Cambridge-Norwich Biomaker Challenge 2019

The BBSRC-EPSRC OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre sponsors the Biomaker Challenge for students or staff working at the University of Cambridge and the John Innes Centre and Earlham Institute, Norwich. Teams based in these institutes can include additional participants from anywhere on the planet. The Biomaker Challenge provides opportunities to work with an interdisciplinary team to identify and solve lab or field challenges, learn to use code-free programming for hardware and user interface development, develop biological applications, scientific instruments and real-world tools, or develop new ideas.

Biomaker Challenge is a five-month programme challenging interdisciplinary teams to (i) build low-cost sensors and instruments for biology or (ii) develop some biological resource or outreach project (non-hardware track).
Hardware Track: In the hardware track, we’re looking for frugal, open source and DIY approaches to biological experiments - from colorimeters to microfluidics and beyond. 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, a designer, artist, maker, or you’re just curious and interested to participate, we’re keen to hear from you!
Non-Hardware Track: Alternatively, we are keen to support original ideas that don’t involve hardware development - such as development of a new synthetic biology tool or resource, or social science, capacity-building, design or outreach activity. We will fund individuals or groups, but want projects to support interdisciplinary activities and sharing. To this end, we will be running regular mixer and training events during the summer, and have established a global platform for documentation and exchange of Biomaker project information.

Open Call:

We are inviting applications for the 2019 Biomaker Challenge. Application forms are available for download on this site. With a short-form application, all successful applicants can receive a hardware starter kit, document their projects on the Hackster platform, exhibit their progress at the OpenPlant Forum in July, and be in the running for advanced follow-on funding. The Challenge will culminate with a public exhibition and award ceremony at the Open Technology Week and Biomaker Fayre in October 2019. The deadline for submission of applications is on Monday May 13th.

The Biomaker Challenge is a great opportunity to learn new skills, collaborate with an interdisciplinary community and, in a short amount of time, develop tools and resources that are useful for real-world applications. Tools that are developed during the Biomaker Challenge must be openly documented and made freely available.

The Timeline


Biomaker Call opens:
Monday 8th April

Call closes:
Monday 13th May

Basic Biomaker building and team activities

  1. Call Opens: Monday 8 April 2019
    Eligibility and details of the application process can be founds at the following page: Apply now. Application requires submission of a short form containing a description of the team, intended project and any necessary materials. Individual or team applicants should indicate whether they wish to enter the Hardware or Non-Hardware Tracks (those on the latter track won’t receive a Starter Kit).
    Mixer in Cambridge: week of 22 April 2019 (Norwich - Cambridge transport can be arranged if you let us know beforehand)
    An introductory and mixer event will be held during the call period. This will provide opportunities for team-building, discussions about potential projects and introduction to technical resources and expertise that are available.

  2. Call closes: Monday 13 May 2019
    Completed application forms will need to be submitted by this date. Proposals will be evaluated by an interdisciplinary panel of experienced biologists, programmers and engineers. Proposals will be judged on technical novelty, feasibility and likely benefit for promoting inter-institutional links and interdisciplinary working. Successful proposals will be awarded funds of £750, and those in the Hardware Track will receive a Biomaker Starter Kit worth around £250. Funds will be transferred to accounts held by the local institutional sponsors. (There is an opportunity to receive additional funding of up to £2000 following a successful progress report and pitch for further support in July - see item 5, below)

  3. Challenge Begins: Friday 24 May 2019
    The teams will be provided with a low-cost development platform based on the Open-Smart Rich UNO R3 board, which contains a variety of embedded components. The board is Arduino compatible, and can be programmed directly from the graphical programming environment XOD. We also provide a 4D Systems programmable touchscreen display for building sophisticated user interfaces.Teams will also have access to their supplementary funds, to purchase additional components for their project. There are a number of mixer and training events scheduled over the months of June and July to promote interactions between the teams and sharing of new hardware and software resources. As the projects progress, we expect the teams to document their progress on the Hackster Biomaker platform. This is an easy-to-use, open and accessible vehicle for project descriptions, that has a large worldwide audience.


