Education and popularization of science
Education and popularization of science is interwoven through our work. Getting theoretical knowledge and practical experience is great, but the opportunity to share it is absolutely fantastic. For us, the popularization of science is more of a hobby than a strenuous task. Research and technologies are evolving at a rapid pace and we are glad to be able to bridge the gap between experts in the field and the general public, at least a little bit.
We have also heard many differing views and opinions regarding our project from others. For someone outside of the biological field, it can be difficult to understand and imagine what working with GMOs mean and thus a lot of scary and inaccurate narratives can form. These narratives then often influence public opinions and unfortunately can also find its way into legislation and regulations. As it can be difficult to read and understand complex scientific articles, we wish to provide some basic information for people to be able to form a better understanding of this topic.
We would also love to inspire young people to take interest in science, like we were inspired by our teachers, scientists, influencers or characters from our favourite stories.
Our czech Website
As we couldn't create our team wiki at the beginning stages of our project, we've decided to also create our website written in czech. We could use this website to provide information about us and about our project. It is also a useful tool to introduce ourselves to potential donors and companies that want to support our project financially or materialy.
We also hosted several educational activities created by us during lock-down. Those activities include online courses, our blog or scientific coloring books for children. As they are connected to a server, our creations are available for anyone with a link.
Online courses are pop-science articles, covering a variety of biological topics. Going through one of these courses should take around 15-20 min. These articles can also bring many interesting ideas to the reader's attention as some are written by students of genetics and others might be done by IT students, economists or biochemists.
We wanted to bring complex topics to people's attention in a fun and easily digestible way. We wanted to show that seemingly boring subjects often hide a lot of unexpected and fascinating facts. At the end of every course there is a quiz where readers can test their newly gained knowledge and get a fun certificate after its completion.
These courses also motivate us to keep educating ourselves and to keep searching for new and interesting information.
There are almost 20 courses ready for you to enjoy! We've also gotten some positive feedback from school principals, who recommended some of our courses to teachers.
Our online courses are available here. Most of them are in Czech but two of them are also in English.
Example of one of our courses in PDF is here.
Magazine and Scientific coloring book
Like everywhere else, our plans were disrupted by the coronavirus situation. Suddenly we found ourselves in a nation-wide lock-down, as Czech government discouraged anyone from going outside unless it was absolutely necessary. We had to cancel some of our events and postpone them indefinitely. Nevertheless, we didn’t just sit at home and wait for everything to blow over. We set up online meetings and we devised a way to educate people online. We started working on our online courses. But we felt like it wasn’t enough. Therefore we created a short, biology-themed magazine with interesting articles, crosswords, word search puzzles and quizzes. We also mentioned our iGEM journey.
Our magazine was primarily distributed into retirement homes, children’s homes or to waiting rooms at doctor's offices. We have contacted dozens of these institutions informing about our magazine and we have gotten a lot of positive feedback. We have received many messages thanking us and sending photos of seniors and children with our magazine.
Children from children's home Uherský Ostroh with our Scientific coloring book and seniors from retirement home Komárov with our Magazine
During national quarantine many university students were asked to volunteer as our classes were often canceled. Some of us delivered groceries for people who were unable to go out or babysat children of essential workers. So we added word searches, crosswords and color books to groceries which were being delivered to the most vulnerable people for whom it was too risky to leave their house.
Retirement homes and children's homes which contacted us and used our Magazine or Scientific coloring book
Our blog is located on our web page and we use it to describe our journey through iGEM in a journal form. Those texts are longer than our social media posts as we write about our experiences with planning and performing our experiments as well as share our feelings. Part of our blog is also a monthly diary in which we archive our social media posts so they can be viewed even after some time. You find our blog here.
Our blog topics
#neDĚLEJztohoVĚDU (# IT'S not rocket SCIENCE)
One of the things we always wanted to do was educate people about GMOs. The European Union has quite a negative view on GMOs and even though Czech republic used to cultivate GMO plants, there is a ton of misinformation and scare-campaigns going around about the use of GMOs.
We also wanted to find out as much as we can about this topic, so that we could provide accurate scientific information in a less complex and more digestible form. Every member of our team began searching different aspects of GMOs from scientific articles, legislative or anti-GMO campaigns to get a complex view on the topic. We spent almost three months creating a presentation “GMOs under magnifying glass” and we keep adding new information to this day.
In the end, we created two different lectures - one is written for the general public and the other one is aimed at an audience with slightly deeper understanding and interest in biology, such as older highschool students who would like to pursue higher education in biology. The lecture is 110 minutes long and is followed up with a discussion where everyone can contribute. These discussions often get rather interesting.
Outline of our lecture
- First we present foundational information about genetic modifications and the biology behind this process in an easy to understand and slightly simplified form.
