Public Awareness

BTI High School Teachers

Cornell’s Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) studies plants at the genetic and molecular level in order to understand and improve crop efficiency for human needs. They embody a strong sense of environmental responsibility, and as such, hosted the Bioenergy and Bioproducts Education Programs (BBEP) Master Teachers Workshop this year. BBEP equips high school science teachers with the resources to educate their students on sustainability and biologically-based industrial processes.

Our presentation encompassed the use of synthetic biology as a tool for monitoring byproducts of industrial processes and providing safer alternatives for sustainable development. We pass this information to teachers in the hope that they will inspire their students to think deeply about synthetic biology as a legitimate asset in facing the forthcoming economic and environmental issues of the day.

CIBT High School Teachers

The Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers (CIBT) is an annual workshop that allows current high school biology teachers to delve into lab techniques and new advances in biotechnology, and then take that experience back to the classroom. We contributed to this mission by giving a presentation and lab tour, introducing the teachers to synthetic biology, its applications to the real world, and resources available to further explore and develop interest in synthetic biology.

The combination of knowledge, enthusiasm, and experience that characterizes high school biology teachers renders them the perfect audience for critically assessing synthetic biology ideas, evaluating human practices concerns, and fostering a chain of lasting impacts upon future scientists and engineers. By targeting teachers, we hope to disseminate knowledge of and interest in synthetic biology to the coming generations.

Floating Classroom

The Cayuga Lake Floating Classroom is a local effort to allow well-informed, concerned citizens of Ithaca to educate others on the vast importance of Cayuga Lake. Led by limnologist Bill Foster and a host of other environmentally-conscious Ithacans, the Floating Classroom’s Eco-Cruises focus on the lake ecosystem and how it interacts with the greater Cayuga watershed (and beyond!).

We gave a presentation on one of these “eco-cruises”, introducing our project and synthetic biosensing as platforms for preserving the lake’s water quality. By presenting our project in the context of how it could benefit the local environment, we hoped to connect with the local community and get a sense of the potential impacts of a project such as our own. In the process, we met an incredibly active advocate against hydrofracking in New York; this is discussed more in the Human Practices section.


The Ithaca Sciencenter cultivates a culture of learning and discovery by providing opportunities for children, students, and adults to explore the vast domain of scientific inquiry. They also incorporate presentations about various scientific endeavors in Ithaca by allowing guest presenters to come in each weekend to foster hands-on learning activities.

We arranged a series of three presentations with the Sciencenter, which has progressed from an introduction to genetics to an introduction to synthetic biology, and will culminate in mid-October with a look into the applications of synthetic biology. The Sciencenter has allowed us to rouse enthusiasm for science among our younger audiences, and simultaneously spark discourse about synthetic biology among adults.

Video Collaboration

This year, Cornell iGEM led a collaboration project with AlumniGEM and the iGEM teams from SDU, UNAM Genomics Mexico, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and others. We sought to bring to light some of the ethical, social, and environmental implications of large-scale genetic engineering projects in modern society by creating a series of videos accessible to the general public. This video series is not a solely educational enterprise, nor are we trying to persuade our viewers to hold a particular view of genetic engineering. Our hope is to start a conversation between students, teachers, parents, other members of the public with valid concerns about genetic modification, and ourselves, young scientists trying to make a difference using scientific tools.

We aim to continue the dialogue about new technologies and advancements in the field of synthetic biology by expanding collaboration efforts such as our own, to reach broader audiences and further the spirit of transparent discussion of human practices issues. Our videos can be found on our Youtube channel, and please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.