Frugal Science Academy: Training K-12 innovators and democratizing synthetic biology tools

  • Project Description

    The goal in this work is to develop a new initiative, deemed the Frugal Science Academy, to
    empower underrepresented minority students and teachers from rural schools in Georgia to
    engage in synthetic biology, where the traditional bottleneck has been the lack of affordable
    scientific equipment for hands-on STEM. The Frugal Science Academy will train young URM high
    school investigators to develop “frugal hardware” (from conception to publication) used in
    synthetic biology research and disseminate their research into underequipped labs while also
    training rural high school teachers to incorporate synthetic biology education and frugal hardware
    into their curricula. Overall, this work will increase the diversity, creativity, and innovation in the
    rapidly expanding field of synthetic biology, with an emphasis on affordability and accessibility
    through the lens of frugal science, to ultimately democratize access to scientific tools.

  • Abstract

    We hypothesize that developing a “Frugal Science Academy (FSA)” to train students and teachers to
    develop low-cost equipment and expose them to synthetic/molecular biology will lead to: i) students from URM
    learning fundamentals of research in biotechnology through developing frugal equipment needed in low-resource
    environments, ii) students from URM choosing engineering and STEM majors with a research focus in
    undergraduate institutions, iii) teachers from URM, rural, and diverse socioeconomic groups incorporating frugal
    equipment into their classrooms, will ultimately develop a wider, younger, and more diverse group of students
    and educators advancing the fields of synthetic and molecular biology.

    Aim 1. Creation of a Frugal Science Academy (FSA) to train URM high-school students through a 2-year
    internship at Georgia Tech.
    Aim 1a: Train URM students from GT Project ENGAGES to conduct biomedical research focusing on frugal
    science. Students will engage in hands-on research projects to develop low-cost scientific equipment for
    publications, posters, and/or translation into education environments. Students will present their research in
    public at K-12 Inventure Prize, Atlanta Science Festival, Maker Faire, BioGENEius, etc.
    Aim 2a: Creation of an FSA digital community to develop a collaborative community sharing tutorials, 3D-printed
    designs, and active collaborations to drive innovation forward. These enable greater impact across high school
    students and teachers across the U.S. while emphasizing reproducibility in scientific innovation.

    Aim 2. Expand Rural Teacher Training Initiative in Frugal Hardware and Synthetic Biology
    Aim 2a: In partnership with Georgia BioEd, we will conduct rural teacher training via a hybrid delivery method
    combining; 3-day hands-on workshops, with subsequent 6-week virtual meetings, and ongoing technical support
    throughout the school year in synthetic biology and frugal hardware. Teachers will implement lessons to integrate
    these fields into novel Plans of Action to encourage students from URM to participate in STEM and research
    careers by enabling hands-on learning.
    Aim 2b: Pilot and disseminate frugal tool resources through the GT K-12 InVenture Competition, leveraging
    online curriculum resources, professional development workshops, and existing partnerships with rural schools.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    By training high school students and their teachers to develop low-cost tools for synthetic biology we will empower the next generation of inventors and innovators. We provide professional development for middle and high school educators. Along with high school teachers we also provide paid internships for students from the Atlanta Public Schools and other minority serving institutions. Students are mentored in near-peer relationships from researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology. A website housing open source code and plans is maintained.

Project Audience

High School educators and their students in Title I, Minority serving, and Rural schools in Georgia.

Subjects Addressed

Engineering in the Life Sciences, Biotechnology, and STEM Education