UR igem wiki


  • Introduction
  • COVID-19 has affected many aspects of our lives, most notably, the in-person activities. When the team was brainstorming the ideas for establishing outreach initiatives this year, we wanted to create outreach/educational programs as engaging and meaningful as the in-person programs. We consulted professionals, such as Dr. Hammood, as well as our collaborators, teachers and students from Camp Sonshine and school No. 16. Through these conversations, we learned the difficulties and struggles teachers and students face during virtual teaching, such as challenges in keeping students engaged and focused. Additionally, they informed us ways undergraduate students like us could be part of the teaching process through creating and teaching interactive online modules and contents.
    We acknowledge our exceptional privilege to study at the University of Rochester as well as the strong science background we have through high-quality elementary and high school education. In the Greater Rochester community, many first-generation and/or low-income Rochester School District students do not have the access and resources for such enriching educational opportunities. We collaborated with the Upward Bound program, which is a summer pre-college program designed to help first-generation and/or low-income students in the Greater Rochester area who are enrolled in the Rochester City School District, with goals for them to gain admission to college. We also collaborated with School No. 16, a public elementary school in Rochester. Through hands-on demonstrations, engaging workshops, and fun experiments, we designed a course that allows students to actively learn and explore the STEM fields. We want to motivate these students to be passionate about the sciences and have a long-lasting impact on their future academic endeavors. During summertime, before the academic year has started, we also collaborated with Camp Sonshine in Maryland to deliver engaging experiments to the campers to further their interests in science and synthetic biology.

  • Synthetic Biology Education
  • 1. Upward Bound Synthetic Biology Modules


    Over the summer, we collaborated with the Upward Bound Math/Science program, one of the eight programs in the The Federal TRIO Program. It is designed to provide activities and academic programs that support and challenge low-income Rochester City School District high school students in their efforts to gain math and science skills as well as applying and gaining admission to college. The majority of academic programs are designed and taught by students and faculty at the University of Rochester. Selected students who enroll in the program are able to choose from various selections for the courses they are interested in learning over the summer. Due to COVID-19 this year, all the workshops and modules were transferred online.The team reached out to the director of the Upward Bound Program with interests in potential collaborations, which the director gladly accepted. Many high school students, even college students, are not familiar with synthetic biology and what it entails. There have not been any courses or workshops delivered in the Upward Bound Program that are related to synthetic biology. Thus, we created nine comprehensive online modules about synthetic biology for high school students participating in the Upward Bound Math/Science program. The modules include 1-2 readings, 10-15 minutes lecture, and at-home activities and questions that help students strengthen their understanding of the material and concepts illustrated in the modules. Each module also includes a Google Form where students were asked to answer the questions presented throughout the module. The nine modules covered genetics and synthetic biology basics, allowing students to be familiar with the common terminology and the techniques surrounding synthetic biology. We discussed the basic functions, application, and examples of biobricks, CRISPR/Cas9 systems, biosensors, and bioreporters. We also designed modules that reviewed the synthetic biology application in the real world, as well as leading the discussion on the ethical issues surrounding synthetic biology. There is also one module that specifically teaches students the structure of a lab report. During the module, we asked the students to write one lab report based on the DNA extraction experiment they performed at home through the protocols and videos we provided. The course overview, learning objectives, detailed course outline including the overview of each module, the links to the reading material and Google Form are listed below in the Upward Bound syllabus.

