Hands-on demonstrations greatly enhance the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts and foster engagement and exploration in the sciences. While numerous chemistry and physics classroom demonstrations exist, few biology demonstrations are practical and accessible due to the challenges and concerns of growing living cells in classrooms. We introduce BioBits™ Explorer, a synthetic biology educational kit based on shelf-stable, freeze-dried, cell-free (FD-CF) reactions, which are activated by simply adding water. The FD-CF reactions engage the senses of sight, smell, and touch with outputs that produce fluorescence, fragrances, and hydrogels, respectively. We introduce components that can teach tunable protein expression, enzymatic reactions, biomaterial formation, and biosensors using RNA switches, some of which represent original FD-CF outputs that expand the toolbox of cell-free synthetic biology. The BioBits™ Explorer kit enables hands-on demonstrations of cutting-edge science that are inexpensive and easy to use, circumventing many current barriers for implementing exploratory biology experiments in classrooms.
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