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Engaging students with synthetic biology in Tartu

Copyright AHHAA Science centre, photo by Tõnis Rüütli

From 18th to 20th February, 61 high school students from all over Estonia gathered in Science Centre AHHAA (Tartu, Estonia) to discuss the future of human being and the new opportunities that the new and groundbreaking scientific discoveries could bring by participating at the first event in the SYNENERGENE-related event series AHHAA is organizing in 2016.

The main purpose of the Student Parliaments is to strengthen the dialogue and exchange between students and researchers. It is also a great opportunity to introduce complex topics to students, so that they could discuss about the opportunities and limitations of the scientific discoveries. For example, how can we construct brand new biological systems or re-design the existing ones? Or is it ethical to use stem cells to treat diseases?

Another objective of the Student Parliaments Project is to introduce students to parliamentary procedures on science and research and encourage them to make qualified, evidence-based decisions.

After some fun and engaging team-building activities, the students were divided into five committees, each of which dealt with a different sub-topic: stem cell research, synthetic biology, augmented humans, reproductive medicine and the human brain. The work began with lectures from different specialists, followed by discussions between the researchers and the students. After that, the committees continued the work on their own, under the supervision of the moderators.

On the third day, the committees came together for the parliament hearing, where they presented their arguments to others, answered to the attack speeches and provided counter-arguments. We’re very glad that the deputy mayor of Tartu took part in the hearing too, and the students could hand over their resolutions to him. Let’s hope that the decisions made in the Student Parliament might one day influence the decisions of actual policy makers as well!

The participants also chose the six finalists who are going to represent Estonia in the final student parliament session in Manchester this summer (as a part of ESOF 2016), where they also have a chance to meet the participants of 16 other student parliaments from all over Europe.

The European Student Parliaments in AHHAA were organized as part of the SYNENERGENE project in cooperation with Wissenschaft im Dialog GmbH.


AHHAA Science Centre Foundation

AHHAA was established as a special project of the Department of Research and Institutional Development of the University of Tartu (founded in 1632). AHHAA started its activities with a laser show in front of Tartu Observatory on September 1, 1997, and has had a strong and stable development ever since. The purpose of AHHAA is to introduce science to everyone. Using interactive and entertaining methods and the scientific excellence of 370-year old Tartu University, we try to overcome fear and prejudice towards learning.