Biomaker Starter Kit (2017-2018)

All teams in the Biomaker Challenge are provided with a Starter Kit, based on the Arduino platform for physical computing. We have chosen Arduino-based hardware ( as our starting point. The Arduino community has established open standards and rich ecosystem of resources for simple microcontrollers, first established to simplify programming and physical computing for designers and artists. Arduino circuit boards can be plugged into the USB port of any laptop, and a simple cross-platform programming environment used to program the board. A program is simply loaded to non-volatile memory on the Arduino board, which will execute this program loop whenever the board is powered on - behaving as a dedicated appliance or instrument. Arduino boards include many input/output ports, and are intended to interface with sensors and actuators. The Arduino system provides a simple environment for learning programming and hardware skills, and developing real-world laboratory tools for biologists. Further, the Biomarker Challenge provides a direct route for other scientists and engineers to get hands-on experience with biological systems.

We have assembled a £250 Starter Kit for each team that will allow even inexperienced individuals to develop skills, and provide a platform for exploring more challenging applications. The kit includes: 


XOD: Visual programming for the Arduino

We are adopting XOD as a simple platform for programming Arduino-based hardware. XOD is an open source platform that allows the graphical layout and assembly of software through connection of a series of nodes. XOD allows a hierarchical and dataflow driven approach, avoids the complexities of text management and syntax, and can be used to directly programme Arduino boards. We use XOD for our training programmes. 

The software can be downloaded from:


ARDX Prototyping Kit

The ARDX Starter Kit for Arduino is a great learning resource with components to build 13 different projects. The kit provides a manual with instructions arranged as a series of lessons. These provide a simple way of learning how to wire electronic circuits and programming the Arduino microcontroller. For example, the kit comes complete with a set of paper circuit templates that you lay over the breadboard and push the components through - to remove the worry of wiring the project incorrectly. No experience necessary!

The ARDX manual can be downloaded from here.

Further technical information about the kit can be found here.


Grove Modular Sensor/Actuator Kit

Grove is a modular electronics platform for Arduino-based quick prototyping that does not involve soldering. Simply plug the Grove modules into the Grove shield and leverage the example code provided for each Grove module. Grove is a modular, ready-to-use tool set. Much like Lego, it takes a building block approach to assembling electronics. The Grove Starter Kit contains 10 of the most popular Grove modules and an Arduino shield with Grove connectors.

Technical information, including code, can be found here.(


Sidekick Basic Component Starter Kit

This contains basic components to build 7 different projects, and include an additional small circuit breadboard and more hook-up wire. 

The kit is provided by SeeedStudios, and technical information can be found here.(


4D Systems Programmable Touchscreen

The Biomaker Starter Kit will contain a 4D Systems 3.2" gen4 touch-responsive programmable display from 4D Systems (with memory card, Arduino interface and programmer), with information about programming environments. An Arduino library for direct serial communication with the display is available - along with more sophisticated Workshop4 development tools, including ViSi-Genie, a graphical programming tool that allows simple access to a wide range of display widgets like gauges, switches, sliders, readouts, etc., for creating customised interfaces for Arduino-based instruments. The programmable displays can be easily adapted for Raspberry Pi board computers.

Product page for 3.2" gen4 touch-responsive programmable display can be found here.(

Information, including downloads for the 4D Systems Workshop4 development software for programming the displays can found here. Includes sophisticated widget-based design of custom interfaces.


Giant Prototyping Board for Arduino

 The Gtronics Proto Shield Plus allows you to plug in Arduino boards, and to integrate these with custom shields and components on a large plug board - minimising tangled hook-up wires. On-board push buttons and a LCD are provided to facilitate debugging of program flow and to interrogate hardware during testing.

A comprehensive manual for the board can be found on the Gtronics website.(

A series of free video tutorials for Arduino programming can be found here.


Additional support

All teams will be provided with the Starter Kit components, and have access to additional support of up to £750 over the summer. 

Hackster documentation

The Biomaker Challenge promotes an open approach to technical development. There will be four opportunities for teams to meet up over the summer in June and July (, and teams will be expected to share their projects on Hackster by 27 October 2018. 

Workplace exchange

In addition, University of Cambridge workers (with a email address) can join the Programmable Biology Workplace at  Workplace provides an online forum for building research collaborations, and sharing of ideas and equipment.

Biomaker Fayre

The Biomaker Fayre will be held on Saturday October 27, 2018 in the Engineering Department, University of Cambridge, as part of an Open Technology exhibition. All teams will be expected to demonstrate their creations at this public event. Prizes will be awarded for especially creative and/or enabling projects.


Arduino software

Links to software resources for programming Arduino boards.

DIY instrumentation

A collection of inspiring projects and useful resources for DIY instrumentation - a graphical wall of web links.

Arduino web links

Dropmark index of web sites that provide information or are suppliers of Arduino hardware and software.


OpenLabTools project

Forerunner to the Biomaker Challenge, the OpenLabTools initiative in Cambridge aims to provide a forum and knowledge centre for the development of low cost and open access scientific tools, with an emphasis on undergraduate and graduate teaching and research. Managed by Dr Alexandre Kabla at the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge (


The Biomaker Challenge is sponsored by BBSRC/EPSRC through OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre ( and the University of Cambridge Research Policy Committee through the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative ( and the Sensors Strategic Research Network (