BioMakerspace to open this coming IAP in Building 26
Lab will have Biosafety Level 2 capabilities and contain basic equipment
A new biology makerspace, called the “BioMakerspace,” is scheduled to open this coming IAP in the basement of Building 26. The space, which is currently under construction, will be open to “the entirety of the MIT community” to be “used for whatever the student users really want to use it for,” said Justin Buck PhD ’12 in an interview with The Tech. Buck is the manager of the BioMakerspace and is currently overseeing its construction.
Buck said the lab will have Biosafety Level 2 capabilities and contain “all the basic equipment,” including a tissue culture room, incubators, centrifuges, microscopes, pipettes, thermal cyclers, a refrigerator, a PCR, and common reagents.
Construction of the space is in the final stages and equipment is in the process of being obtained. “We're really hoping to have a very large and active launch over IAP,” said Buck. “We plan to have workshops for folks to come and participate in if they don't have exposure to biology or would like to see and understand what it’s like to work with different projects.”
MIT students looking to work in the lab must submit a project application and undergo lab training. Steve Wasserman, one of the biological engineering instructors who has helped run the biology makerspace program since its early stages, told The Tech in an interview that the lab has a stipulation that allows students to maintain intellectual property of the work they do in the lab and use it to launch their own companies.
A lounge next to the lab will provide a place to work and congregate. “The idea that we're pursuing is that this facility will serve as the nucleus for a community that is interested in life science,” Wasserman explained.
Construction began April 2019 after several years of what Buck described as a very successful “pilot phase,” which operated out of the bioengineering department teaching laboratories.
Wasserman said the idea for a biology makerspace program arose several years ago out of student demand. “Students get all kinds of crazy ideas and they want to do them, and a lot of times there are barriers to doing them in various research labs around campus,” Wasserman said, citing the lack of spaces with appropriate equipment, intellectual property rights, and supervision.
Past projects through the program range from therapeutic drug delivery to kombucha, mostly “independent projects thought up by the students,” Buck said. “That’s what I think makes the space most unique and what it is. Perhaps its greatest value as an asset to the community is that it is open to any ideas.”
Associate Provost Krystyn Van Vliet PhD ‘02 told The Tech in an interview that having an independent lab for the biology makerspace has several benefits over continued use of the bioengineering teaching labs, such as not having to risk disrupting classes being taught in the teaching labs and flexibility in regards to research groups and topics.
“Teaching spaces have to have things set up just so, and they're not places where we tend to do projects that would mix different research groups,” Van Vliet said. “Creating a mechanism where students, postdocs, other kinds of research staff, and faculty can work on things together that might not be within the research interests and domain of the existing faculty is how new ideas get started.”
Both Buck and Van Vliet mentioned the establishment of the biology makerspace as part of a campus-wide trend towards makerspaces. For example, Van Vliet pointed to the planned Project Manus community-wide makerspace that will be on the first floor of the Metropolitan Warehouse.
Buck said the BioMakerspace is the “first space that is really enabled and focused on working with biology as a medium.”
Construction of the BioMakerspace is conducted by Greene Construction and sponsored by the biological engineering and chemical engineering departments, along with a donor whose identity Buck declined to disclose.
Van Vliet said additional funds were provided by the MIT Committee for Renovation and Space Planning (CRSP), which she co-chairs. According to Van Vliet, CRSP was responsible for much of the behind-the-scenes work in arranging for the bio makerspace to be designed and built.
Along with Buck and Wasserman, several other biological and chemical engineering faculty and instructors, including the department heads, are closely involved in the project. Additionally, a BioMakers student group is currently helping with “planning and launching the itinerary of activities for IAP,” Buck said.
Wasserman described student feedback as instrumental in the design of the layout and contents of the lab and lounge. “In the more public areas, the windows are bigger. … The windows get smaller and smaller as you go to more private places,” Wasserman said. “We asked in one of our surveys how open they wanted to space to be, ... and the students said that they didn’t want to be in a fishbowl.”
Students interested in the BioMakerspace are encouraged to contact Justin Buck at firstname.lastname@example.org.