    Upward Bound Material:

    Module #1: Basic biology Module #1 PPT
    Module #2: Basic Synthetic biology Module #2 PPT
    Module #3: Biobricks Module #3 PPT Activity form #3
    Module #4: CRISPR/Cas9 System Module #4 PPT
    Module #5: Biosensors and bioreporters Module #5 PPT
    Module #6: Synthetic biology application in the real world Module #6 PPT
    Module #7: Ethical issues surrounding synthetic biology Module #7 PPT
    Module #8: How to write a lab report Module #8 PPT Sample Lab Report
    DNA Extraction Lab Report
    Lab report outline
    Module #9: Introduction of iGEM and Science As Art project Module #9 PPT Activity form #9
    This online module-based class is also uploaded to YouTube , and is, therefore, more accessible for individuals and students in areas with limited educational resources. All the videos are also posted on the URiGEM YouTube video channel.
    We received positive feedback from the students. The students who participated actively submitted their answers through a Google Form. It was unfortunate to not be able to interact with the students in person. However, after creating and teaching the materials and receiving emails from students expressing their enthusiasm about synthetic biology, we gladly found that our modules stimulated students' interests in synthetic biology and science. Some of the student’s responses of the Google Form are listed below.

    2. Camp Sonshine


    Camp Sonshine is a summer day camp in Montgomery County, Maryland. We delivered four science lessons surrounding basic science to elementary students virtually. We ordered and mailed the experimental supplies to the camp, and the camp then distributed the supplies to each camper's home. We focused on hands-on learning and activity in these sessions to stimulate student's interests in science and introduce the concept of synthetic biology. Through live Google Meet sessions, we were able to interact with students and answer their questions. Although we were miles away from the students, we could still feel the enthusiasm and enjoyment from the students during the session. We made a brief PDF document summarizing and listing the experimental steps, required materials, and the implication of the science. The overview of each workshop session as well as the corresponding PDF document are listed below.

    Invisible Ink

    We met with 11 students aged 4-10 to teach about the basic idea of synthetic biology. We did an activity where the students were taught how to paint using ink they make themselves. We showed them how bacteria look and explained that if you change bacteria's genetic information, they can make the bacteria do new things, like producing chemicals or "sing.” The students drew their bacteria using the invisible ink made from baking soda and water and revealed their bacteria picture using a solution made from turmeric and alcohol. They were all excited to see how science works on their piece of paper. They were inspired to understand that by manipulating the DNA, the organism can gain new functions.

    Learn About Cell Structure

    For this activity, we had 8 students participate in the session. We did an activity where students used craft materials to create cells and learn about various organelles and cellular structures. Students were amazed by how these microscopic structures are all over their body and functioning to keep them alive and healthy. The students were taught about each structure of the cell by comparing them to the components of a city. After we finished creating our cells, we reviewed what each organelle and structure were and the students recalled how they were analogous to the city. The students even expressed interest in learning more about cells. At the end of the workshop, students were asked if they enjoyed the workshop. All students answered yes. When asked about whether they would change anything about the workshop, the students said there was nothing different they would have liked except wanting to spend more time learning about the cells!

    Science as Arts

    There were about 15 students attending the session for Science as Arts. We began our session with a discussion of what science is. We introduced what science includes, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as what scientists do. Students told us their general definition of science, or things that are related to science. Some answers include “the explosion” “things involved with experiments” or “study of why things work”. We then asked students to use the art material we provided to express their definition of science. When we and the students were making the art, we asked students what they know about scientists and if they want to become one. Some students told us that scientists are cool as they do experiments and discover new things". They also showed interest in taking more STEM related classes in the future. At the end of the session, we asked students to share what they have made and why they think what they made represent science. Some students made flowers and plants, as “studying nature is part of science”; some students made a model of an alien, as “science allows humans to create new things that would help us”. We received various art works from students as well as their positive feedback on the session, claiming that they now have a rough idea about what science is.

    Jelly Bean Genetics

    We did an activity where the students learnt about the basic concept of genetics and hereditary factors. We explained to them how traits could be inherited and how the selection of the genes is random so that every person looks different. The idea was presented using cups and jellybeans, where the cups represent each person in the family tree, and 6 jelly beans per cup represent that person’s genome. The students were asked to close their eyes and choose 3 jelly beans from each parent to fill their offspring’s cup. The children were all very excited and they were sharing how they look similar to their parents and their grandparents but also how they can still be different from their siblings. They were positively amazed by our genome, but also by the fact of using edible materials in the experiment.

