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Synthetic Biology in Cambridge


Sadly, in order to protect our community, the popular No-Code Programming for Biology workshop due to be held on 23rd-24th March was cancelled. However, we’re pleased to announce that the materials for this workshop are now being made available online.

Download the handbook >>

This course was designed to introduce biologists to the basics of building custom instrumentation to assist with experiments in the lab and field. Part of the long-running Biomaker project, the course covers the fundamentals of using Arduino-based microcontrollers, sensor electronics, displays and actuators, as well as use of the visual programming language XOD. By combining these skills participants can learn to build a variety of instruments that are useful for measuring and controlling biological systems.

Making your own devices for use in biological research can be advantageous in many ways – components are often very cheap compared to commercially available options; there is a well-established community of experienced scientists focussed on collaboration and open sharing of designs; and the opportunities for customisation and experiment-specific adjustments are endless. However, there are also hurdles for those looking to build custom instruments. Without a background in electronics or engineering it can be hard to know where to start. In addition, many systems require the maker to be able to understand and write code in languages such as CC+, which take time to learn and contain complex syntax.

Biomaker and the No-Code Programming for Biology workshop aim to break down some of these barriers. The course provides biologists with a hardware starter kit, a series of simple tutorials to get started using hardware and electronics, and an introduction to the visual programming language XOD. Instead of having to write code to control your instruments, XOD uses ‘nodes’ to represent different hardware and functions. Connecting these nodes in different combinations allows you to control your hardware and customise your instrumentation.

Previously, teams working on Biomaker projects have used these concepts for a wide variety of applications, including instrumentationmicroscopymicrofluidics3D printingbiomedical devicesDNA designplant sciences and outreach and public engagement. The No-Code programming for Biology workshop builds on what we have learned from running Biomaker projects and provides biologists with the necessary skills to start building their own devices and advance their research with inexpensive custom instrumentation.

If you would like to get involved with the No-Code Programming for Biology course the introduction, and first set of tutorials are now available on the Biomaker website. A number of hardware starter kits may be available upon request, although this cannot be guaranteed.

More information about the Biomaker project can be found on the Biomaker website. For questions and enquires please contact the Cambridge SynBio IRC and OpenPlant Coordinator Steph Norwood at