One of the bigger aims of iGEM Foundation is enabling local individuals to solve local problems all around the world.
As our iGEM community grows, with each year thousands of new individuals being added to it, we keep on hearing from our iGEMers of what they learned from the iGEM Competition and the amazing work they’re doing now.
After iGEM is a platform where we not only get connected with such iGEMers but also facilitate them to continue making a positive impact in the society. Representative Program is one such platform through which we support our iGEMers and make opportunities accessible to them.
Recently, After iGEM sent 2 iGEMers, Heber Torres and Paula Thiel from Latin America, to the RedPop Festival and Biotechnology and Bio entrepreneurship Symposium for Bioeconomic Development. The festival brought the regional science and technology community together to convene on myriad topics.
During their participation they primarily focused on the following objectives
- Raising Awareness about the iGEM Competition and Synthetic Biology in Latin America
- Sharing their experiences of working on developing an open-source ecosystem and science communication.
- Bridging the gap between iGEMers in the region and providing resources to schools and universities who want to be part of the iGEM Competition through After iGEM.
Read about Paula’s and Heber’s experience
During one week, I was able to represent iGEM in two main events: RedPOP and the Biotechnology and Bio entrepreneurship Symposium for Bioeconomic Development.
Topics such as science communication, synthetic biology, and circular economy were a major part of these events which had a representation from different countries of the Latin American region. We were able to share with them our experience in the iGEM Competition and what we learned from it with a diverse crowd while also developed a lasting relationship with the community.
One of the main ideas that were addressed in the talks, panels and round tables was the importance of transmitting science to the public through a simple language and in a playful manner. It was mentioned that the audience might retain more information when they can relate it to the learning experiences they are living. I found this information interesting and useful because it is closely related to the areas of public engagement and education that the iGEM competition encourages through Human Practices. Therefore, it provided me some new ideas for promoting science outreach in our region. Moreover, the speakers mentioned that scientists need to be more proactive in looking for the media when they want to communicate their findings and not just expect the communicators to find them, which I consider being an important issue to take into account as a researcher.
In addition, we were able to contribute to those topics through talks and round tables, where we explained how iGEM has contributed to spread and democratize Synthetic Biology in the world, and the focus it has kept on the biosafety measures. It is because of this competition that groups of students have worked and are working on finding solutions to regional problems using Synthetic Biology and inspire others to do the same.
As iGEM representatives, we were able to continue promoting this by motivating the audience to participate in this competition. As the Panama team was once the reason why the Costa Rican team was created, now I tried to return the favor to them and incentivize the conformation of new teams in Panama. We received a promising response from students of the Latin University and high school students who are aspiring to take Panama back to iGEM.
Personally, I really enjoyed this opportunity from After iGEM. I returned with a lot of contacts and new ideas to implement in Costa Rica. For example, I am now planning an activity in the Children Museum to explain what Synthetic Biology is and how it has multiple applications that can help in the development of our region. Additionally, I will like to keep in touch with the future Panama´s iGEM teams, so that we can collaborate to strengthen the Central American teams and, consequently, promote the potential of Synthetic Biology for a more robust Bioeconomy.
During this event I had the opportunity to understand a side of science and biotechnology that, in most cases, we as scientists don’t pay much heed to: the scientific communication of our projects and the dissemination of science. During the congress, and in each one of the conferences, it was a great motivation to listen to the talks and experiences of many people passionate about scientific research and its dissemination. These are the individuals whose job is to make the most recent discoveries known to a society. Among the most important points that I consider were treated during the event, it was in the importance and relevance that the scientific communicators have, since they are the voice of science. Not all scientists have the gift of communicating science, and the reality is that it is not the obligation of scientists; for that kind of activities there may be specialized people to whom the task is delegated. But we cannot ignore that scientific communication is important because synthetic biology, for example, seeks to solve local problems, and to achieve this, it is necessary to first know those problems. Knowing that proposing a solution to these problems implies an approach to society, this type of event teaches us about the strategies that exist for scientific dissemination; about how different people all over the world use their talents and abilities that, although they are not researchers in the vast majority of cases, they manage scientific research by different methods and achieve a social understanding.
Personally, having the opportunity to share my experiences as a member of a Latin iGEM team with the rest of the attendees, enabled me to support the idea of the importance of democratization of synthetic biology for better acceptance. I was able acknowledge that we still have a lot to contribute to the communication of our work, especially in a region as conservative as Latin America. However, this type of opportunity allows us to contribute to generate a greater interest in biotechnology and synthetic biology, meanwhile creating that desire to investigate for their own research on scientific topics. In the end, that is what research is about, to create doubt and to try to solve it following the scientific method.
I am very grateful to After iGEM for the opportunity of being an iGEM Representative in this event, since it not only gave me the opportunity to meet new people, share my experiences and meet a country as full of talent and aspirations as Panama is, but also it helped me to expand my horizons in terms of science communication and my desire to dedicate myself to scientific education. As for what follows for me, I believe that the next step is to continue supporting the iGEM Foundation in advising and training new teams in Latin America, and to continue exploiting my talent as a scientific communicator through activities and events that support the democratization of synthetic biology; continue in the mentorship program and keep in touch with the teams that need my help.
"In iGEM we had the opportunity to gain experience and learn from it, in After iGEM we have the opportunity to share it with others"- Heber Torres