    Glowing Slime

    There were 12 students attending the session. The camp counselor told us that the students were excited about the glowing slime experiment for a week. Following the step by step instructions, students were able to make slime that glows in the dark. Some students unfortunately were unable to make a stretchy slime and were frustrated about the result. We tried to identify the problem, as some were caused by measurement error. We told students that troubleshooting is something scientists face and deal with everyday. While it is celebratory when the experiments worked, there are many moments where scientists have to analyze the problems to attempt to find the causes of a failed experiment during their research. Fortunately, after adjusting the measurement, most of the students made successful glowing slime. We also talked about the science behind slime on how slime is made from crosslinks between the borate ions in slime activators and the polymer in the glue. Students really liked the analogy of spaghetti, where we compared slime with a clump of spaghetti that tangles together. Students were excited throughout the whole experiment and told us they would want to do more science experiments in the future.

    Other experiment instructions

    Overall, students enjoyed the experiment and the workshops as everytime we asked students how the workshop was, they told us they had fun and looked forward to the next session. Students were excited throughout the experiment and actively participated in the discussion and conversation. There were some areas for improvements which we recognized and incorporated for our teaching in school No.16 to deliver a more efficient and effective curriculum. The details for improvements are listed in the section below.

    3. Science teaching in School No.16

    Mr. Curtis Birthwright and Ms. Kathryn Frank are grade 5 teachers in John Walton Spencer School #16, in Rochester, New York. We met with both teachers in early June and began our collaboration in September when the academic semester started. Both teachers have extensive knowledge and experience teaching elementary school students. Since students are taking classes online, we delivered the supplies to the teachers, who kindly distributed the supplies to each student’s home prior to the session. We taught a total of four sessions, similar to those from Camp Sonshine, with improvements based on the feedback from the camp counselor and students in Camp Sonshine as well as the team members.
    This year, we were incredibly excited and fortunate to teach elementary and high school students about science and introduce to them the basic concept of synthetic biology. Throughout the process, we learnt various skills and techniques to design effective teaching materials and to deliver interactive content virtually to students. The enthusiasm of teachers and students motivated and inspired us. Students' warm greetings and their smiles when they learnt something exciting brightened our day and let us truly believe in the value of education. We are grateful for the opportunity and support we received, and would continue to strive for equal and high-quality science education for the students in the future.

  • Endometriosis Education Project
  • Introduction

    Endometriosis is a disease characterized by the presence of endometrium-like tissue at sites outside the uterus, and it often induces a chronic inflammatory reaction, scar tissue, and adhesions that may distort a woman’s pelvic anatomy. Endometriosis affects approximately 10% of women of reproductive age, although estimates vary based upon low diagnosis rates.[1] Endometriosis has an average delay in diagnosis of 11.7 years in the USA. [2] Women often find that health professionals normalize their symptoms and have limited knowledge of endometriosis. A substantial issue with healthcare in the United States continues to be gender disparities in the diagnosis, treatment, and funding for reproductive health care. Not only is there a lack of knowledge among the American public in regards to endometriosis, but many general practitioners and physicians claim to have limited information and training on this disease as well. This disease affects more than 200 million women worldwide and can lead to severe symptoms impacting reproductive health. [3] Thus, it is imperative to remember that early diagnosis of endometriosis and early intervention are the best prevention of the exacerbation of the disease. The key to earlier diagnosis, avoiding unnecessary pain, distress and possible disease progression, is awareness and knowledge of endometriosis among health professionals, patients and the community.

