Our lab is excited about communicating our research on artificial cells and lipid membranes to the general public and, in particular, to groups that are underrepresented in the sciences. 

High school students used their bodies to represent lipid molecules and arranged themselves to illustrate the structure of a micelle. Photo credit: Dr. Nan Renner

Devaraj lab graduate students working with the San Diego Science Project at UC San Diego, guiding local high school students with a step-by-step procedure to create vesicles with a lipid bilayer membrane. Photo credit: Dr. Nan Renner

We are collaborating with the UCSD CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence) and have developed an educational component integrating our bottom-up synthetic cell research with an existing coordinated effort at UC San Diego to improve the STEM pipeline K-20 in San Diego. Working with Dr. Nan Renner, we focus on reaching populations typically underrepresented in STEM fields. Specifically, this coordinated effort links our lab’s research interests and results in the chemistry of vesicle reproduction with two efforts at the university:  1) the San Diego Science Project (SDSP), a K-12 professional development and teacher support organization training both UCSD undergrads and teachers to engage science content with secondary students and 2) the TRIO Upward Bound Math/Science Program (UBMS), a federally funded outreach program that aims to increase the number of underrepresented minorities and low-income youth that enroll in undergraduate education.  Our goal is to stimulate the entry of underrepresented and low-income student populations into STEM fields and to expose a broad range of students and teachers to origin of life and synthetic biology topics. These activities are partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

Our lab working with Prof. Pinar Yoldas to describe mirror life and chirality to senior art students at UCSD.

Students prepared  exhibits that highlighted life in a mirror world.

As part of an National Science Foundation award that explores booting up “mirror” synthetic life, we have undertaken an ambitious plan to educate the public on chirality. Through our broader impact work, we are marrying the disparate worlds of science and art, to extend our STEM program to a STEAM program with the inclusion of art. Specifically, we are engaging the artistic community in an effort to educate artists, students, and the lay-public on the core concepts of chirality through creating an art exhibition that asks, “What would it be like to be in a mirror image world?” To aid us in engaging the UC San Diego art community, we have been working with Prof. Pinar Yoldas, a faculty member of the UC San Diego Department of Visual Arts, who brings her expertise in art and science collaborations, visualization and science communication. We have been integrating our research ideas in an undergraduate level course she instructs titled “Science and Design” (with the course code VIS162) offered in the fall as part of the UCSD Visual Arts undergraduate curriculum. Students created artworks and designed projects informed by chirality in biology concepts.