Nyoka + MIT Media Lab!
Paige just came back from the Global Community BioSummit at the MIT Media Lab. If we could sum it up in one word it would be WOW aka Watch Out World! There is a super crew of activist-scientists working incredibly hard at solving the most pressing challenges of our time; climate change, food security, water purification, uncured diseases, global equality, and so much more:
Message from Paige:
There is an inspiring movement afoot - Community Biotechnology! The MIT Community Biotechnology Initiative has made the wise decision to hold a Global Community BioSummit - a gathering of active and influential scientists (academic and non-academic) at the MIT Media Lab. We discussed ethics, built shared values, and connected the global community to share skills and build relationships with peers, particularly focusing on 'DIY', biohackers, and citizen-scientists worldwide. I was struck by the passion of every single person I met - regardless of their beliefs, all were working fervently towards a democratized scientifically-literate future. Especially outstanding was the creativity of the wider global community - bringing science to less fortunate communities through outstanding and inventive initiatives.
REWIND: what is DIY Bio and what is this BioSummit you're talking about?
DIY Biologists, Biohackers, or Community Biologists are a few terms for this community. Many attendants work outside of the standard academic pipeline, and/or have left to pursue their own projects, start-ups, and non-profit initiatives. This limits the resources and funding many of these scientists work with, which instead of limiting the community, has resulted in an incredibly creative group who builds their own scientific instruments, builds labs in outbuildings or shared spaces, have created vast Open Source resources for fellow 'community biohackers', and are providing incredible services to those not able to access academic resources. The results are radically different than what is borne of the more traditional route.
The conference reflected these values. There was a deep focus on current environmental and social challenges the world is facing. The most compelling part for many was the keynote by LaDonna BraveBull, an indigenous elder who was an organizer at Standing Rock.
I connected with many attendees on carbon sequestration, climate change solutions, permaculture, gender-equality, social reform, health-hacks, and food security - not the standard talk at most synthetic biology conferences. Solutions ran from low-tech to futuristic to the extreme; biochar-everything, algae based land-bridges, genetically engineered super-carbon-sequestering photosynthetic species, carbon-concentration detecting live biological stickers, optimum health-hacking, VR-based worlds requiring minimal travel and resource use, and mind-hacking to change our values. Suddenly all of the dreams of science-fiction and the ever distant future became real in the present.
HOw does Nyoka Fit in With the MIT Community Biotech INitiative?
WHat do we want?
Now if you’re here, you’ve probably heard - the Light Wand is a carbon sequestering, compostable glow stick powered with protein-based light, or bioluminescence. Every Light Wand is embedded with a blend of restorative fungal and microbial species (probiotics), along with biochar and an agar-based dried-gel (prebiotics), which are proven to improve soil characteristics, leading to improved bioproduction and a higher rate of carbon sequestration. So basically every Light Wand is an undercover seed-bomb for ecosystem restoration! I started working on this project in my own kitchen.
I was beyond excited when I found out I was accepted to attend this conference. I have to say - for the first time in a maybe my whole life I felt surrounded by people like me. *happy-cry emoji* Passionate about the current challenges of the day, obsessive over their work, and crazy enough to actually think they can make a difference, this conference was stacked! Nearly every person I talked to had founded a company, started a community bio-lab, and/or invented an improved piece of equipment or methodology. I even met two people as obsessed with bioluminescence as me (perhaps more)! One is currently working on a 3-year media study to optimize color pathways, and another is developing a sound-activated hologram aquarium using live pyrocystis fusiformis in the MIT Media Lab itself.
Make Space and Participate! My Experience and My Offering
I lead an 'unconference' session on ‘Design for Rebirth’ (pictured above), which is a concept and design framework I've been building on for a while. Inspired after watching a documentary 'Designed for Death' about smartphones and other e-waste, I flipped it into ‘Design for Rebirth’, which the Light Wand is a manifestation of. Rather than being a pollutant when humans are done with it, the Light Wand lives on and provides a service to the Earth, actually helping to heal some of the damage we have caused. It is my hope that many things will be "Designed for Rebirth".
For the session we went outside and took off our shoes. I led the participants in a brief meditation (to calm down and get cozy), then did some yoga and terrible parkour :) Inside we discussed the many ways we could design everyday objects to live on and be a healing force even after we are done using them. Incredibly honoured to have Tessa from AlgiKnit and Elliot from Spira at my workshop!
Other workshops included; DNA robotics, GIY (grow it yourself) mycelium molds from Ecovative, hands-on CRISPR, DIY microscopes, plant propagation 101, microbial music, designing with live organisms, and open-source microfluidics. For more info on the summit check out www.biosummit.org
Using Citizen Science and DIY-Bio to democratize access to empowering research and education
With so much top-down financial control leveraged over research and grants, reduced budgets for education and science, and funding often not supporting innovative or exploratory research, independent and Open Source initiatives help support a more innovative, scientifically literate, and empowered population. Initiatives such as Open Science radically enable disadvantaged communities with knowledge and skills that were once only accessible through post-secondary education. The financial load of standard academia makes post-secondary education inaccessible to many, but Open Science and Community Initiatives lower the barrier to access.
Many people are left out of the academic pipeline; people with disabilities, people with financial struggles, people with mental health challenges, people of colour, indigenous communities, the list goes on and on - basically all the people disadvantaged in our capitalist, patriarchal, racist society- these are the very people we need to provide a broader perspective within science as a discipline itself. With the current climate destabilization we are in, we need empowered citizen-scientists everywhere; improving local food security, taking control of local pollution levels, working with politicians to advise ecosystem-resilience strategies, empowering disadvantaged communities, and providing novel solutions that could never come out of the academic pipeline.
Everybody should have the opportunity to engage in research and practice science. The resources and technology are becoming more and more accessible. This is the power of the Global Community BioSummit and the Community Bio initiative.
How powerful is it to say - we can do this ourselves.
Hey you! Are you an activist/scientist/idea-generator/entrepreneuR? There are many ways to build your skills and get involved:
Digital Media Scholarship Commons classes at UVic – electronics, IoT, 3D printing, Data management and visualization, VR access, etc.
Victoria Makerspace: workshops, reduced student rates, biolab space there, etc. + community!
Victoria iGEM team – get involved in community bio! Learn what 'synthetic biology' is and the goals of the community.
UVic Virtual Reality - the Virtual Reality club builds game-design skills and how to turn your visions into 'virtual-reality'
UVic Innovation Centre - an on-campus incubator where you can practice pitching your idea, connect with a community of mentors, and build your team.
Sci-Hub Open Access science platform for researchers to make their work accessible to all
MIT Community Biotechnology Initiative Connecting like-minded people worldwide
SPARC - global coalition to make science open
Use google to find a local community lab, or start your own! There are many resources available and a global community to help.