Hackerspaces, DIYbio and citizen science: the rise of tinkering and prototype culture

The global spread of alternative R&D places outside the universities and corporate labs offers an integrated model for art and science cooperation and public participation in science. These places (Hackerspaces, FabLabs, Maker communities) and projects (DIYbio) offer a direct involvement of citizens in the R&D process in term of translational and participatory research. What are the opportunities and challenges of these novel institutions across the globe?
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Denisa Kera
Christopher Coenen
Rob Van Kranenburg
Russell Durrett
Marc Tuters

Chair: Dr. Denisa Kera

Open and Citizen Science projects, novel forms of co-working spaces and labs like Hackerspaces and  FabLabs, and various Open Software and Open Hardware movements, all present an alternative approach to innovation and research outside of the official academia and industry walls closely related to art and design. These new alternative places present a novel model for R&D based on global flows of data, kits and protocols as means of not only scientific but also citizenship and empowerment project.  These global and alternative innovation networks are developing around these Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) subcultures, such as Direct to consumer (DTC) genomics, DIYbio labs, DIYgenomics Clinical trials 2.0 and various attempts for garage biotechnology. Such grassroots and open source models present a trend that is challenging the meaning of science dissemination, communication and popularization but also policy. They connect directly politics with design, community building with prototype testing, and offer an experimental approach for discussing issues of policy, innovation and citizen participation in science.  Communities of people monitoring, sharing and making sense of various “scientific” data and practices in their everyday lives are exploring new and unexpected global networks around low-tech biotechnologies and biomedicine. Maker and hacker communities around the world prototype future gadgets and tools with open hardware platforms. They often feed the needs of various grassroots open labs for affordable equipment and offer opportunities for entrepreneurship. These low-tech and open source strategies are paradoxically inspired by both EU based art and science centers and the  American spirit of entrepreneurship. The global and alternative R&D places are made possible by informal networks between ASIA, USA and EU that enable very different flows of knowledge and expertise from the official industry and academia. What are the various forms of these citizen science projects and initiatives? What challenges they pose? What opportunities they bring? How they operate on the global level and what type of exchanges are we starting to witness between continents and cultures? How to describe these new models of research that involve various local communities in the R&D process?

Paper Abstracts

Tinkering with the Human Body: Social Imagination and Technoscientific Practice

by Christopher Coenen

The Baconian founding myth of technoscience, which has been a powerful social imaginary in various phases of modern discourse on science and technology, appears to have been due (at least to a large extent) to the success of the late medieval technology tinkerers, the superior artisans. A future was envisioned in which a new society would be built on the foundations of highly organised science and technology. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries this imaginary was extended to include visions of a massive transformation of the human body and a posthuman future in outer space, made possible by an army of (techno)scientists. This social and technological ‘design fiction’ not only shaped the genre of science fiction, but subsequently also had a considerable influence on various developments in science and technology, such as modern biotechnology. Current buzzwords such as ‘human enhancement’, ‘cyborgisation’ and ‘transhumanism’ signal another wave of social imagination and technoscientific invention geared towards the goal of a posthuman future. At the same time, the relationships between technology tinkering and scientific research are once again the subject of wide discussion, for example in a broader debate on the theories of ‘technoscience’ and with regard to current hopes and concerns regarding hacker cultures and do-it-yourself biology. My presentation discusses current cases of tinkering with the human body against this background, taking into account both examples within and outside organised technoscience.


by Robert Van Kranenburg

Council is a loose group of professionals with different ideas and opinions. We sometimes differ and will probably clash. We prefer to host the full range of opinions on what will be a small avalanche of disruptive innovations. We do have something in common though. We have been through the full range of emotions and conceptual breakdown that comes with grasping the territory, the full logistical, business, social and philosophical implications of the Internet of Things.  According to Gérald Santucci, Head of RFID Unit EU, the IOT can not be build withouth artists, designers and philosophers. These insights were known to us from the moment we spotted them as designers, artists, coders, tinkerers and thinkers. Slowly over the past decade they trickled down into the Future and Emergent FP7 programs and the high end labs where the vision could not be scaled into everyday life so the notion of Living Labs seemed like a good idea. In a similar way it found its way into the chapter 7s of each FP7 project, the moment where an ethical person was brought in to sort of evaluate the damage this new technology would undoubtedly do. In recent years we heard of pervasive computing, ubicomp, things take think and studies concerning its societal and ethical implications. These studies are always interesting, years after the infrastructure has been rolled out. So yes we think that the words of Gérald Santucci are of paramount importance as for the first time we hear of this need for creativity, innovation and a human approach in the heart of the technical divisions and programs.


by Russell Durrett

Genspace was founded in 2009 by a group of enthusiasts who share one thing in common: a passion for biology. We come from different professions—artists, engineers, writers, biologists—but we all collaborate, learn and “do” biology together. Unlike traditional institutions, we see our diversity of backgrounds as our strength. It gives us our unique perspective to both teach and innovate. In the summer of 2010, we built the first-ever community laboratory, a facility where we design workshops, train students and innovate new technologies. To see what projects Genspace scientitst are involved in, check out our PROJECTS page. We have a dual mission. We educate about science, particularly biotechnology. The best way to inform dialogue about the many critical issues facing 21st century science is to have as many people as possible understand it from a hands-on perspective. Communication is clearer when done peer to peer. Instead of lectures, all of our workshops are hands-on and collaborative. We educate through discussion and teamwork. We also innovate. Think of Genspace as a nursery for biotech entrepreneurs. As membership-based community lab, we offer New Yorkers the opportunity to work on their own projects in a safe, open community. Our scientists will teach you the fundamentals of engineering biology and train you on our professional-grade equipment in our Biosafety Level One facility.


