Team:Wellesley Desyne/Safety


Wellesley HCI iGEM Team: Welcome


Considering Researcher Safety

The Wellesley Human-Computer Interaction team is a computational team, and worked on designing software that not only improve clarity and efficiency in designing synthetic biological parts, but also increase public awareness through education of the next-generation of scientists through outreach.

Considering Public Safety

Synthetic Biology training at MIT

As part of our computational team’s preliminary Synthetic Biology training, we attended the BioBuilder program at MIT with Natalie Kuldell. During this instructive session, we were introduced to laboratory safety, techniques, and protocol. Lectures concerning Synthetic Biology education, awareness, and safety provided insight into the concepts, methods, challenges, and policies in the field, as well as an appreciation for the need for greater public awareness. At BioBuilder we also had the opportunity to work in the wet-lab and execute two iGEM-inspired experiments. This hands-on experience helped us to better understand the importance of lab protocol and procedure, as well the necessity for precision and communication. We were also able to put into practice the safety training we received.

On the software side, we executed our user studies attentively and considerately. Prior to the studies we thought about the user’s prior experience and knowledge, preparing introductory materials and providing appropriate supplemental information when necessary. We also kept the study environment quiet and peaceful for optimal concentration. With respect to the users’ privacy and consent, we used consent forms for the release of any images or personal information for use in our research analysis.

Considering Environmental Safety

visiting teachers
Natalie Kuldell and Rebekah, a high school
biology teacher, visit and provide feedback

In addition to wet lab training, the Wellesley Desyne team consulted various experts in the field of synthetic biology to help aid us in our design and implementation process. These experts ranged from synthetic biology instructors to researchers to professors, all who informed us on the ethics, biosafety, and biosecurity of putting our projects together and then testing with human users. The questions and concerns raised in our dialogue with domain experts informed our design process greatly, and also made us realize that greater education and public awareness about synthetic biology was needed. As a result, careful considering was given to how we wanted to implement our projects.

Safety Issue Concerns

Because we are a computational team, we did not create and BioBricks devices. Instead, we simulated the hierarchical creation of these devices in Eugenie. Although users may not be interacting a genuine lab environment, lab safety can still be increased by exposure to software simulating synthetic biology experiments. Through our user study testing, we discovered that in general, the students expressed increased understanding and appreciation of both the theory and technical aspects of synthetic biology research and experimentation. Various errors and warning messages were created in our software itself to educate students about the concepts each project was conveying. And each time our team iterated, these messages were refined based on user experience. While we did not create concrete biological parts, our efforts indirectly inspire safer creation of BioBricks in the future.

Keeping Ourselves and Our Users Safe

The Institutional Biosafety Committee, under the Wellesley College Office of Environmental Health & Safety regulates biosafety concerns on campus. However, we are a computational team and do not work with biological organisms or hazards in our local lab environment.

Yoav presenting zTree
Intern Yoav demoing zTree to
high school students
The Wellesley Human-Computer Interaction lab does test iterations of our software projects with human subjects. Before each testing session, participants were asked to sign consent forms detailing the voluntary nature of the study, the task involved in the study, and were informed that if at any time during the study they experienced discomfort, they are permitted to stop and leave. We were extremely sensitive to a user’s physical, mental, and emotional demands during each study, taking notes on physical and verbal cues from students; we were very assuring during the study, and informed our users that any crashes or technical difficulties were our fault as designers and programmers and in no way their fault or responsibility. After each study the user task was altered or refined further to clarify the task and increase student comfort in testing out our software project, and participants were compensated as appreciation for their assistance.

Working for the Future

Throughout our research experience, both in the wet-lab and in the software development process, we practiced and emphasized collaboration, communication, safety, awareness, and outreach, as well as the concepts of abstraction, modularity, standardization, and protocol. All of our software is documented extensively on the iGEM 2013 Wiki in the project overview and under each project’s title. We practice careful documentation and uphold safety standards as part of mindful and responsible research methodology, and as a representative reference for future lab participants and iGEM teams.