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DIY Biolab, full application.

DIY Biolab plan to build and document open hardware for molecular biology.

The Idea:

DIY Biolab - Open source (OS) is reliant on a free and efficient exchange of concepts and products, and has been most successful in computing where the internet and common coding languages have enabled widespread dissemination of and participation in software projects. Open biology will require a similar set of systems in order to prosper.

In lab hardware terms OS allows for the creation of tailored solutions using modifiable equipment rather than general purpose lab equipment. Many lab processes have common physical (eg heating/cooling for PCR, incubation, hot blocks) and software (eg peak detection, feedback control) components.

In the most recent “Hack The Lab” workshop as part of the University of Cambridge Synthetic Biology initiative, there has been a great interest in building a do­it­yourself (DIY) biolab to make genetic research more accessible. Public biolabs already exists in a number of other cities. Our proposal is to investigate the currently available OS designs for basic laboratory equipment (PCR, pipette, centrifuge, microscope, electrophoresis system, fume hood) in order to build the first open labware DIY biolab. We plan to build and assess the function of the systems to generate a local resource bank of example equipment, subassemblies, suppliers, expertise, and documented software and hardware component libraries that will be useful to university laboratories as well as the open biology movement.


Who we are:

Please note that Ian McFarlane will coordinate this effort, while Tobias Wenzel will help him and serve as the contact to the University in the team.

  • Ian McFarlane (Biologist, none/ CamGenomics Ltd)
  • Tobias Wenzel (PhD candidate 2nd year, Winton Scholar and NanoDTC Associate) Dept. of Physics and Dept. of Biochemistry
  • Aleksandar Tomic (Calibration specialist, none/ThermoFischer)
  • Isabella Gariboldi (PhD candidate 1st year, Gates Scholar) Dept. of Material Science with links to medical research

And a whole range of further active participants from the Synthetic Biology “Hack The Lab” workshop series, who could be included here in time for this short notice grant submission but registered their interest to participate in building a DIY biolab in Cambridge.



The project will take place over many regular “Hack The Lab” meetings as well as additional sessions in the Makerspace in Cambridge, with the option for independent work outside of the group if it follows a clear proposal to build a certain type of biolab equipment. We already have prepared a long list of public labware instructions for equipment needed in a biological laboratory. We will provide these examples to the participants of these workshops and discuss criteria each of the labware units should meet to be suitable for a regular lab use. Participants can then build the equipment incorporating improvements based on our self­set design criteria. All the results and modified instructions will be made available to the public under an open source licence.


Benefits and outcomes:

We aim to establish a proof of principle, that (synthetic­) biology labs can be fully self­constructed with limited means and open technology while maintaining lab­grade quality. We would also like to contribute to the open labware and open biology movement by pointing out ways of quality assessment while maintaining the open source criterion.

We started an e­mail list with active participants in our effort to build an open­source biolab, with about ten active participants subscribed to far. We also got the OK from the “Hack The Lab” organisers to use the open workshops occasion and Makerspace facilities for this purpose. Many of the participants subscribed to the project are already individual Makespace members, providing access to a diverse set of free tools including 3D printers and laser cutters.

This grant would enable this present group of enthusiasts with tool­access, to acquire the necessary hardware parts for this project. We will also advertise the project across Cambridge to get further participants and as much high­quality open biolab equipment build and tested as possible, since some of the modifications of designs will require the combined effort of particiants over a number of time.

We are excited to be able to apply with a diverse team that comprises non­University members from a range of disciplines.



We apply for £3000 for this project. Because of the modular and diverse nature of this proposal it is impossible to give an exact demand of funding. We propose the construction of many pieces of lab equipment of different sizes over half a year with tens of people involved in the constructions. A lab- quality DIY piece of equipment built from scratch typically costs around 200­500£ (e.g., more for larger equipment such as a fume hood). All the equipment will subsequently stay accessible and in use in the to­be­established Cambridge open biolab.



The Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative provides a hub for anyone interested in Synthetic Biology at the University of Cambridge, including researchers, commercial partners and external collaborators. 

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