Tag Archives: Hackerspace


Help fund us! Click here

This is just a short post because there is more to come, but here is the link to our crowd-sourcing page! It’s been live for around 3 days, and we’ve already raised 25%. Any donations you’re willing to make, even $5 dollars helps. That’s the price of a latte! Do you like community science enough for a latte? A video will be coming soon, and we hope to get more pictures of the lab space up soon. With more money, we will be able to get to a safety level 1 lab! This means that we can work with Bacteria, because we’ll have a sink and non absorbent floors.

Note: This is not lethal bacteria. No bio-weapons will be made, or considered, or even thought of. Level 1 means we can work with materials “not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans, and of minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment” (CDC,1997) I repeat. Not known to cause to disease. There are many different versions of E. coli, the ones we would work with are more like legos of the bacteria world. You just add your brick (gene) to the E. coli brick.


So I’ve been talking a lot about Hackerspace on this blog, but I just realized I should upload this essay I wrote on them. This was part of my application for the Thiel Fellowship for the prompt “Tell us one thing about the world that you strongly believe is true, but that most people think is not true. If this belief shapes the way you live, tell us how.” As a member of the public school system, sometimes I marvel about the fact that I still like science. Lab’s turn into assembly lines where creativity is debilitating because of lack of materials and time. One of my hopes for Hackerspace like BioCurious, Genspace, and soon to be HiveBio, is that they can help get kids interested in science. People will be able to actually play around, because honestly, biotech is just awesome!

Ok, here goes the essay…

Our society leaves the talent of youth unharnessed. We place a higher emphasis on age than innovation. Some of the best ideas in our day and age stemmed from “kids” who still get excited with new ideas. We need to encourage innovation, giving more opportunities for young people to explore their ideas, rather than telling them to wait “until they’re older”.

Everyone has memories of being told, “because grown-ups know best”. That galled me as a 6-year-old, and it only festered with time.  Science fair projects based on friction seem fun for 11-year-olds, but no one’s supposed to even think about fission until long after college. When I started looking for lab prospects last summer, the dearth of opportunities for youth shocked me. Even in Seattle with a huge pool of biotech companies, only one summer biotech program existed for teens. One woman even told me, “You have a great idea, but you often seem to forget you’re only a high school student.” Science depends on new ideas competing for novelty, because being the second person to invent the iPod doesn’t really matter.

Clearly then, people with ideas need to be encouraged, no matter their age.  People under 21 have sparked some of the leading innovations in our time. Facebook stemmed from college fiddlings. Bill Gates cofounded Microsoft at 19, and started programming in middle school. Yet our society keeps youth waiting until years after college before they are supposed to pursue with ideas. Entrepreneurs I met while networking, like Cindy Wu of Microryza and Matthew Scholz of Immusoft helped inspire me to follow my dreams, encouraging me to apply for the Thiel Fellowship. But I’m one of few. For the rest, society must nurture innovation from a young age.

We need to encourage young people to share their ideas, and when they’re good enough, work hard to turn them into something. Furthermore, we need opportunities for young people to actually have access to new technology – to work with their ideas and experiment. Public School science mostly consists of a few pathetic kits, and uninterested teachers. It shows kids that science equals baking soda and vinegar or boring, outdated textbooks, just when they start to find their interest.

Hackerspaces like Noisebridge in San Francisco help to inspire innovation, but we need places all over the country.  Hackerspace, community spaces allowing for experimentation without formal background, exist for computer science, but are blaringly absent for Biology and other, less technology orientated sciences. By setting up places where people can work on their ideas without having it as their formal “work”, people start to innovate. These environments help to obviate the concept of failure, which is essential for innovation. People can test out their ideas without the threat of high-pressure venture capitalists breathing down their necks. And most importantly, people can start on their ideas right away, without trudging through a fifteen-year system of school, and entry-level jobs.