Present progress reports:
Monday 29th July

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Advanced Biomaker building and team activities


Exhibition and Awards: Saturday 2nd November

5. Progress report: Monday 29 July (OpenPlant Forum)
Teams will get together and present progress with their projects at a meeting in late July. This event will form part of the OpenPlant Forum, and annual forum that will be held in Cambridge this year. Teams will be expected to present a short summary of their project, and will be considered for the award of additional follow-on funding (up to £2000), based on their progress described on the Hackster Biomaker site, presentation and proposed use for the additional funds. Again, a panel of experts will be convened for the judging, and additional funding will be transferred to successful teams.

6. Advanced project building
Teams can continue their project work through August, September and October.

7. Challenge Closes/Open Technology Workshop: Saturday 2 November
The Biomaker Challenge will finish with a public exhibition for all teams at the annual Open Technology event in Cambridge. Awards for Best Biology, Best Technology and Best Biomaker Spirit will be awarded on the day.



Sara-Jane Dunn

Scientist with Biological Computation group at Microsoft Research Cambridge, Affiliate PI at Wellcome-MRC Stem Cell Institute at University of Cambridge

Sara completed her undergraduate and postgraduate training at the University of Oxford, first obtaining a Masters in Mathematics, followed by a DPhil in Computational Biology from the Department of Computer Science.

Her research sits at the interface of mathematics, computer science and biology; more specifically focusing on the concept of biology as computation, in which the biochemistry of the cell performs information processing in the service of decision-making. Towards this, she collaborates with experimentalists at the Universities of Cambridge and Padova to investigate stem cell decision-making throughout Development. As a computational scientist in biology, her goal is to identify the necessary abstractions to develop predictive, explanatory models of the biological programs that govern cellular behaviour. Ultimately, this research will lead us to make cells programmable, which could fundamentally transform medicine, agriculture and even the ways we generate energy.


Emre Ozer

Principal Research Engineer, Arm Research

Emre joined Arm in 2005. He received his PhD in North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2001. His research topics are energy-efficient architectures, flexible electronics/ICs, fault tolerance, machine learning algorithms/hardware and biocomputing. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed papers, and holds over 20 US patents. He has represented Arm in many European projects since 2008 including Hipeac1-5, EuroCloud, and TCLS ARM for Space. Currently, he is the technical coordinator of the Innovate UK project called “PlasticArmPit” developing bespoke ML compute engines on plastic that are tightly coupled to plastic e-nose sensors.

Neil Hall

Director, Earlham Institute

Neil has been working in genomics for over 15 years. He has previously led research groups at the Sanger Institute, The Institute for Genomic Research, and The University of Liverpool. His research focusses on comparative and evolutionary genomics in pathogens (particularly parasitic protists) to understand the molecular basis of important phenotypes such as virulence and host specificity. His group also apply genomics to the analysis of microbial communities in order to understand how they may influence health or respond to changing environments. Neil serves on the Wellcome Trust Biomedical Resources Committee and the BBSRC Exploring New Ways of Working Strategy Panel. 


Jennifer Gabrys

Professor, Chair in Media, Culture and Environment, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge

Jennifer joined the University of Cambridge in October 2018. Previously, she was Professor in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she continues to have an affiliation as honorary Visiting Professor. She has also been a visiting Research Fellow at the Digital Cultures Research Lab in the Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany.

Since 2013, she has been the Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project ‘Citizen Sense’ -- a pioneering investigation into the public engagement with environmental sensing technologies and citizen-data generation in both urban and rural locations in the US and the UK. Gabrys has been awarded an ERC Proof of Concept grant, ‘AirKit’ (2018-2019), to further develop Citizen Sense research. The Citizen Sense project has received multiple awards, including the John Ziman award for public engagement in science and technology awarded by the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) in 2018.

Gabrys received her PhD from McGill University, and her MLA and BA from the University of Minnesota.


Richard Hammond

Technology Director and Head of Synthetic Biology, Cambridge Consultants

Contact Details

Please contact with initial enquiries.
OpenPlant (Cambridge) and the University of Cambridge Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative: Alexandra Ting (
OpenPlant (Norwich): Dr. Dieuwertje van der Does (

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

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