by Alex Yang, Sihinta Shembil & Adeline Seah
It’s Citizen Science, Baby!
Science isn’t the personal dominion of boffins in lab coats shaking Erlenmeyer flasks. Loads of people get involved with science. Science is about methods and mathematics and many other things. But, it begins with a thought, a hypothesis, observation, and the collection of each careful minute observation into the usefulness of organised data.
This might start in the lab if you’re intent on scrutinising the playful bumping around of molecules under the microscope. Or, it might be amateur birders noting the first arrival of the season of an elegant migratory bird, astronomers noting a hitherto unnamed speck in the vast canvas of the sky, or even volunteers washing and documenting broken old, very, very, very old pots in the archaeology lab.
You might be a schoolkid, homemaker, plumber, accountant, cyclist, or that government bureaucrat nobody likes. It doesn’t matter. Everyone can get involved. It’s not called citizen science for nothing. Are you a citizen? Yes? It’s your science!
Just as science has biology, citizen science has DIY bio, which, let’s be honest, sounds like a terribly awkward name. It also flies by another name: biohacking. That’s kind of scary, isn’t it? But it’s really just regular ol’ science! We don’t want to be stopped and interrogated by the authorities everywhere we go, so, let’s call it something nice.
So… (apologies to our dearest DIY bio friends), we’ll call it open bio in this article! (I swear to anything sacred, it’s Adeline’s idea)* And, it happens all over the world.
* yes it’s me, DIY Bio is a horrible term, Open refers to a lot more: open source, access, inclusion, diversity, open to new ideas, possibilities etc.. ~Adeline
Open Bio in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Citizen science and open bio are open to all and sundry, for sure. However, nobody does awesome work without some knowledge, right? Science must begin with education.
Originally intending to go to Bangladesh to see wildlife, Adeline ended up spending a wonderful week in Dhaka with the Tech Academy (Thank you, Marc!). The Hackteria connection to Shams Jaber led to Open bio workshops and discussions in Dhaka early this year, with the aim of sharing about tools and resources to “take” biology education and research out of academic institutions, and of course, to do the usual spiel about wildlife and using bio for good e.g. investigating pollution, conservation etc.
Sihinta (now with the newly formed Biobot group) reports with such wonderful gusto that it’s best read unedited:
As a lover of biology and a dedicated student in biotechnology, I truly respected the key point of the “Bio-hacking” workshops: the importance of reaching out to the public about what we know in science, also known as citizen science. Open Bio gives a platform where people of varying ages, different educational backgrounds and diverse goals come together and learn with one another. It’s a fun and interactive way of learning, and meeting new people.
The Open Bio workshops in Dhaka consisted of teachers, students and children as young as four. The main activity with the kids was isolating DNA from strawberries. We all mashed strawberries, while sneakily eating a few, and mixed it with drops of detergent and alcohol to collect some long stringy white clumps, the DNA!
Promon Khan, researcher at BRAC University, guided the children with DNA extraction. His experience with bio-hacking was fruitful and enjoyable, and he mentioned “young minds never fail to surprise me when I see them learning something no matter if that’s a rhyme or DNA extraction!”
Shahreena Rahman, biotechnology student at North South University and high-school teacher, will apply what she learned in a few hours of the workshop to her teaching techniques: “I’m looking forward to showing my students what I do in my high-tech labs by using these bio hacks in my classroom. Thanks to Adeline Seah and The Tech Academy, now more people outside of labs can carry on with their experiments to satisfy their curious minds.”
Sheikh Saqif Ahmed, president of BRAC University Natural Science Club, anchored the Bio-Hacking workshop held at BRAC University. In regards to his experience he mentioned “I did have fun and learned a lot about citizen science and the importance of availability of science to the general public. We were also introduced to kids who are eligible in coding and making electronic gadgets.”
As for me, the two workshops I attended left me with a new goal: to gain the ability to break down intricate bio-knowledge filled with jargon and clearly communicate it with people in an easy and entertaining manner.