Youth have untapped potential to change the world – if only given a chance. I refuse to accept the fact that I can’t come up with ideas, or start a business because I’m “still a kid”. The enthusiasm of youth kindles innovation and fuels passion, but ideas aren’t considered without a degree and thirty years of age. We encourage every child to play sports, but we need scientists much more than one more NFL player.. The ideas around youth need to change, and more opportunities for them to explore their ideas need to be created. We need creativity safe havens for ideas to prosper and grow. Not just for them, but for the sake America’s place in the world.



With Regards,

Hackerspace Update – The circle begins

Not to keep up with stereotypes or anything, but I’m super excited to see The Hobbit. Long long ago, in a land far far away, when I believed I wanted to be an actress, I debuted in a camp production of The Hobbit at age 10. I wore white fuzzy socks for Hobbit feet. It was most excellent.Image

But um, away from my nerdi- I mean coolness, and back to bio! There is exciting news on the Hackerspace front. When I visited Genspace, the NYC Hackerspace, a couple of weeks ago, they put me in contact with someone who had expressed interest in starting a Seattle Hackerspace. Bergen McMurray works at the Allen Insitute and is part of the Hackerbot meetups in Seattle. I sent her an email and opened her reply with some trepidation. Had she already started, and I’d been out of the “popular bio group”, and so hadn’t heard? Had she failed, harangued by angry Bacteria rights activists? (This is Seattle after all). But no! She had already found a space to rent in South Seattle, and had started to gather lab materials and search out funding. 

Right now, we are in the difficult processes  of finding free-ish lab equipment and funding. I will keep you updated on the process, and mean while…

“Got Milk?!”Oops, wrong slogan. “We Need You!” There we go.


 We need a name for the Hackerspace. If you can remember back to high school science, you might recollect that scientists cannot name things. Look at Cummingtonite, a mineral named after Cummington, Massachusetts. Real original guys. Unfortunately, I am not blessed with naming prowess either. I named my two gray cats Foggy and Smoky (to be fair, I was nine.) Therefore, I need name suggestions for the lab. We want something interesting but so that you can tell that it’s about biology. Something in between “Seattle Hackerspace” and “Marigold Unicorn Space”. 

Au revoir,


Visit to Genspace


The Sterile Room at Genspace

I just returned from New York a couple of days ago. We got back at 12:30, though i wasn’t even sure we would get back that day. Due to extreme fog we were diverted to the Portland airport, where all the passengers, like middle school girls, huddled around whispering about what was to happen. When I heard in the telephone train that we weren’t going to get out until the next morning I almost needed resuscitation. My poor feet after 4 days of walking around New York could barely hold me up.

But back to the far more interesting matter of New York and visiting Genspace. If you don’t know about Genspace, it’s the first Biotech Hackerspace. It’s set up in a loft in Brooklyn. They run classes and offer lab space and advice, like most Hackerspaces, it started out in the corner of a different ex-Google run Hackerspace. Joseph Jackson from Biocurious and my friend Cindy Wu helped set up a meeting with Ellen Jorgensen, one of the PHD heads. Genspace is pretty small, taking up about 1/4 of the top floor of the loft. It has a computer room with a big table, then a sterile room closed off by glass for bacteria, and a workbench area


A look at Genspace. It ends after the book shelf. You can’t see the computer/ reading area from here. But the glass at the left is the Bacteria Room, and the benches to the right are work area.

