Education is an important side of iGEM that we have tried to highlight throughout the summer. We felt it was essential to share knowledge beyond the scientific community, as technologies like Phagent will eventually reach far beyond those in areas of research. First, education raises awareness about biology problems. By involving the public in scientific projects, people don’t feel that scientists hide things from them avoiding hostile reactions to new technologies. Finally, sharing science in younger spheres can raise vocations and inspire the next generation of researchers. However, social distancing imposed an additional challenge and we had to reinvent how to meet with the public. We carried out several actions:
The Phagent summer series
Knowing that face-to-face communication would be limited in the era of COVID-19, we sought a tech-savvy solution that would both provide visual stimulation to foster engagement and substantive content to provide education. Using the unique artistic talents of one of our team members, we created a short series of educational comics specifically targeted at social media consumption, which has had increased traffic in this period of social isolation. We divided our project up into its three axes, bacteriophages, cancer, and the microbiome, to form “The Phagent Summer Series”. Incorporating a mixture of hand-drawn figures and text with a modern color scheme, we aimed to create an eye catching icon that would best compete against the multitude of other stimuli in the Twitterverse. However, that is not to say that the comics were without substance; rather, once we had our viewers attention, we broke down each aspect of our project into simple, easy to understand language to best lead them through the different areas of our project and educate them about synthetic biology and cancer therapy in general. Each axis was treated as a “season”, divided into six or seven episodes that were released twice per week. We encourage you to read the episodes by clicking through the thumbnails and reposting them on your social media accounts to help us spread our educational message. At the end of summer The Phagent summer series collected in total more than 500 views on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Several of the followers commented on our posts and discussions allowed us to further spread the nature of our project and iGEM in general. While we hope that during the Jamboree and beyond our comics will continue to reach a broader population, we are also in the process of compiling the episodes into a book to facilitate a non-digital experience of our series (see next).
Phagent series become a book
In order to reach more people and a younger public, we decided to print the episodes and make it a book! Twenty copies have been made and spread in different French middle and high schools. The goal was to diffuse scientific knowledge to help pupils find what they like in life by hatching their curiosity. Moreover, it is a way to increase exposure of our Montpellier iGEM team in the region and more generally to communicate about the iGEM competition and world beyond the scientific biotechnologists. It's in French, but you can have a look :
I've gotta PhD collaboration
‘I’ve gotta Ph.D.’ is a Facebook page created by two Twaianese teams: CSMU and NCKU. The acronym Ph.D. is used for Public health education and the goal is to share ideas, deliver knowledge, or even start a discussion with any kind of creative formats. When we saw the opportunity to spread more knowledge, we didn’t hesitate and decided to participate in the project. It was the opportunity to share on another subject than Phagent as our social networks were already dedicated to Phagent. You can discover below the subject we choose and the poster created.
In the context of iGEM, as in the world of research, it is extremely important to communicate about science and to make the projects on which we are working accessible to the general public. The first step before the acceptance of a novelty is to inform the target population and engage in education. By transmitting the information we offer the tools to be able to build critical thinking that will be negative or positive but better founded. In scientific communication, it’s possible to communicate research in different forms, such as exhibitions, movies, videos, documentaries, books, comic strips, card games etc.. Each of these media has a different target audience, depending on the generation or social background for example. For our project, Phagent, we wanted to use an interactive communication medium that can be used with a wide range of people, by building an educational video game. Video games are an extremely interesting communication platform in the framework of scientific communication, they allow the target audience to interact with the subject in a playful way, which accentuates the learning effect, even on audiences more closed to it. We decided to make a platform video game named Phagent as our project to teach what phages are, with different levels to show how phages work, and how we could use them for new therapies development (like killing cancer cells), and some important notions ( like: phages only infect bacteria, we need to find an equilibrium between infection rate and survival of bacteria and phages to keep a constant phage pool).
We build a simple gameplay where the player can control a phage that infects bacteria and replicate to survive by injecting its DNA into the bacteria, which will create new phages that the player can also control. During the course of the game, information appears as banners according to the level to integrate the notions relating to the phage, directly illustrated by the addition of a novelty in the gameplay or a new action possible by the phage. All along the game Phages have a limited lifetime, the player then needs to finish the Level before all the phages die and replicate as much as possible to be able to finish it on time. The player will also face enemies that he will have to avoid and the ultimate goal of the game is to fight cancer with those phages (last level) following our iGEM project idea.