ReaGent: Bringing quality biology education to every child equally

Reagent is a term used in chemistry to describe a process in which one determines a presence of a substance by sparking a chemical reaction with it.

In Ghent, ReaGent is a space opened by enthusiasts of bioengineering in order to spark interest and passion for natural sciences among the citizens of the city. And to prove that the increasing know-how will play a huge role in innovation and future of technology, also with a local focus.

People are more and more aware that biology will shape future technology, by improving its performance and making it more sustainable. Yet both researchers and students lack access to knowledge about it - especially in a form of a laboratory, where everyone is free to experiment, try, learn, exchange and meet. Biology education is becoming outdated and we need students able to design the sustainable solutions of the future. The situation has been changing in the past years across Europe - many graduates, biology enthusiasts, opened biolabs equipped with instruments that they built themselves or that companies were giving away. Surprisingly, it’s a rather common situation - for many of the businesses the costs of maintenance or even disposal of these sophisticated machines is higher than just giving them away to whomever would be interested to use it.

I have been involved in ReaGent since over a year. The space offers both paid and unpaid access and program - the privileged ones fund this way free classes for poorer children. Part of the funding comes also from the memberships, which guarantee access to the lab 2 days a week.

Places like ReaGent spark creativity in sciences by working in an accessible, open and flexible manner. Their mission now is to give access to this type of education to the whole of Flanders, and extend their network by inviting for example designers to come and create biodegradable materials.

As OPENandchange allied, ReaGent would bring about the same qualities to the application: they would bring scientific education, which in turn would be used in innovation and hacking applicable in care.

If you have advice or another project which is relevant, let’s discuss it here. A question to get the discussion going: what is the fairest way in the long term to fund education outside of, but as an addition to, the traditional state-funded system - from who and how?

A great idea

Thank you Winnie for sharing this with us.

This sounds like a brilliant project, and a great use of resources that would otherwise be wasted.

I’m not sure that i know the answer to your questions?

But perhaps you would like to make contact with @Merel Claes who is also on Edgeryders and works in the Netherlands in some of the areas you are investigating.

Thank you Alex. It is funny how you meet the same people in different places. I’m working together with Merel on a P2P initiative to let people grow edible insects at home, as a form of urban farming and food autonomy. How did you come into contact with him?

Partnership with schools?

Hi @WinniePoncelet and welcome to Edgeryders! I checked your website to see what projects students are experimenting with right now but unfortunately I don’t speak Flemish :frowning: Can you give us an example? New biodegradable materials are always interesting, I was watching this video the other day about fabric from kombucha, a bacteria I myself tried as tea (tastes great btw).

To your question, I dont know much about business models but I’m wondering if you can finance at least part of the work through collaborations with schools where you provide a curricula and a new kind of classroom, and the school covers tutors salaries and some materials. Maybe you’re doing this already?

Morning laugh

Hi Noemi, thanks for that video. The instant sound of kombucha slime landing on that table blasting through my speakers made me laugh out loud during my morning coffee.

An example of a workshop is a DNA Cluedo (or Clue?) game where children in group have to solve a murder using biochemical and forensic techniques. We haven’t crossed any language borders yet, but hopefully we will in the future :).

We’re now going to start testing out in what way we can work together with schools. So far it seems like they have very limited means. We will try and make it work regardless, the way you mention might work. Thanks for the tips :slight_smile:

Not clients, partners

In most of Europe schools have no money (I do not know the situation in Flanders). But they make great partners. In Italy, we have a legislation (and, by now, a tradition) of local businesses supporting extracurricular activities in schools. Good school principals build a network of local businesses they work with. So, it could work like this: you involve a school, then – together with the school principal – you target local businesses to support the activity.

Anyway, @WinniePoncelet , congrats, that’s a great project. I live in Brussels, and will keep you guys on the map with a view of looking you up. We visited Gent just a couple of weeks ago with @teirdes – we would have knocked on your door if we had known you existed!

Great input

Thank you @Alberto for the kind words and valuable advice.

If you’re ever around again, let us know and we’ll gladly show you around :). Will you be there in Brussels for the workshop in September?

Yes on both counts

@WinniePoncelet I will make sure to let you know. In fact, I could even come just for a visit of ReaGent, it’s really close to Brussels. And yes, I will most likely be at the workshop. :slight_smile:

For school collaborations parents make for a great ally.

@WinniePoncelet, yes I’ve played CLUEDO but it’s never occured to me that it’s a good edu resource. Whoa.

My mom is a computer science teacher. She is organising tech contests and involves IT companies who are very much on the lookout for future hires. They not only sponsor by providing the prizes, but also come and become juries in the contests, and enjoy meeting bright young people. True, they are true moneybags, but thriving businesses are probably not a rarity. Also, the Education Ministry has passed a provision saying that a week every year in spring all schools have the opportunity to insert more creative and unconventional programming in their schedule: “Different School” is called - completely decentralized, so teachers themselves select and organise activities for their pupils - including taking them outside school.