Me and Ellen talked about Hackerspaces in General and she gave me some quality advice about starting and running one. She told me that a Hackerspace needs:

  1. Someone with Lab Experience to be there in operating hours (12-8 pm). Seems pretty obvious, but I actually hadn’t quite realized it. Generally good to make sure no one’s creating genetically engineered bunnies. Yes they could be benign Bunnicula like creatures (Please tell me you’ve read Bunnicula!), but in case they weren’t, I think death by bunny would be a bad way to go. I mean how pathetic would that be to have on your gravestone. You’d be known as the sucker that got beat up by a bunny rabbit forever.
  2. A person with authority who knows what they’re doing. 
  3. 1-2 people to devote all their time and coordinate with an expert. Because really, who needs a social life? I’m in the IB program in highs chool so social interaction just seems to foreign. I’ve come to the point where not having any work is stressful, because I must be forgetting something! So this part will work wonderfully for me.
  4. Someone to give and teach introductory classes. Anyone out there with biology experience looking for a karma boost or spare cash? The Holiday season tends to inspire both needs as we tell too cheery colleagues that “No, you can’t pull of that elf outfit” and mom’s candle turns out “to cost how much?!”.
  5. Create and atmosphere with support and fun social environment. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to do slightly more than advertising free pizza…
  6. Must have a Science Advisory Board to give opinions on tough questions. Like, “We probably shouldn’t let this girl genetically modify her boyfriend to want to watch less video games. Right?”
  7. The space must have non-absorbant floors for bacteria. hadn’t thought of that one, but good point. The neighbors would probably get unhappy if their ceilings started to glow. I mean, I would think it was great. But I’ve found not everyone shares my view of mixing synthetic biology and interior decorating.

She also highly recommend having Workshops to have funding. 

Seeing Genspace and meeting Ellen was really cool and definitely made me inspired about a Hackerspace in Seattle. I’m enclosing some pictures, so enjoy. And if anyone has lab equipment they don’t need. Well, post a comment and I’d be happy to pick it up!


Genspace work area


One shot of the Computer area


The other side of the computer reading area. This is the other boundary of Genspace

Renewed inspiration

Ack! So long since I’ve posted anything. Part of this is due to the fact that I haven’t had much new information on my project. I started interning at the Fred Hutchinson Center which is such an amazing opportunity, once again, thank you Barry (Dr. Stoddard.) I have to make a serious effort not to squeak with excitement every time I come in, I’m sure eventually buffers and mini-preps will make me groan, but right now, they’re pretty much the coolest thing ever. When I’m in the lab I almost feel disconnected from real life, like living in this alternate science universe. I wonder when my dream changed from living in a world that was entirely pink (Oh yes, there were unicorn Queens as well of course. And cotton candy clouds) to a science lab. I often feel a little intimidated since I have no practical knowledge, like at any moment someone might tell me, “Sorry, you’re not as smart as we thought. GET OUT!” Then I would run away sobbing, and go work at McDonalds for the rest of my life, gaining 300 lbs and losing all my hair. (This also happens to me my failing a test nightmare. We’re going to call this over perfectionism rather than crazy delusion please) 

But enough about my perceived physiological disorders, and back to science. Yesterday my friend Cindy Wu was in town from San Fransisco giving a talk at Ashoka Youth Venture so we met up and I got to go hear her speak. She was amazing as usual, and helped give me some great new ideas. I’ve decided to look into opening a Seattle Bio-Hackerspace (information on this movement here). Seattle has a huge startup community, and a huge biotech community, but because of a lack of a big DIYBio community and no place to do it, basically no Biotech startup community. One thing I personally believe very strongly in, is Youth and people without a formal background, to make a difference and have ideas that can create change. (More on this in later posts. Don’t worry, you guys won’t be missing out on the “What do you mean I’m JUST a kid!” rant) A Bio-Hackerspace allows this innovation without a formal biology background. A Hackerspace is a community owned space with lab equipment, that people can tinker around and make things/ test ideas. I’m hoping to get some funding, as well as equipment donations, and then member dues should help cover the lease. Hackerspaces often end up in basements, garages, or old warehouses (A.K.A. places with cheap rent and without heating, because really it’s not true innovation if you’re comfortable) Right now I’m gauging interest and scoping out potential funders, but I hope to have one up and running by 2015. 

So that’s the update for right now. I’m still looking for lab space to get some experimental data. So we’ll see how that goes, but I have the lab to occupy me in the mean time.