Aachen 14-10-10 Logo NEAnderLab.jpg

School Project at the NEAnderLab

The NEAnderLab is a laboratory in Hilden where classes from schools in the region can do a range of experiments and workshops, from soldering to PCR. As a part of our initiative to spark interest for (synthetic) biology and DIY hardware in the young generation, we cooperated with the high school Gymnasium am Neandertal to bring a grade 11 biology standard level class into the lab.

Overall, this event was a great success! We got really good positive feedback from both students and instructors, and the project even made it into a local newspaper. Rheinische Post reported about the collaboration between our iGEM team and the NEAnderLab in the article "Schüler forschen mit Studenten im Neanderlab" ("High school students do research with university students in the Neanderlab") on September 24th, 2014.

Summary of the Day

The students carried out multiple experiments in context of our iGEM project. During the day, the students collected samples from an E. coli TB culture every 30 minutes to observe the exponential growth phase. The optical density was measured with our own DIY photometer. Overall, the students did a good job of treating their bacterial culture well, as shown in the graph below.

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Growth profiles of E. coli
Optical density of the cultures measured by the students

In between the growth curve measurements, we introduced the iGEM competition and synthetic biology. Of course, our team members also explained the bacterial growth properties and how we can observe the propagation of cells using the photometer. After the sudden fire alarm and evacuation of the building, the rest of the day dealt with different types of "glowing" in nature, including bioluminescence, fluorescence and phosphorescence. We started by explaining the mechanism behind bioluminescence in the context of quorum sensing of Vibrio fischeri in squid. As another example of glowing organisms we chose Pseudomonas fluorescens. Students plated P. fluorescens onto Pseudomonas-F agar plates containing different concentrations of iron. These type of bacteria produce fluorescing siderophores when iron concentrations are low. After an incubation period of 1 to 2 days, the students should be able to see nice results in form of fluorescing and non-fluorescing bacterial colonies on their plates.

The students also carried out some experiments from the NEAnderLab's workshops, such as Cold Light of the Deep Sea, an experiment on chemiluminscence of luminol catalyzed by a copper wire. Playing around with glowing liquids of different colours in the dark was also a lot of fun!

At the end of the day, we also answered the students' questions about synthetic biology and the Biology/Biotechnology university programs. As a souvenir, each student got to keep a phosphorescing stone.


The students were also asked to fill out an evaluation sheet. The reception of the program was good, especially when considering that the class consisted of mostly students that chose biology because they are required to select one of either chemistry, physics or biology and thought that biology was the easiest one and that there would be no math involved (haha!). The results of the evaluation were good, and are shown below.

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Summary of the students' evaluation of their experience with us in the NEAnderLab.
a) Questions on how students liked the program (1=very good, 5=poor); b) General questions about MINT (mathematics-informatics-natural sciences-technology) subjects

The results of this evaluation clearly show that our team members did a good job in achieving our goal: explaining synthetic biology in a comprehensible and fun way. The students liked the experiments and lessons. =)

This reflects the enthusiasm we observed when working with the students of this biology class. We therefore recommend school collaborations like ours to other iGEM teams as a successful way to spread knowledge about iGEM and synthetic biology. High school students are a promising target group because they are open-minded, keen to learn more about current developments and they also share their experience with their family and friends, potentially resulting in discussion of synthetic biology at home. This way, we promote an unbiased debate about the benefits and challenges of synthetic biology.