab results from our project and draw conclusions.

We then guided the students to a classroom laboratory, where we provided instruction and assistance for an engaging experiment comparable to work that might be done in the event they pursue their own project. Each student was provided with a lab manual for the experiment, which you can find here. Additionally, knowing the fundamental nature of pipetting in molecular biology and the students limited experience with it, we provided each student with a handy, how to pipette guide, which you can find linked here. Working in pairs under the guidance of an iGEM student mentor, the students performed a mini-prep procedure to extract plasmid DNA from E. coli cells, the same pJUMP plasmid we used in our own cloning experiments! Subsequently, they performed gel electrophoresis to visualize the extracted DNA, with each student having the gratifying opportunity to take home a snapshot of their successful gel.

After a brief lunch break, we embarked on our final lab tour of the day. To reach our destination, we ventured across campus, taking the opportunity to highlight important University of Alberta landmarks and share insider tips and tricks for navigating the expansive campus. Our ultimate destination was our project's primary investigator, Dr. David Stuart's lab, one of the Alberta Metabolic Engineering Research Labs. Here the students were introduced to cutting-edge research in the field of synthetic biology. They learned about the potential for genetic engineering of fungi that could provide sustainable food alternatives that are more similar to meat in both taste and texture. Additionally, the students delved into the idea of space food, where synthetic biology and genetic engineering play a crucial role in developing nourishing and durable sustenance for extended space travel.

We never would have been able to host such an impactful event without the passion of the devoted science teacher. When reflecting on the experience, they shared that “the UAlberta iGEM team played a big role [in exposing high school students to hands-on science] as we toured the University and got hands-on in a real research lab.” They also explained that this experience “made the idea of being a “real-life scientist” much more accessible to my students, many who had never been to campus and had a hard time picturing what a research life could look like.”

Our team was thrilled that we had the opportunity to fulfill our initial goal of this event which was to foster an appreciation for synthetic biology and molecular biology by exhibiting they are both exciting and approachable fields. One of the core values of the iGEM competition focuses on expanding the public's knowledge of synthetic biology while encouraging an open community. Considering there is currently no high school iGEM team located in the Edmonton area and with this core goal of the iGEM competition in mind, we took this opportunity to establish the framework for this passionate science teacher to build an iGEM team of their own. Hosting a field trip was the first step in building this relationship between the University of Alberta’s iGEM team and this local high school which we will continue to foster. By equipping these high school students with a general idea of the scope of lab work, synthetic biology, and iGEM as a whole, we are confident that innovation will only grow and we cannot wait to see what the future holds.