by Denisa Kera

While media, government, non- and inter-government organisations were speculating on the size of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and discussing issues of nuclear safety, standards and policy measures, individuals and small groups of citizens involved in grassroots science activities around the world were measuring, monitoring and crowdsourcing real-time radiation data and sharing them over the web developing what Akiba, Tokyo Hackerspace guru named “Humanitarian Open Source Hardware”. These emergent and agile collectives formed around the Tokyo Hackerspace or the community market for open source hardware such as InMojo are just the most recent examples of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) initiatives around the world that challenge our views of citizenship vis-à-vis emergent technologies but also disasters. While in 2008 and 2009 the DIYbio movement gained momentum in terms of popularity thanks to the quantified selves movement and its  geeky appeal referring back to the Maker and Hackerspace community, the 2010 marks the start of the global DIYbio movement. It is defined by various events around the world that identify with the idea of citizen science projects, low-cost and low-tech protocols, lab equipment based on open hardware and shareable and reproducible kits. The common strategy of connecting the DIYbio labs to the local Hackerspace communities is widespread even if it is not the only model. The more socially and critically involved hacking similar to EU art and DIYbio centers is typical for the large part of Asia DIYbio & Hackerspace scene except Singapore which seems to follow the US orientation  to entrepreneurship and personal enhancement.   Experimental form of research, investment and even artistic creativity show clearly how the “low-tech but high-impact” logic of the DIYbio movement operates in various contexts and how it can connect science, culture and society in ways that traditional policy discussions could not even imagine. The artistic and scientific solutions and protocols are affecting but also involving large groups of citizens and stakeholders in the process of the research, creation and innovation. Whether in USA, EU or Asia the Hackerspace revolution involves open source laser cutters and other open hardware tools that can create cheap lab equipment, enable synthetic biology recipes and other protocols that spread like cooking recipes, self-organized clinical trials and other community related projects that are challenging not only in technological but also in social sense. The strategies and interests of these groups are starting to converge into one informal “pop biotech” network between ASIA, USA and EU that is very different from the official flows of knowledge and expertise in the biotech industry but which also reflects many of the common issues and problems with biotechnologies.

Is Everyone A Designer?

by Marc Tuters

Fablab founder Neil Gershenfeld tells us: "the computer revolution is over... we've won... the questions is what now?" Bruce Sterling famously responded with his "Spime" vision for a fab-driven future in which manufactured objects collect and transmit data regarding their patterns of use to producers thereby underwriting our habits of consumption. In this vision objects are seen as mere instantiations of their lifecycle, upon which we are constantly iterating, 'up-cycling' their raw materials back into a closed-loop supply chain for which "waste equals food" (according to McDonough & Braungart's "Cradle-to-Cradle" design manifesto). While in practice, the current generation of desktop manufacturing may be far from sustainable, as a design movement it nevertheless represents a radical departure from business as usual, in which materials are recognized to having agentic properties and there are no longer any clear divisions between actors and the environment. In this "post-revolutionary" context, how does education become remodeled in terms of 'praxis'? I'll discuss ongoing experiments with liberal arts students from Amsterdam University College in rapid prototyping and game design.

Bios of the Participants


Christopher Coenen (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, KIT) is a researcher at KIT's Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS). He has a background in political science and has been conducting media/ICT studies since the early 2000s. His current research focuses on political, philosophical, historical and public aspects of new and emerging technosciences such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology and of related discourses such as that on human enhancement.



Founder at Council: hub for policy debate, innovation, practice and implementation of and on the internet of Things.  Projectmanager at SHARE IT People, Head of Public Research at Waag Society. Expert at EU Commission (HLEG on IoT) at EU Commission. Forging broad alliances between daily applications, infrastructures that support these and visions on the Internet of Things that script solidarity instead of even more fears of insecurity and innovation. 



Co-founder of GenSpace NYC in 2009, a non-profit community biology lab located in Brooklyn, NY that is dedicated to ‘making biology more accessible’ by providing professional biology laboratory space for individuals to conduct molecular biology research cheaply and safely. Over the course of 2010 he led the New York University Team in iGEM, a competition in which teams of undergraduates design and build genetically-engineered ‘machines’, and won a silver project for their project, immunoYeast, at the conference at MIT that fall.

After graduating from NYU with bachelors degrees in Biochemistry and Anthropology, Russell founded the New York Synthetic Biology Association, an organization dedicated to encouraging high school and undergraduate research programs in synthetic biology, including the NYC iGEM team, by coordinating funding and faculty advisement for students. He says his goal is “to allow the students to focus on learning the science, not to be sidetracked by the details.


Marc Tuters

PhD candidate and lecturer in new media at the University of Amsterdam. He has two graduate degrees from Concordia (CDN) and University of Southern California (USA), and has worked as an artist and researcher in organizations including the Annenberg Centre, the Banff Centre, National University of Singapore, Waseda University.

Denisa Kera

Denisa Kera (Singapore & Czech Republic) is Assistant Professor at the National University of Singa-pore and Asia Research Institute fellow.  Her current research is on bringing together Science Technol-ogy Society (STS) studies and interactive media design. She focuses on DIYbio movements in USA and Asia, consumer genomics services on web 2.0 and various forms of emergent “pop” biotech a citizen science projects. She has extensive experience as a curator of exhibitions and projects related to art, technology and science: ENTER3 http://www.enter3.org, "Artists in Labs" and "TransGenesis: festival of biotechnology and art" http://www.transgenesis.cz in 2006 and 200