Summer Pathways Connects iGEM Teams and High School Students

Boston University iGEM teams hosted 26 high school girls interested in pursuing a STEM-oriented college education on July 12th for a day of interactive activities, discussions and a forum about synthetic biology.

The event began with iGEM private investigator Doug Densmore introducing the field of synthetic biology and a short video about the terraforming of Mars, which was to be discussed later in the day.

After that, the girls were split into three groups to participate in activities the iGEM teams had planned.

Inspired by the Museum of Science: Building with Biology event they had recently participated in, the iGEM teams decided to break their one hour session with the girls into two blocks. The first half hour was divided into three activities: one for Wetlab, one for Hardware and one for collaborative.

For the Wetlab activity, the girls were presented with a scenario they needed to solve using synthetic biology principles and cutting pieces of yarn, analogous to genes. Then, they discussed the ethics and feasibility of their work.

The Hardware activity was an introduction to basic circuitry which the team presented with a poster and a breadboard with a tricolored diode. They also showed the girls their microfluidic chip that they are working on as part of their project.

The collaborative activity was an introduction to the Wetlab project of engineering gene expression illustrated through the team’s circuit box presented at Building with Biology. It also included how parts of a circuit were analogous to aspects of biology, and how logic circuits and engineering principles are placed into living cells to create the field of synthetic biology.

The second part of the workshop was an ethical discussion on the hypothetical scenario of earth’s overpopulation and the possibility of terraforming Mars. After splitting into groups and doing background reading, the girls launched into discussions about whether Mars should be terraformed, the methods used to inhabit Mars, the ethical implications of their chosen methods to Mars and Earth and how synthetic biology could be used to overcome some of the problems that could arise from their decisions.

Professor Densmore concluded the workshop, asking if the girls learned at least one thing from the day’s activities. There was not a single person who said she did not.

The girls were very animated and thanked the teams tremendously, some saying they may pursue synthetic biology in the future. The iGEM teams walked away smiling as well, happy to share their knowledge and excitement about their work.