Have you met @Rozina? She mentioned that the school has no time to think extracurricularly but if parents or other supporters can lead, than they are up for hosting more creative things…


Thank you for sharing Noemi, that’s also quite an interesting approach. Biotech is still in the early stage, but it should be possible. What I am especially curious about is how we can cooperate with different actors on the controversial issues, like GMO. We don’t pick any side, because we don’t think there should be polarized sides: we want to tell a nuanced story, which is the hardest task of all. But as soon as you involve big biotech, concerned citizens might drop out and self-censor. The same could happen vice versa. Perhaps it is ideal to steer clear of the subject for a while, there are so many other interesting things to talk about anyway.

I’ve not met @Rozina, but I saw her around on some events in Brussels. I believe she was talking about schools for children with special needs, if I am not mistaken. But perhaps the same holds true for standard schools, we will try and find out :slight_smile:

Biohacking in Italy

Hello @WinniePoncelet, good job, I hope to come in Gent soon to visit the biohacker space.

@Noemi @alberto you might be interested in the work done by Eugenio Battaglia to bring low-cost biohacking-lab in every school, we tried to propose it to the Ministery of Education.

Here you find part of the documents (if you want I can share the rest)

In general, I think biohacking have an enormous potential, for educational purpose, it’s already very valid.

I think the movement should be ready to take action to make aware of what could happen in few decades/years with genome editing and aging, etc. , that could be some unprecedented achievement but the risks that they could bridge economic inequality to biological inequality.

I focussed on agriculture, I have created a project (never realized) that was called Openphenotyping, it was about democratic plant phenotyping ( ) and it aimed to give the power of biotechnology to small farmers’ cooperatives to maintain and exalt biodiversity, also,  through genetic modification.

The idea about Openphenotyping it was based on the fact that genome data became cheap to get, while phenotypic data represent one of the main barriers to research.

The fact that Phenotyping is relatively simple could lead to a competitive advantage for bottom-up initiatives against big corporations, and more in general, could allow the involvement of a much wider group of people in research processes and their benefit.

I never had the chance to realize the initiative, but I will be very glad to know more if there are similar actions taking off or another project that tries to tackle some major problems related to “traditional” biotech.

Which connections in Italy?

Hey @Damiano , the url to the folder you linked to says “Linked not found”. Do you personally know someone in the Ministry who could be an interesting conversation partner at our event? Winnie is one of the lead curators and is looking at citizen science more broadly - of course people involved in policy making would make a big difference if they came. Or maybe we could ask E Battaglia… what’s your advice?


Hello @Noemi,

I updated the link. The proposal wasn’t take in consideration and the Ministry started a plan focussed on Fablab-like labs (Laboratori Territoriali and Atelier Creativi).

Eugenio now is focussed in Platforms , but I can contact him or other people from the Hackteria network.

For individuals involved in policy making, I don’t know… but I will be at the ASEF summit and I have the chance to present proposals both for sharing economy and for education/

There’ll be lots of important policy makers (several Ministers of Finance from Asia and Europe, etc. With the right preparation, we could try to invite someone at Open Village through ASEF.

Count on me for this thematics; I will help if I can.

Super interesting!

Super interesting Damiano. We wrote a proposal for the same thing in December: install a DIYbio lab in a high school. We had a nice consortium of partners, but sadly it did not go through. I’d be very interested in reading the rest of the documents.

I did my thesis on correlations between phenotype characteristics and seed yield (+ genetic diversity) in red clover. I know first hand the horrors of measuring the size of 10.000 tiny flowers, tagging genetic barcodes and the weeks of zombie computer work this brings. Luckily, research institutions have students and interns to do this stuff ;-). You make a very valid point: phenotypic research can benefit a lot from citizen science.

Great to see you made your way to Edgeryders @WinniePoncelet and thanks @Alex Levene for bringing me into this loop!

I am indeed working with Winnie and a few others on an P2P initiative to let people grow edible insects at home. I saw the project as a slow burner. It is hard to bring the P2P approach to the public and it’s a constant experiment to find the right approach to get is going. For me and the others, the project is going down on the priority ladder of all our activities…


I thought I’d write a small update. In September 2016, we have launched a new nonprofit for education called Ekoli. Reasons for putting our educational activities in a new entity were better communication and keeping the biohacking legally seperate (translates into admin & cost advantages).

In retrospect, it was also good to assemble a new team around a new common goal. This fresh wind pushed us to where we are now, having reached hundreds of underpriviledged children & school children and poised to grow a lot in the new school year after the summer.

Downsides so far have been extra overhead (two administrations) and spreading the core team’s (those involved with both Ekoli and ReaGent)  time too thinly. Generally it was a good decision though.


Dear, its utmost need of this said topic,

Best wishes …