Synthetic biology in the Science Café: what have we learned about public engagement?



Engaging the public on emerging science technologies has often presented challenges. People may hold notions that science is too complicated for them to understand and the venues at which science is discussed are formal and perceived as  inaccessible. One approach to address these challenges is through the Science Café, or Café Scientifique. We conducted five Science Cafés across Canada  to gauge public awareness of synthetic biology technology, its potential applications, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the Science Café platform as a  knowledge-translation tool. Café participants were excited about the potential benefits of synthetic biology technology, but also concerned about the potential  risks. And while participants trusted scientists to carry out their research, there was limited confidence that regulators would ensure public safety. Science  Cafés as a forum for science to meet society were viewed positively for the relaxed atmosphere, small crowd size and informality of the venue. We conclude  that Science Cafés are an effective upstream engagement platform for discussing emerging science technologies.