Team:SydneyUni Australia/Strange Nature


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What we did

Strange Nature is a writing competition for Australian high-school students. It is hosted at and provides a platform for students to explore Synthetic Biology. It is an attempt to move past science communication that forces knowledge or opinion down people’s throats, perhaps lubricated by captivating images or videos. We have created a competition that rewards those who explore the science themselves and write scientifically credible pieces.

Why we did it

Synthetic Biology in Australia

Synthetic Biology isn’t really a thing in Australia. It’s not a term familiar to the general public or to many scientists and engineers in the field. We wanted to address this shortcoming by focusing on the generation who will change, and have their lives changed by, the field of Synthetic Biology.

Targeted science communication

Competitions like Strange Nature have been used in the past to quantify misconceptions about science. For instance, the table below is taken from a paper published in the journal Genetics in 2008. Results like these can provide important feedback to teachers and science communicators, for instance, allowing iGEM teams to create human practice initiatives that are targeted to specific misconceptions rather than general introductions to the field.

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How we did it


We scoured the internet for resources, videos, animations, images, articles and more. We kept hold of the most interesting and informative teaching material on genetics and synthetic biology and presented it in an accessible manner, along with a quiz testing common misconceptions, polls on ethics, and a cool logo for the competition by designer Aleisa Jelbart. We received helpful feedback on our website from Australian science communicators science communicators and from the creator of the NewScientist writing competition.


We approached many prominent Biotech firms seeking sponsorship and were fortunate enough to receive an offer of $500 from IDT, which became our grand prize. Yagiz Alp Aksoy is a SynBio enthusiast and iGEMer from Macquarie University, Australia. He was also excited by the competition and offered $350 for the coolest application of SynBio.


We found three judges for the competition. At a conference for Australian Science Communication, one of our team members met Craig Cormick, a children's author with a specific interest in biotechnology. Cormick agreed to be a judge immediately.

Due to his involvement as a sponsor of a major prize, it made sense for Yagiz Alp Aksoy to be on our panel of judges. We also approached the editors from the IDT magazine, DECODED, and Senior Scientific Writer Nicola Brookmaand could easily be avoided if we just left things just the way they are.

How it went


We were thrilled that students took the time the learn, reflect and write about Synthetic Biology. Here are a few promising excerpts:

  • Immutata, Lachlan Roth, 17

...‘Evolve to Survive’. This was the name of the human genetic modification program that was launched a decade ago in 2046, two years after a group of wealthy businessmen heard news of a breakthrough in genetic engineering...

  • A Brave New World, Ihla Byrne, 15 is not realistic to involve civil society in each application of GM or each event process. Neither is it acceptable for society to be "kept in the dark"... A new approach for reviewing information on GM science objectively and approving or refusing the use of GM in principle as a society is the most likely way forward. This forum could be...

  • Neanderthals, Emily Wood, 15

...we should leave things just the way they are because it would stop us from creating another problem that we don’t really need and could easily be avoided if we just left things just the way they are...


In early October we created a shortlist of five entries to present to our judges, based on a rubric with the criteria 'research', 'understanding', and 'ímagination'. Once the judges had made their decision we sent certificates to the winners and participants from all schools.


  • We’ve created Strange Nature while only just entering the field of Synthetic Biology. We’re a new iGEM team and have attempted to represent the SynBio community in Australia while only beginning to learn about it ourselves. We hope to receive useful advice and criticism at the jamboree.
  • Now that submissions have closed, we have contact details for those select few teachers and students who were very interested in Synthetic Biology and our competition. We will try to get feedback on the structure of Strange Nature, the accessibility of the content we’ve presented, to continue improving the competition.
  • We imagine that Strange Nature could be scaled up. By collaborating with other iGEM teams it would be possible to extend the writing competition outside Australia, perhaps by having a series of local competitions organised by iGEM teams in that locality.

With thanks to: