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SynBio Student Society full application

To establish the Cambridge University Synthetic Biology Society (CUSBS) to promote the field of synthetic biology amongst the student community and within schools in Cambridge. To continue development of OpenScope and other open technology projects.

Project Title

The Cambridge University Synthetic Biology Society (CUSBS): launching student-led SynBio initiatives


The Idea

The Cambridge University Synthetic Biology Society (CUSBS) aims to promote the field of synthetic biology (SynBio) amongst the student community and within schools in Cambridge. Particular focus will be given to its real-world applications and interdisciplinary nature. Expert speakers from different SynBio disciplines will be invited to give talks, and links to external SynBio events and networks will be developed. We aim to work closely with both the SynBio SRI and the Open Plant initiative, and strengthen their direct links with STEM students.

To give members hands-on experience in designing and documenting open-source hardware and software, CUSBS will run student-led projects. The possibility of wet-lab based work for future CUSBS generations will be explored, and suitable workshop and lab infrastructures put in place. Educational events for local schools relating to the themes of synthetic biology, genetic engineering, open-hardware and electronics will be held and teaching resources made openly-available.

The student-led projects set CUSBS apart from many other student societies, and the vast majority of the SynBio Fund grant would be used to cover these costs. As the longevity and success of CUSBS depends on getting students engaged in projects as soon as possible, we envisage beginning enrolment by January 2016. We also intend to apply for sponsorship from science-oriented companies, banks and firms that have supported other societies in the past. We would be keen to coordinate this with the SynBio SRI such that resources could be pooled and funds received would be directed into a central pot.


Who we are



1. Speaker Events and Networks

  • 1.1. Speakers from research fields including bioengineering, biochemistry, genetics, biophysics, mathematics, medicine and computer sciences will be invited to speak to members of the society and guests.
  • 1.2. Speakers from fields relating to the implementation, policy and responsible regulation of SynBio research will also be invited to speak.
  • 1.3. The invitation and accommodation of speakers will be the responsibility of the Publicity Officer, the Vice-president, the Secretary and the Webmaster. The Publicity Officer and Vice-president will be responsible for writing invitations, publicising events and organising venues. The secretary and Webmaster will be responsible for documenting the event.
  • 1.4. Expenses may include travel costs, entertainment, room booking and refreshments. These will largely be covered by membership fees.
  • 1.5. In addition to speaker events, members will be introduced to the small but growing community of synthetic biologists within the university. For students wishing to further their interests in the field, Café Synthetique and Maker events will be advertised, as will the annual iGEM competition.
  • 1.6. Finally, we aim to get CUSBS affiliated with the European Association of Students and Post-docs in Synthetic Biology (EUSynBioS). This would provide a link with synthetic biologists across Europe (including within industry), and keep all members up-to-date with recent developments in the field.

2. Educational Workshops and Outreach Events

  • 2.1. In order to increase awareness about SynBio and to introduce fundamental techniques involved at an earlier stage of education, members will visit local schools. These will include talks to students interested in science at university, as well as workshops.
  • 2.2. These will be organised specifically by the Publicity Officer and Project Managers. The Webmaster and Secretary will be responsible for documenting the event, and the Project Managers responsible for uploading and licensing all educational material produced.
  • 2.3. All educational resources produced will be made freely available (documents, source-code, designs and circuit diagrams) and licensed under Copyleft or Permissive licenses.
  • 2.4. Expenses will include travel, materials, equipment and refreshment, and costs will be covered by external funding.  

3. Student-Led SynBio Projects

  • 3.1. Alongside speaker events, the activities open to members will include student-led projects. Initially these will be hardware and software based, and the further development of the OpenScope project will be taken as a starting point.


Project 1 Concept: A small, automated, single-axis, digital, inverted microscope for quick analysis of slides to be used as a cheap sensor for water/blood testing in developing countries and quick desktop analysis tool in labs.

  • Rough Project Timeline: 24 Weeks, Beginning January 14th
  • 1-2 Organisational meetings
  • 2-4 Teaching and explanations
  • 3-7 Prototype of z-axis for software development
  • 10 First Prototype
  • 12 Software Prototype
  • 16-18 Improved version, fully working
  • 16-24 Student Exams, final testing/modification/tidying up


Project 2 Concept: A scanning, automated microscope for multiple samples and time-lapse studies, to demonstrate the use of lower cost DIY alternatives for instruments in research labs.

  • Rough Project Timeline: 24 Weeks, Beginning January 14th
  • 1-2 Organisational meetings
  • 2-4 Teaching and explanations
  • 3-7 Prototype translation stage for software development
  • 5-8 Lens holder prototype
  • 14 Software prototype
  • 14 Second prototype
  • 16-18 Improved version, fully working
  • 18-24 Student Exams, final testing/modification/tidying up

NB. The project timelines are based on the previous OpenScope project timeline.

  • 3.2. The feasibility of carrying out wet-lab based projects within the university will be investigated, with particular attention given to safety and resources.
  • 3.3. Potential collaborations with the WaterScope and DocuBricks projects will be pursued. The WaterScope team are particularly interested in a partnership based on the open-source microscope designed by Dr Richard Bowman, with which members of CUSBS have a great deal of experience. This would provide CUSBS members with the opportunity to work with the WaterScope team on optimising their microscope for water quality testing.
  • 3.3. Costs will include membership/access to the Cambridge Makespace (hardware projects) and materials and equipment, as well as room hire. Costs will be covered by external funding. However, alternatives to using the Makespace are being looked at as this is extremely costly. Currently we are working alongside the WaterScope team who share a similar need for a student workshop. We are in contact with the Engineering department, the Institute of Manufacturing and the Cambridge Eco Racing team about access to space and storage.
  • 3.4. All hardware and software projects will be fully documented using the DocuBricks software (developed by a team in Cambridge). All documentation, source-code, designs and circuit diagrams will be licensed under Copyleft licenses and made open-source. They will therefore be available to the public for replication, modification and redistribution.
  • 3.5. Once this year’s student-led projects have made a tangible output, the products will be demonstrated at outreach events and to interested parties. We have already been invited to demonstrate a microscope suitable for field use at the Royal Society of Haematology by Dr Nichola Cooper.
  • 3.6. Necessary for the promotion of completed hardware projects would be the larger-scale production of working demos (around 5-10 items rather than one prototype). Costs would therefore include buying multiple sets of components, packaging and storage. The funding for this would come from the SynBio fund follow-up instalment of £1,000.


Benefits and outcomes

4. Desired Outcomes

  • 4.1. Synthetic biology is a little-known field within the undergraduate community, particularly outside the biological sciences. This is contradictory to its multi-disciplinary nature. CUSBS aims to promote awareness of the field, and highlight it as a potential future research area for students. We also aim to complement the on-going work of other SynBio initiatives in Cambridge, including the SynBio SRI and Open Plant.
  • 4.2. Direct student-student contact would put CUSBS in a unique position to publicise university-wide SynBio events. In addition, the annual iGEM team would directly benefit from increased awareness.
  • 4.3. In the short term, the student-led projects aim to give students hands-on experience with hardware design, software development, electronics and documentation. CUSBS will be the first inter-departmental society that offers students project work.
  • 4.4. The success of the outreach day carried out in September 2015 by the iGEM team highlighted the interest of teachers and students in having increased focus on SynBio outside the curriculum. Team members were invited to speak at schools on topics including genetic engineering, programming and electronics. By continuing these efforts and organising hands-on experience for school children, we aim to develop an informed and responsible attitude towards synthetic biology.
  • 4.5. A library of freely-available educational material suitable for schools and similar societies will be compiled and developed over time. These will be open-source in nature, and published on the CUSBS website and other relevant repositories (Github, Thingiverse etc.).
  • 4.6. Collaboration with the WaterScope project may provide a project for members to work on. After meeting with representatives from the WaterScope project, the potential for collaboration was discussed. In particular, they were interested in having student members of CUSBS work on improving aspects of the microscope they’re using such as resolution and chassis robustness. We have also had interest from Dr Nichola Cooper of the Royal Society of Haematology in the use of a low-cost microscope for use in malaria diagnosis across Africa. She is currently discussing the possibility with tropical haematologists and we have received a preliminary invitation to present a working microscope in London in the new year.
  • 4.7. Documentation will be improved and made more accessible, such that members of the SynBio community can implement OpenScope designs and software for research and educational purposes. Docubricks represents a means to document all software/hardware developed by the society. This will involve direct collaboration with the developers here in Cambridge (CUSBS Secretary, Souradip Mookerjee, is currently working with members of the Docubricks project).
  • 4.8. In the long term, given sufficient interest and resources, new projects may be started and run in parallel. These may be based on, but not limited to, other previous iGEM projects. If wet-lab projects are deemed feasible then these may result in the synthesis and sharing of useful DNA parts or vectors.
  • 4.9. A significant objective for the first generation of CUSBS is to establish a semi-permanent workshop for members. This would be beneficial for both future generations of the society and other student societies that might need access to a community space.


  • Overall Costs: Speaker visits: £150.00 (Three events this year)
  • Makespace membership: £792.00 (Two memberships)
  • * Hardware materials: £1,450 (See below)
  • 3D printer: £1,500.00
  • Social refreshments: £20.00 (Speaker events and outreach)
  • Room booking: £60.00 (Three speaker events)
  • Advertising: £100.00
  • Total = £4,092.00

The follow-up grant of £1,000 would then go towards replicating the hardware product for demonstration purposes, and for hosting demonstration events.

Hardware budget breakdown:

  • 3D Printer filament £20.00 x3 £60.00
  • PLA Arduino Duo £15.00 x5 £75.00 For prototypes
  • Arduino Shield £25.00 x1 £25.00
  • RAMPS 1.4 Raspberry Pi B £25.00 x3 £75.00 For prototypes
  • LEDs £0.50 x50 £25.00
  • Assorted Resistors £0.20 x30 £6.00
  • Assorted Mirrors £20.00 x5 £100.00 For prototypes/improving fluorescence
  • Lenses £20.00 x5 £100.00 For prototypes
  • Motors £15.00 x6 £90.00
  • NEMA Stepper motors £5.00 x6 £30.00 for CNC Rubber motor belt
  • Motor belts for CNC Motor bracket £12.00 x3 £36.00 Bracket for NEMA stepper motors
  • MakerBeams Starter £100.00 x1 £100.00 For starter pack
  • 60 mm MakerBeam £0.50 x8 £4.00
  • Spare 30mm MakerBeam £0.30 x4 £1.20
  • Spare Beam joining plates £0.80 x10 £8.00
  • Spare Beam corner cubes £12.00 1 £12.00 Pack of 12
  • Miscellaneous £400.00 For nuts, bolts, tools, wiring etc.
  • Total £1,147.20 per Annum on Hardware
  • (£302.80 remaining for unforeseen costs)

Overall Budget:

  • Membership fees -£100.00
  • SynBio Fund -£4,000.00
  • Total costs £4,092.00
  • Total remaining: £8.00

*The Makespace membership budgeted here is a worst-case scenario. CUSBS is currently looking at a variety of options for a more cost effective workshop space.


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