    The need of endometriosis education

    The team interacted and talked with various health professionals, non-profit organizations, and foundations that have extensive knowledge in endometriosis and have been working in the field for many years striving to make positive impacts for the community. Through our meetings, one common issue regarding endometriosis was addressed repeatedly: the lack of education about endometriosis among healthcare providers, patients, and the general public. The lack of awareness of the disease contributes to the delay in diagnosis and treatment, as well as elongation of suffering of the disease. For example, Dr. Gubbels, a gynecologist specializing in endometriosis from University of Rochester Medical Center, stressed the importance of educating teenagers and physicians (especially family medicine and pediatrics) about endometriosis, as there is not enough accessible material targeting these two groups about endometriosis education. She also suggested presenting educational material through brochures or another accessible format and distributing them to clinics and health offices. Dr. King, the director and founder of Menstrual-matters website, also addressed the importance of educating both the public and physicians about endometriosis. She stated in her email that “the main issue related to endometriosis is to not take women’s experiences of severe pain seriously, and to not provide them with evidence-based information about how best to manage/treat their symptoms as things currently stand”. Ms. Guidone, the surgical program director of the Center for Endometriosis Care and endometriosis patient, also illustrated that “many complaints from endometriosis patients were ignored, assuming they were made up or exaggerated”. She also mentioned repeatedly the spread of misleading and inaccurate information about endometriosis on social media and in the community. The team had an initial idea of designing a project that could raise awareness for endometriosis, and after the meeting with several professionals, who informed us about the lack of access to educational material in the community about endometriosis, it solidified our determination to create accessible and accurate educational material about endometriosis and to spread them widely to the community. Dr. Gubbels mentioned that “[endometriosis patients] are really touched when they find someone that just listens and takes them seriously… and that is really heartbreaking.” The team wanted to take the initiative and devote our time to be part of the advocacy for endometriosis and be the people who listen and take endometriosis patients seriously.

    Creation of educational material

    The team created a website, infographics and brochures that provide information about endometriosis through reviewing recently published literature. The information is tailored to target different groups: adolescents, adults, post-menstrual and health care providers as well as a section including information about general women’s health. Through our educational material, we hope more physicians will consider the possibility of endometriosis when patients bring symptoms relating to the illness and provide proper treatment and care. We also hope patients and people in the community could be more familiar about endometriosis. All of the educational material went through several revisions from experts and were eventually distributed to the community. Below is the summary of revisions and the topics we decided to cover after consultation with several organizations and professionals.

    Reaching out to wide audience

    Other outreach events to raise awareness about endometriosis

    It was an incredible experience for the team to design a comprehensive educational material and to interact with professionals working closely with endometriosis. Their support, enthusiasm, and encouragement towards our project and advocacy for endometriosis deeply inspired us. We received positive feedback from all of the experts we talked and collaborated with. They expressed their appreciation towards our effort in raising awareness of endometriosis and our interests in advocating for endometriosis. Our website has more than 400 visits and and our brochures and infographics were distributed widely on the University of Rochester campus, medical center, and clinics, as well as being advertised on social media of various organizations. Through the creation of the material, we learned some of the heartbreaking facts about endometriosis, such as widespread misinformation about endometriosis, patients who were not taken seriously, were neglected, were refused for proper treatment, and the gender disparities in women’s health and science research relating to endometriosis. However, it is also comforting to see that there is an increasing awareness about endometriosis in the medical field and the general community, as well as among many advocacy organizations and foundations that offer incredible support, accurate information and useful advice. We know that the situation will only be improved if we keep putting the effort into educating ourselves and the community, as well as advocating for those whose voices are not heard. Our advocacy and education for endometriosis and women’s health will not end with the conclusion of the iGEM competition. We will be continuing our advocacy in our lives and encourage people around us to do the same.

  • References
  • [1]Olive, D. L., & Pritts, E. A. (2001). Treatment of Endometriosis. New England Journal of Medicine, 345(4), 266–275.
    [2]Hadfield, R., Mardon, H., Barlow, D., & Kennedy, S. (1996). Delay in the diagnosis of endometriosis: a survey of women from the USA and the UK. Human Reproduction, 11(4), 878–880.
    [3]Adamson, G. D., Kennedy, S., & Hummelshoj, L. (2010). Creating Solutions in Endometriosis: Global Collaboration through the World Endometriosis Research Foundation. Journal of Endometriosis, 2(1), 3–6.