Synthetic Biology meets real world instrumentation

The Biomaker programme provides funding for interdisciplinary team-based projects at the intersection of electronics, 3D printing, sensor technology, low cost DIY instrumentation and biology - and policy workshops and outreach events. These projects aim to build open technologies and promote development of research skills and collaborations. They tap into existing open standards and a rich ecosystem of resources for microcontrollers, first established to simplify programming and physical computing for designers, artists and scientists. These resources provide a simple environment for biologists to learn programming and hardware skills, and develop real-world laboratory tools. Further, the Biomaker projects provide a direct route for physical scientists and engineers to get hands-on experience with biological systems.

Biomaker Challenge 2019

We are running a technical challenge in 2019 - which provides an opportunity for non-experts learn how to use XOD graphical programming resources to build new hardware instruments with touchscreen displays. No programming experience required. We will provide a starter kit and links to software resources. Entries for the Challenge will open in April 2019.

The OpenPlant initiative ( is supporting the Biomaker Challenge for biologists, engineers and programmers to design and build software modules and hardware devices. We use the graphical Arduino programming environment, XOD ( to simplify the integration of low-cost sensors, displays and actuators for biological applications.

There is a simple application procedure - submit a short outline, and successful bids will receive an Arduino Starter Kit with 30 accessory components, including a 4D Systems programmable touchscreen. Your project must be documented and publicly accessible. We're using the platform for development of project portfolios and connection with that very large community (~700,000) of open source hardware hackers and technical experts. (see for examples of Biomaker projects). Start your plans now for the next Biomaker Challenge! Open to workers at the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre and Earlham Institute, Norwich - and any partners. Applications will open in March-April 2019, and be accessible from this site.

Looking to get involved?

Have a burning idea for a project? Looking for partners to help out? Post on our Hackster discussion page and we'll help match people and projects - or you can nominate an individual project. See more details about what is available under “Challenges”, and contact Alexandra Ting ( with your proposal.

[Latest News 2019: Thanks to Max Danilin and Victor Nakoryakov (lead developers for XOD) - for a new XOD library for code-free programming of 4D Systems touchscreens. Grab a copy of the library for code-free programming of custom interfaces using your Biomaker Starter Kit, and provide feedback to the developers.
And with follow-up contribution from bradzilla84, with extended library for support of additional 4DS touchscreen functions (, see]

Regular Biomaker training sessions for non-programmers. Learn to use XOD - a free graphical programming interface

Regular Biomaker training sessions for non-programmers. Learn to use XOD - a free graphical programming interface

Annual Biomaker Fayre

We organise an annual get-together in Cambridge, to celebrate/explore work with open technologies. On Saturday 27th October 2018 we held a showcase for open source technologies in research and education, with a morning of talks followed by an afternoon of practical demonstrations. This included public talks on:

600 below to 400 above: science with Raspberry Pi’s, Richard Hayler (Raspberry Pi)
Open tools for animal conservation, Alastair Davis (Shuttleworth Fellow)
Hacking Open Source 3D Printers to Make Better Solar Cells, Grey Christoforo (Dept. of Physics, University of Oxford)
Open Instrumentation for Africa: Microscopes, measurements, and more, Julian Stirling (Dept. of Physics, University of Bath)
Open Cell, building a critical mass for biotechnology, Helene Steiner (Co-founder & Director Open Cell, Co-founder & CCO Cell-Free Technology)

Exhibits included:
Biomakespace, OpenCell, Citizen science with Raspberry Pi, DaisyDriver: simple, cheap, transparent automation for science, Multispectral imaging camera with Raspberry Pi, Humane Technologies, Cartesian coordinate robot for dispensing fruit fly food, Temperature controlled container for sample transportation, Automated water irrigation, lighting and monitoring system for plant growth, Agarose device to generate and study an in vitro embryonic model system, Wearable biosensor for monitoring vaginal discharge, The Oscillostat: evolution under temporally-controlled selection, Open bioreactor for local enzyme manufacturing, Visual programming for Biomakers, Improving dual-view imaging in a custom-built light sheet microscope, Palm sized spectrophotometer for biosensors application in environment surveillance, LyseeFlask - and more!

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Latest News and Updates

Opportunities for collaboration

Since 2014, we have funded small interdisciplinary projects and catalysed new collaborations between several hundred students, researchers and academics across Cambridge, Norwich and beyond. A comprehensive listing of these projects is provided here, along with links to open resources generated during the work. The projects have generated a large number of electronic prototypes, software, 3D printed devices and biological elements. We hope that these resources prove useful and can be built upon by others, especially as initiators for new low-cost approaches to quantitative biology and engineering for teaching and research. Please contact us if we can assist in any way.

The Biomaker projects have been funded from a variety of sources, starting with support for mini-projects by a Strategic Research Initiative in Synthetic Biology at the University of Cambridge. This was followed by major support (£0.5M) from the BBSRC/EPSRC OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre, and support from the University of Cambridge Research Policy Committee through the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative and CamBridgeSens Strategic Research Network. A number of these funding opportunities are ongoing and we actively promote wide participation both within Cambridge and Norwich, and from external partners - including international collaborations at the level of individuals, companies and institutions. In particular, the new Biomaker Challenge has been designed to be easily portable between institutions and open to industrial collaboration, and we invite anyone interested to get in touch.


Informal get-togethers

Cafe Synthetique is an informal get-together for people interested in synthetic biology and construction and interrogation of reprogrammed biological systems. Evening discussion meetings are held monthly at the Panton Arms pub in Cambridge. Details of these and other synthetic biology related events can be found at the Meetup site:

Download OpenPlant Handbook 2018   (15 MB, 170p) with details of OpenPlant Fund projects and Biomaker Challenge

Download OpenPlant Handbook 2018 (15 MB, 170p) with details of OpenPlant Fund projects and Biomaker Challenge

SynBio SRI Fund
The SynBio Fund supported eighteen innovative, open and interdisciplinary projects relevant to Synthetic Biology over 2015-16. The aim of the fund was to promote the development of Synthetic Biology as an interdisciplinary field at the University of Cambridge.

OpenPlant Fund
The OpenPlant Fund supports innovative, open and interdisciplinary projects relevant to plant Synthetic Biology. The fund facilitates exchange between the University of Cambridge, the John Innes Centre, and the Earlham Institute for the development of open technologies and responsible innovation.

Biomaker Challenge
With the next round due in Spring 2019, the Biomaker Challenge is a six-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.