Boston Open Science Laboratory (BosLab) is a community lab located in Somerville, Massachusetts. BosLab is dedicated to science outreach and it offers educational seminars, workshops, and hands-on molecular biology classes for the public. In September 2016, we held two Building with Biology events: a hands-on activities and public forum event. As a community lab, we were excited to join universities, museums, and other educational organizations nationwide in this public engagement project focused on synthetic biology.
BosLab recruited over 17 talented and devoted volunteers from local universities and biotech companies; we were grateful not only for their expertise in synthetic biology, but for their passion to engage the public on this topic. We held our activities event on September 17th at the Sprout Learning Center, a shared community space in Somerville. Our volunteers facilitated the activities, which included the activity Vitamin A: You Choose!, an activity that the was developed by the Museum of Science in Boston during the pilot year of the project. On the second floor, where our lab exists, we ran the rest of the activities including the very popular See DNA activity where visitors were able to extract and isolate DNA from wheat germ. This event also provided members of our lab the opportunity to share their projects with the participants, such as Project Age Tune-Up. We had over 55 participants, including one family who drove all the way from Quincy to visit us that day.
Our evening public forum Should We Engineer the Mosquito? took place on September 26th, at LabCentral in Kendall square. Guest speaker Kevin Esvelt, a professor at the MIT Media Lab, discussed the use of gene drive technology for something that hits close to home for the New England community: using gene drive technology as a means to control Lyme disease. After professor Evselt’s intriguing talk we continued with round-table discussions designed to examine the ethical and societal implications of releasing engineered mosquitos for the purpose of to eradicating malaria. The participants for this event were approximately half scientists and half non-scientists. A common theme that emerged from these discussions was the importance of effective communication and trust between the public and scientists.
The Building with Biology kit and forum stipend awarded to BosLab provided us with the funding and structure needed to organize these events, which were the largest events to date that BosLab has ever hosted. Post-event surveys indicated that it was an overall valuable learning experience for our participants and volunteers. This program has inspired us to organize new activities and run another public forum in 2017.