Building with Biology

Project overview

The Building with Biology project created conversations in museums among scientists and public audiences about the emerging field of synthetic biology and societal implications. Synthetic biology uses new techniques combining biology and engineering to make new or modified living things and materials. The field is exploring where biology-based products might provide solutions to a wide diversity of problems in health, energy, and the environment.

The project community includes informal science educators, researchers, and scientists dedicated to developing innovative resources, practices and processes to build the capacity of the field to use public engagement with science (PES) activities. Project participants work together to extend STEM learning about science, technology, and societal implications through public and scientist dialogue about synthetic biology.

The Building with Biology resource kit was built through a collaboration of informal science education (ISE) institutions and partnering scientists. During the summer of 2016, nearly two hundred (200) sites nationwide received physical kits and participated in Building with Biology events and conversations.

Through their involvement in Building with Biology activities and events, scientists will:

  • Benefit from hearing public perspectives directly from the public participants and have the opportunity to share their own research and perspectives with the public.
  • Get an opportunity to use science communication techniques by engaging with public participants through hands-on activities and conversations in public forums about synthetic biology.
  • Have the opportunity for professional development through participation in online training in science communication and public engagement provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

New 2018 Building with Biology forum materials

The Building with Biology project team has received supplemental funding from the National Science Foundation to develop a new public forum on human genome editing called Editing our Evolution: Rewriting the Humane Genome

​Additional forum resources

Summer 2016 Building with Biology events and conversations

Two-hundred (200) free physical kits have been awarded to successful applicants from informal science education and research institutions. These kits were used in summer 2016 Building with Biology events nationwide. The following organizations received a physical Building with Biology kit.

Building with Biology kit

Building with Biology physical kits included:

Educational Resources

  • Six hands-on activities
    • The activities are designed to promote conversations between the public and scientists about the social and ethical considerations of synthetic biology
    • Activities investigate how synthetic biology is interconnected with society, introduce some of the tools scientists use, and explore the applications of synthetic biology in health, food, energy, and the environment
    • Activities will not require special lab facilitites or equipment
  • One forum
    • This longer forum is designed as a facilitated group experience between members of the public and scientists
    • The forum is about biologically engineered mosquitos to combat malaria
  • Educational event posters and multimedia
    • These materials are designed to help set the context of the event and provide some background information to the public

Professional Resources

  • Facilitator guides for activities and conversations
  • Guide for hosting a forum
  • Training videos for all activities and the forum
  • Tips and resources about public engagement with science (PES)
  • Support for scientist facilitator recruitment and participation
  • Orientation presentation for staff and volunteers, including a project overview, an introduction to synthetic biology, and an introduction to public engagement with science

Target Audience

  • The activities are designed for family audiences, including children, and work particularly well for ages 8 and up
  • The forum is designed for audiences age 16 and up

The activities, forum, and professional resources are based on prototypes from pilot events and have been revised to incorporate feedback collected though the event evaluation and feedback.

Building with Biology digital kit

Although the primary aim of this project is to create conversations between scientists and the public at science centers, all of the hands-on activities, forums, and materials produced as part of the project are available online as a digital kit and is free to download. Consider this option if you are affiliated with an organization that does not hold public events, would like to preview the contents, are located outside the United States, or want to create multiple copies of print resources. 

Event reporting

Building with Biology physical kit recipients are required to submit an online final event report as part of the project requirements.

The report takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. Please note that it is NOT possible to save your work in the SurveyGizmo online form and return for additional edits. Reports left idle too long will go blank when you progress to the next screen, so please plan to complete the online report in one session. You may want to write your responses in the Word document, save, and then cut and paste that information into the online report. A blank version (Word and PDF) have been provided for you below to download.


  • Mid-November 2015: Application opens online to apply for a free Building with Biology physical kit
  • Rolling application deadline: Applications will be reviewed and kits awarded on a rolling basis
  • February 2016: Notification of award decisions for museums
  • May 2016: Notification of award decisions for iGEM teams
  • May 31, 2016: Deadline to submit Forum Stipend Application - now closed (learn more)
  • June 2016: Kits delivered to successful applicants
  • Mid-June – September 2016: Host a Building with Biology event (hosting a forum is an additional opportunity)
  • Three weeks after hosting event and/or froum: Reports due online (Buildng with Biology Final Report link)
  • November-December 2017: Application opens online to apply for new Building with Biology forum, Editing our Evolution: Rewriting the Human Genome
  • December 1, 2017: Forum applications due
  • January 2018: Notification of forum award decisions
  • June-July 2018: Host new Building with Biology forum 
  • August 17, 2018: Forum Reports due online 

Learn more