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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.

Social media hashtag: #buildingwithbiology 

Building with Biology Kit

The Building with Biology kit is designed to help museum and scientist partners engage public audiences in conversations and hands-on activities about the field of synthetic biology and the ways this emerging technology is interconnected with society.

Digital kit 

List of kit contents and download links for the entire digital kit:

Kit overview

Two hundred (200) free physical kits have been awarded to successful applicants. These were used in summer 2016 Building with Biology events and conversations nationwide. View our Kit Contents page for more details.

Building with Biology kits include: 

Educational Resources

  • Six hands-on activities: 
    • 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 do not require special lab facilities or equipment
  • Two forums: 
    • Forum are longer, facilitated group experiences between members of the public and scientists
    • The physical kit included a forum about creating biologically engineered mosquitos to combat malaria
    • The digital kit includes an additional forum about editing the human genome 
  • Educational event posters and multimedia: 
    • Media materials are designed to provide background information on synthetic biology and provide context for Building with Biology events

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 forums are designed for audiences age 16 and up


  • 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 museum
  • 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)

Getting involved

  • Digital kit: Download the digital kit. 
    In addition to the physical kits, digital versions of the educational and professionals materials are available online for free 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. 
  • Interested in participating in a Summer 2016 Building with Biology Event?
    • Benefit from hearing public perspectives directly from the public participants and have the opportunity to share your 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).
  • Scientists and members of the synthetic biology community: We welcome graduate students, professors, scientists, industry professionals and members of the synthetic biology community (and related fields) to participate in Building with Biology events in your local community. Please fill out this expression of interest form and we’ll help to connect you with a science center/museum in your community hosting an event. As a scientist participant, you will:
  • Online workshops and project orientations
    To help support Summer 2016 Building with Biology event host sites, we're offering several upcoming professional development opportunities for host site staff, volunteers, and scientists. Online workshops will provide an overview on public forums, the contents in the Building with Biology physical kit, and event and forum evaluations. Project orientations, led by project partner the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), will help scientists learn the context for the Building with Biology project, prepare scientists to approach the hands-on activities as conversations and opportunities to learn from visitors, and the importance of bringing this topic to the public discussion. Orientation also gives scientists a chance to network and ‘meet’ other project volunteers!

Kit reports

Building with Biology physical kit recipients are required to submit an online report no later than three weeks after their last event and/or forum is held.

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.

Project evaluation reports

The Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science - Synthetic Biology (MSPES) project, publicly referred to as Building with Biology, was a three year project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that promoted public engagement with science (PES) - a model of mutual dialogue and learning between public and scientist audiences - through the creation and distribution of PES kits to nearly 200 informal science education sites around the United States. Kits included two types of learning experiences: 1) hands-on activities with which scientists facilitated brief interactions with visitors of all ages at a public event, and 2) forum programs during which scientists and pubic participants engaged in 1-2 hour guided discussions. Both activity types focused on socio-scientific issues in the field of synthetic biology. 

In 2017, NSF provided supplemental funding that allowed the project team to develop a forum focused on the topic of human genome editing - in part as a response to the 2017 report on human genome editing published by the National Academy of Sciences. The topic was touched on in certain Building with Biology activities, making it a natural bridge for the project team to expand its public engagement with science. 

These two reports detail the evaluation efforts of the Building with Biology project:  

In addition to the evaluation reports, an article was published in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, Fostering Conversation about Synthetic Biology Between Publics and Scientists: A Comparison of Approaches and Outcomes, that highlights project outcomes. 

Citation: Todd K, Haupt G, Kollmann E, Pfeifle S. 2018. Fostering conversation about synthetic biology between publics and scientists: a comparison of approaches and outcomes. J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. 19(1): doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1434

Project partners

Core Partners

The Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science-Synthetic Biology (MSPES-SynBio) project is funded by the National Science Foundation and is led by the following core partners:


Partners receiving Building with Biology kits and holding events

The following organizations received a physical Building with Biology kit in Summer 2016.  


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DRL 1421179.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Attached Files
Attachment Size
2018_mspes_participant_impact_evaluation_report.pdf (3.67 MB) 3.67 MB
mspes_final_report_with_eoe_addendum.pdf (8.96 MB) 8.96 MB
jmbe-19-32.pdf (278.9 KB) 278.9 KB