Learning about sustainable biohackerspaces at Biofabbing Convergence 2017

Pic source: DITOs Twitter

On May 10 & 11 one of my #lifegoals came true: to visit CERN. I studied physics at university 8 years ago, but dropped out after the first year. The awe for physics and the mythical status of CERN did outlive my short-lived career as a physicst.

Together with @Massimiliano I went to the Biofabbing Convergence (tagline Fabrications & Fabulations) . He was asked to give a presentation about his quest to understand DIYbio and brought me along to co-present some real life observations (and as his ‘species’ :wink: ). A philospher doing a phd on synthetic biology, studying a phenomenon mainly studied by sociologists, Massimiliano is a bit out of place in many ways, making his perspective all the more interesting.

The venue, Ideasquare, is the perfect setting for an event that’s part academic conference, part unconference, part hackathon. I was happy to discover the latter two parts had the upper hand and that everyone that I met had an interesting story to tell as to why they were there.

After arriving later than expected (we have much to learn about Swiss buses), we could join the first few short plenary sessions. Quickly though, everyone was invited to propose their own sessions or to join the hacking in one of the meeting rooms-turned-hacklabs.

No time for that in my case, as over the short two days, I went from one interesting conversation to another. To be expected with such a high concentration of the most active biohackers in Europe and beyond. Discussing more inclusive education with Bethan from Bento Lab and open source, DIY medicine with Michael from Four Thieves Vinegar among others who are doing amazing things. It is certain: there is much to be learned from each other, and we should encourage this more.

The OpenVillage Festival theme on citizen science aims to do exactly that: learn from each other. On day 2 I presented the questions I had raised initially and our ways of tackling them with ReaGent, Ekoli & Break it Down. The need to find answers was further confirmed by reactions, other presentations and conversations offline and online. Many communities have the same issues:

  • How to sustain your lab space?
  • How to sustain people?
  • How to professionalize in a way that does not compromise values?
  • How to work with institutions?
  • How to distribute value in a fair way?

It was not all seriousness and we ended exploring weird ideas like what to do with tonsils after they are removed (Adam Zaretsky gave me a detailed protocol after I asked him about how to make tonsil burgers; this was not even that far out there compared to the ideas he presented the next day) and laughing at the fact that someone is actually getting paid for jamming minced meat in lab glassware.

As I’m writing this back in Belgium, the discussion is still going on at the event and on the online forum. With so much combined experience and brains, some interesting next steps should come out of it. I’m motivated to find solutions by sharing our experiences, learning from others and connecting dots between fields and initiatives. For anyone interested, our joint presentation can be found here.

If these questions resonate with you and your project, let me know. I’d like to visit some spaces over the summer to exchange experiences and work on new solutions.

Citizen Science

Right on.  Great report.