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 (www.arduino.cc) 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 www.synbio.cam.ac.uk/biomakerchallenge. Up to 50 teams are funded over the summer. Teams will receive support up to the value of £1000.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The effort is sponsored by BBSRC/EPSRC through OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre (www.openplant.org) and the University of Cambridge Research Policy Committee through the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (www.synbio.cam.ac.uk) and the Sensors Strategic Research Network (www.sensors.cam.ac.uk).