- We discuss basic knowledge about cells, DNA, genes and methods of transformation and also provide a comparison with other methods humans have used to alter the genetic pools of our animals and plants for centuries like selective breeding.
- We then present a short example of genetic modification using props made out of paper.
- In the second part, we introduce fully functional uses of GMOs in different areas like agriculture, medicine, industry and ecology.
- Next we discuss the common myths surrounding GMOs, how they came to be and why they are often not accruate and not backed by proper research.
- Afterwards, we briefly talk about GMOs in Czech Republic and European Union from a legal perspective. We draw comparisons to the legislature in the USA.
- At the end, we talk about the potential use of GMOs in the future, mentioning fascinating new possibilities which could open to us.
- We also briefly introduce our project and our goals.
In the end, we held four lectures - two for the general public, and two for highschool students focusing on biology. Overall, approximately 150 people attended these lectures. Several of the lectures we've planned were postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus situation. We would however definitely like to continue as soon as possible.
Part of our team after first Lecture about GMOs at Cafe Práh holding special props
Quiz nights, often held in pubs, are quite popular in our Country. People can form a team with their friends and compete, testing their knowledge on certain topics as well as having fun. Therefore, we created 51 questions focusing on different scientific-non-scientific topics. The questions centered around famous scientists, science in movies, sci-fi, scientific myths and miracles of science and nature.
Everyone learned something new and it was definitely fun.
Examples of slides from our nonScientific quiz presentation
We've organized everything, from picking interesting questions and finding the venue to moderating. The quiz took three hours and there were 9 teams competing (over 60 people in total). Reward for the best non-scientists was a bottle of rum.
Atmosphere durning nonScientivic quiz
Children's Day takes place on the first of June and is a nationwide opportunity to hold a fun event aimed at the younger population. We took part in such an event, where we had a booth with a chemical and biological theme. We have spent the whole day entertaining children and their curious parents. The visitors could learn all about DNA as well as isolate this molecule from their spit in our field laboratory. Children of course only with their parent's permission. Many children ended up with a tube containing their DNA.
One of our biochemists also performed some chemical experiments under professional surveillance. The show attracted a lot of people.
Here are some of the experiments:
- Turning a flame green using boric acid
- Elephant paste - Degradation of hydrogen peroxide, catalysed by the addition of Kl produces a lot of soupy substance (We added a drop of soap for better effect)
According to organizers, there were between 400-500 people present.
We also helped out Bioskop at an event celebrating Mendel’s birthday. Event was held in the gardens in front of Mendel’s muzeum and it was primarily aimed at children. Their parents and grandparents were also very interested. To the youngest participants, we gave our color book and older members of the audience were shown petri dishes with bacteria and antibiotics as we explained antibiotic resistance to them.
Children could also try out a DNA building kit - the queue for this event was rather long. We were also completing a time axis of important scientific discoveries together and talking about some interesting facts in regards to these findings. According to organizers, several hundred people attended.
Celebration of Mendel's birthday
Nowadays, social media are a major source of information and entertainment. We’ve decided to use a few of these platforms to share our journey through the iGEM competition, in order to reach larger audiences interested in the topic of synthetic biology. We are also hoping that through social media, our project can find its way to the people who might need it or to the people who might offer us financial or material support. We have managed to gain a fairly large fanbase. As time went on, we’ve figured out what sort of content does well on which platform, and we’ve made changes accordingly.
Facebook became our main platform as we have managed to gather the largest following there. We also use this platform to promote our events and other things we created.
Science Wednesdays are regular weekly posts which include various themes related to our project, GMOs or synthetic biology. These posts are written to be understood and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their knowledge of biology. We have posted more than 20 of these.
Example of one of #ScienceWednesdays
Project Fridays are again regular weekly posts. Project Fridays are written in a bit more of a scientific language. At the beginning of our iGEM journey, we would mainly post about our ideas for our project and inform our followers about the things we would like to implement. Some of those posts were about dead ends - about concepts we dismissed because we found out they wouldn’t work or because they turned out to be irrelevant. Later it became a weekly report about our progress in the lab. We also described some common methods used in synthetic biology research to bring the lab work closer to our followers.
Example of one of #ProjectFridays
The content put out on our Instagram is significantly shorter than on Facebook. We decided to focus on the pictures and graphics, as they seem to bring more engagement. Nevertheless we also use Instagram for posting about important awareness days (e.g. Earth Day), or about blood donations and more. We found that our followers there enjoyed this format.
Examples of our IG scientific quizzes
One of the main reasons behind getting a twitter account was to follow other iGEM teams and see what they're up to. In Czech Republic, twitter is not the most popular social network, so our options with it were limited. Still, we shared some of our achievements and wrote about relevant topics there. Our tweets were primarily in English, as our followers there were not all from Czech Republic.