Biomaker Challenge

The Biomaker Challenge is an interdisciplinary team-based opportunity to explore the intersection of electronics, 3D printing, sensor technology, low cost DIY instrumentation and biology. The Biomaker Challenge aims to promote collaboration between disciplines, tapping into commodity electronics and open technologies for instrumentation to build research skills and collaborations. 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 recruit teams for the summer challenge, running information sessions and mixer events in Cambridge and Norwich. The schedule of events and other details can be found at Up to 50 teams are funded over the summer, and we are extending the competition internationally.


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.

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 on 27 October 2018. Up to 50 grants will be awarded.

   Download information sheet   for the 2018 Biomaker Challenge (2 page PDF, 650 KB)

Download information sheet for the 2018 Biomaker Challenge (2 page PDF, 650 KB)

Mk I Starter Kit (2017-2018)

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: 

  1. 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. 

  2. 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. 

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 

  5. 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.

More information about the starter kit, including links to technical resources can be found on the following page



Applicants and teams:

  • Primary applicants should be students or staff at the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre the Earlham Institute, though external team members are welcome and encouraged.

    • If you are not from a participating institute but would like to join a team, post on our Hackster discussion page and we'll help match people and projects!

  • 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, work with cell-free expression systems 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

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

The full application should be no more than 3 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.

When estimating components and budget needed to complete the project, please use the following suppliers

Successful applicants for 2018 will be informed by 31 May 2018 and the Challenge will officially commence on 1 June 2018.

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.

  • The Biomaker Meetups will be an opportunity to interact and help share skills and ideas.

  • We have set up a collection and discussion forum for all documentation and dialogue.

  • 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 clear, detailed documentation.

  • All projects should be documented on (software can be documented on Github and linked to Hackster) by 26 Oct 2018 ready to be exhibited on 27 Oct 2018.

  • All teams are expected to exhibit at the Biomaker Fayre on 27 Oct 2018.

  • At least one member from each team should attend the Biomaker training events though all are encouraged to attend.

  • You are encouraged to attend other meetings such Cambridge Science Makers, Cambridge Biomakespace Meetups, Norwich Biomakers Meetups and others from OpenPlant and the Synthetic Biology SRI.

Contact Details

Please contact with any enquiries.

The Biomaker Challenge is organised by:

  • OpenPlant (Cambridge) and the Synthetic Biology SRI: Alexandra Ting;

  • OpenPlant (Norwich): Dr Colette Matthewman;


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 (