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Biomaker Challenge

Biomaker Challenge is a four-month programme challenging interdisciplinary teams to build low-cost sensors and instruments for biology. From colorimeters to microfluidics and beyond, we’re looking for frugal, open source and DIY approaches to biological experiments. Update: due to late interest, we have opened a second round of applications for the Biomaker Challenge due 21st July 2017.

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Whether you’re a biologist looking to optimise your protocols and pick up some electronics knowledge; an engineer looking to apply your skills and gain experience of practical biology or you’re just curious and interested to participate, we’re keen to hear from you.

Participants will receive a Biomaker Toolkit and a discretionary budget for additional sensors, components, consumables and 3D-printing worth up to £1000. All teams will exhibit their device at a Biomaker Fayre in early November. Up to 50 grants will be awarded.

Find out more

Ideas and collaborators are being documented on the Biomaker Challenge GitHub

You can contribute an idea or a collaborator profile, tagging it with your skills. Profiles should include:

  1. Name:
  2. Organisation and Department (if applicable)
  3. What would you like to learn?
  4. What can you teach people?

More information can be found over at GitHub.

Join Biomaker Challenge Announcement List

Updates so far (view email announcement archive)

21 July Application deadline for late entries
23 June Biomaker Challenge - Deadline Today and Help Wanted
17 June Biomaker Challenge - Ideas and Collaborators
15 June Biomaker Challenge Introduction - Slides and Links

Link to challenges

Find collaborators 


Applicants and teams:

  • Primary applicants should be students or staff at the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre or the Earlham Institute. External team members are welcome.
  • Teams can be any size, including individuals if all other eligibility criteria are met.
  • Interdisciplinarity within the team is a judging priority but teams or individuals from the same background are not excluded.
  • Teams which span Norwich and Cambridge are highly encouraged and will receive two Biomaker Toolkits and ability to use their discretionary funding for travel between the two sites.


  • All proposals must lead to a publicly documented and open hardware design and prototype which demonstrates interdisciplinary thinking.
  • Except for Cambridge-Norwich team travel, the discretionary budget can only be spent on hardware, materials, consumables and biological reagents.

Judging Criteria

Judges will evaluate the proposals based on the form submitted. They will give a higher priority to proposals which:

  • Promote and demonstrate interdisciplinary working and exchange, with members of the team being highly likely to learn from each other.
  • Have a clearly articulated use case in biology. Synthetic biology and plant biology are especially prioritised.
  • Involve interesting ideas for low-cost sensors and instrumentation.
  • Are realistic given the timing, costing and team proposed.

Additional credit will be given to applicants who have forged innovative partnerships with Cambridge or Norwich-based external partners and those who have agreements of matched funding for their projects.

Application Process

Complete two page application form by 21 July 2017 (second round of applications for late entries following earlier deadline of 23 June).

Successful applicants will be informed and kits distributed soon after the call deadline.

Application Form

The full application should be no more than 2 pages, excluding any figures, photos and diagrams which should be inserted at the end of the document and referenced in the text. There are no word limits on any section apart from the 150-word summary.

Please submit an application containing the following sections by email to in an editable format such as .odt or .docx (not PDF) and attach any images separately to the email.

Title of Project

Primary contact for the team

Include name, department, organisation and email address


Please include the names and email addresses of all team members, include their department/organisation and briefly (1-2 sentences) what they will contribute to the project.


Summarise in one paragraph (~150 words) what you aim to do in the project.


Include i) the problem you are addressing, ii) the biological systems you are using, iii) the design goals for the hardware, iv) how you plan to implement the project, v) the proposed outcomes and benefits.

Estimate the components and budget that you need to complete the project

You will be able to order further materials - see ordering instructions on Please include catalogue numbers for RS Components, Farnell, CPC OneCall or other Cambridge University suppliers.


What can teams expect from the Biomaker Challenge?

  • The Challenge Coordinator will be able to offer assistance and support in making the connections necessary for you to complete your project.
  • Orders for components and materials will be processed on a weekly basis Jul-Sep 2017, teams are expected to have completed using their budget by 31 Oct 2017.
  • Periodic meetups will be run to encourage teams to interact and help share skills and ideas.
  • We have provided a Github organisation to contain all documentation.
  • Advice will be available on openly licensing your output and the best way to make it shareable and useful to others.
  • Prizes will be awarded at the Biomaker Fayre in a variety of categories.

What does the Biomaker Challenge expect from teams?

  • Your hardware should be accessible and reusable. This means that you need to think about open licensing, standard file formats and good documentation.
  • All projects should be documented on Github at the end of the Challenge on 31 Oct 2017.
  • All teams are encouraged to attend other meetings such Science Makers, Biomakespace Meetups and others from CamBridgeSens and the Synthetic Biology SRI.
  • All teams will exhibit at the Biomaker Fayre in early Nov 2017.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact us on

Ordering Information

Catalogue Components

Orders for items that were not included in the original proposal will be submitted once a week on a Wednesday. They must reach the mailbox by 09:00. Please use the following suppliers and send catalogue numbers via this form:

  • RS Components
  • Farnell
  • CPC OneCall
  • VWR
  • Fisher Scientific
  • Sigma Aldrich

Other suppliers on the University Marketplace system can be used - ask the people responsible for purchases in your lab or department to check the supplier list if unsure.

Once items are received, you will get an email requesting that you pick them up from the Department of Plant Sciences on Downing Site. Very small items can be sent via UMS.

3D Printing

3D-printing can be ordered from the Media Studio at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Send your order through and when a quote is agreed, cc for information. The Media Studio will invoice us directly for this work.

Contact Details

Please contact with any enquiries.

The Biomaker Challenge is organised by:

  • OpenPlant (Cambridge) and the Synthetic Biology SRI: Dr Jenny Molloy;; 01223 766546
  • OpenPlant (Norwich): Dr Colette Matthewman;
  • CamBridgeSens: Dr Oliver Hadeler;


We are pleased to be able to offer the following in-kind reagents and hardware to teams above and beyond the Biomaker Toolkit, thanks to generous sponosrship from ARM Ltd and New England Biolabs. Where numbers are limited, the Biomaker Challenge Coordinators will allocate the items on application merit.

Choose up to three different kits:

  • NEB® Golden Gate Assembly Mix (NEB #E1600S)
  • BioBrick® Assembly Kit (NEB #E0546S)
  • NEBuilder® HiFi DNA Assembly Master Mix (NEB #E2621S)
  • NEBuilder® HiFi DNA Assembly Cloning Kit (NEB #E5520S)
  • Q5® High-Fidelity 2X Master Mix (NEB #M0492S)
  • Quick-Load® Purple 2-Log DNA Ladder (NEB #N0550S)
  • NEB 5-alpha Competent E. coli (NEB #C2987I)

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