I believe Bangladesh is filled with bright minds who are willing to work ardently for their education and career. Open Bio and citizen science can utilize the potential of the youth, and it’s a perfect introduction to science for many. For this reason, The Tech Academy and BRAC University Natural Science Club are already planning to form a six month introductory biology curriculum for children and beginners. In the near future, they also wish to commence research projects where children can directly participate.
Thanks to the Open Bio workshops held in Dhaka, new paths towards science are being paved.
“Microbial March” is a living fermentation lab that invites everyone to come and learn about the art and science of food fermentation and to reconnect with their bodies and their environment through microbes.
Fermentation – a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases, and alcohols by using microbial cultures (so-called “fermentation starter cultures”) – has been known as a traditional food making technique since the Neolithic Age.
After a short introductory talk about microbes + fermentation and their social, environmental, and health impacts, lab visitors will be invited to engage in a collaborative hands-on making of various cultured foods and drinks.
Everyone is welcomed to bring and share fermentation ingredients, starter cultures, as well as traditional fermentation wisdom and recipes known in their country, neighborhood or family. Along with the exchange of various cultures, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, we will discuss various fermentation-related issues as well as the globally growing inter-cultural tensions.
The event is co-organized by the FabCafe Singapore, The Singapore Eco Film Festival and the Fermentation GutHub group.
Time: 730 to 930 pm
Venue: ArtScience Museum
#2 (Starter) Culture Exchange
There will be milk kefir grains from New Zealand; various yeasts from USA; kombucha SCOBYs from Singapore; and some random surprise starters + everyone is invited to bring samples of fermentation cultures, foods, drinks, recipes, ideas etc.
#3 Make Your Own Jar (Hands-on Workshop)
Collaborative hands-on fermentation: Basic vegetable pickling + yogurt & milk kefir making + kombucha brewing etc.
We will experiment with different teas and sugar levels (kombucha), salt ratios (veggies), additional ingredients (e.g. mango in kefir). The finished jars can stay in Fab Café to sit and ferment (there will be a follow-up tasting session in 2 weeks – exact date TBC). Everyone is also welcomed to bring her/his jars home of course!
#4. Fermented Dancefloor & Late Night Fermentation Vibes (**Free Movement of Cultures**)
Playlist under construction -> add your ideas here: http://bit.ly/2lYI0cT
Entry is free —> BYOjars, foods, cultures, and other friends
For more info and updates: https://www.facebook.com/events/1275463755881579/
One of the newest organizations we’re excited about, the mission of 500 Women Scientists
is to promote a diverse and inclusive scientific community that brings progressive science-based solutions to local and global challenges.
What we love especially are their values, many that we share. We list theirs here and are working on ours (coming soon!):
- Recognizing that science touches the lives of every person on this planet;
- Advocating for a strong role of science in society;
- Identifying and acknowledging structural inequities and biases in science;
- Pushing for equality and standing up to inequality, discrimination, and aggression;
- Pushing to develop and strengthen access for traditionally underrepresented groups to fully participate in and become leaders in science;
- Supporting the education and careers of all scientists;
- Enhancing scientific mentorship and encouraging an atmosphere of collaboration;
- Stepping outside of our research disciplines to communicate our science and engage with the public;
- Using the language and wonder of science to bridge the divides that separate societies and to enhance global diplomacy.
Check out the interview with Maryam Zaringhalam, a molecular biologist who describes herself as “floating at the intersection of art x science x society x advocacy x STEMinism”. She talks about her various interests and activities, and her insights as an Iranian-American on the recent travel ban. Great read!
This festival is FREE and open from 1030am to 7pm, Fri Nov 10 to Sun Nov 13.
Full program is available here: SGEFF 2016 Program
The festival has been powered by volunteers so please be patient with us! Also, volunteers still needed for this year’s fest and also next years. If you’re interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope to see you there!
The NUS-ANU Joint M.Sc. in Science Communication aims to foster in its participants the skills necessary to:
- be competent, confident, effective communicators of science and technology to the general public and school-age audiences
- develop materials for effective communication to non-specific audiences
- propose and supervise project work and other scientific activities
- develop strong lifelong learning habits
Applicants seeking admission to the course for the NUS-ANU Joint M.Sc. degree program in Science Communication must have a Bachelor degree in Science with Honours (or equivalent) from a reputable university.