Get to know BioBuilder

Find answers to frequently asked questions about BioBuilder here. If you can’t find the answers here please feel free to contact us.

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What is BioBuilder?

An innovative, STEM education nonprofit created by an award-winning team at MIT, BioBuilder offers a wide range of open source, free curricula to provide hands-on experiences that foster exploration, innovation, and interest in the emerging area of synthetic biology.

For students, learning is taken to a new level through hands-on classroom projects, afterschool clubs, and summer internships that delve into problem-solving work in the areas of biology, health, medicine, and the environment.

For science educators, emerging technologies are explored in professional development workshops that empower the delivery of timely, research-driven lessons in biological engineering and synthetic biology.

All of the BioBuilder offerings —from a downloadable textbook to lab kits to professional development — serve to enhance existing science curricula while promoting practical problem solving at the classroom level.

What is synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is an emerging area of STEM that combines biology and engineering in order to build useful living systems in a reliable way. By combining scientific exploration and a disciplined engineering approach, new systems can be built to make better medicines, a cleaner environment, sustainable energy, and more.

Does synthetic biology matter?

Of course it depends whom you ask. We think so.

Colleges and Universities think so. Many are starting classes and majors in this field.

Investors think so. There was more than a billion dollars invested in synthetic biology startups last year.

And in a 2018 interview at SxSW, Melinda Gates commented: “Bill and I often have a fun debate about…If you were entering any field now and you had your choice, what field would you go in? He and I both would go into the intersection of biology and computer science. When it comes to that field, we are only at the beginning.”

How do I get involved?

Please go directly to our contact us page and let us know whether you are a student, teacher, or a possible BioBuilder supporter. There you will find a drop-down menu that lists our offerings; a member of the BioBuilder team will be in touch with you within 24-48 hours.

To browse through some possible next steps, visit our “get involved” page that’s linked here.

How did BioBuilder get started?

Created at MIT in partnership with an award-winning team of local high school teachers — and then organized as a 501(c)3 in 2011 — BioBuilder was founded with National Science Foundation support. BioBuilder remains the only nationally recognized curriculum in synthetic biology, a new discipline that is predicted to revolutionize the way we make everything around us.

Who is behind BioBuilder?

Our Board of Directors is made of a diverse group of professionals who remember that learning new things can inspire both hard work and excitement. A full list of staff, directors, and advisory board members can be found here

Do I need specialized equipment to participate?

It depends. There are activities for both the classroom and for laboratories. Each lesson plan identifies what you may need, and we have kits available for purchase to support some of the activities described on our website.

What are the benefits of joining the BioBuilderClub?

BioBuilderClub offers current biological engineering challenges so that students may experience scientific problem-solving in the context of authentic and meaningful investigations.

Students feel like real scientists and may envision themselves as innovators who will change the world. STEM mentors serve as an important resource for teams, and provide a real-world glimpse into the possibilities of STEM research and careers.

BioBuilderClub also empowers teachers to be agents of educational reform by reconnecting them with their love of teaching and their own love of learning.

Teams work toward projects to be shared with the BioBuilderClub community at the annual “Final Assembly” event in March. Virtual and in-person attendance, along with electronic posterboards provide for wide exposure and positive feedback from student peers and scientists. Some teams choose to work toward publication in a synthetic biology journal for high school students.

What can participating teams expect?

  • First-year U.S. teams will receive a “welcome kit” that includes a copy of the BioBuilder textbook and, for US teams, a lab kit to carry out a bacterial transformation. Returning teams will receive the BioBuilder e-book and, for US teams, an option for a kit refill. NOTE: Only US teams with all student forms submitted are eligible to receive kits. Kits or kit refills will not be shipped after November 30th
  • Access to free reagents from New England BioLabs is available by request.
  • October kick-off event, four virtual group meetings and a March “Final Assembly” event, all of which will be accessible virtually or in person for teams who may travel to Cambridge, MA.
  • A STEM mentor specifically assigned to support the team with their project ideas.
  • Monthly newsletters featuring profiles of BioBuilderClub participants and STEM mentors, journal articles, and news / opportunities relevant to high school teams.

Who’s on a team?

We welcome large or small teams (3 to 20+ members) comprised of high school students and one or two high school teachers as team leaders.

What does it cost to participate?

Early bird registration for those who register by September 30

First-year participants: $250 – includes mailed BioBuilder book and kit

Second-year participants: $200 – includes BioBuilder e-book and kit refill

Third-year+ participants: $150 – includes BioBuilder e-book and kit refill.

$50 registration fee if no kit refill is requested.

Registration fees as of October 1:

$300 for all teams.

Late Registration fees after October Kick-off event:

$400 for all teams

What will I need to get started?

The BioBuilderClub welcomes all teams, regardless of access to molecular biology laboratory facilities.

For teams wanting to DESIGN a biotechnology, you will need:

  • A teacher to lead the club.
  • At least one student to participate.
  • A good idea.
  • Some understanding of DNA as the coding language for cells.
  • Access to a computer and the internet.

For teams wanting to DESIGN and BUILD a biotechnology, you will need:
All the above plus…

  • Some basic biology laboratory equipment such as glassware, pipets, a water bath or heat block to heat samples, an ice bucket or styrofoam cup to cool samples, 4C fridge and ice-cold freezer (ideally to -20C) to store samples, a stir plate to mix samples, and an incubator to grow samples (though room temperature can work too). Some experiments might need a chemical hood, depending on what you are building.
  • Some basic consumable laboratory equipment such as pipet tips, plastic tubes, growth media, petri dishes, toothpicks, spreaders, sterile loops, bleach or the like for decontamination and disposal of bioreagents.

For teams wanting to DESIGN and BUILD and TEST a biotechnology, you will need:
All the above plus…

  • Some additional basic biology laboratory equipment such as electrophoresis chambers, spectrophotometer, and PCR machine.
  • Some additional consumable laboratory equipment such as gel running buffers, loading buffers, stains to visualize DNA or proteins, cuvettes, PCR master mix, autoclave for sterilizing reagents.

Regardless of a team’s goals, all participants will need to submit a media/photo release and liability consent form. A team photo is requested and all students will be asked to complete a pre- and post- survey form.

How are teams supported?

From Kickoff to Final Assembly, teams are supported with in-person and online expertise to guide their work. For teams who want to build their project ideas, New England BioLabs provides some free reagents. Beyond those materials and the BioBuilder kit sent to new participants, each team is responsible for supplying lab materials should they want to build their project idea.

I have a team! Where do I find the Team Resources page?

The password-protected page is linked here:

Protected: BioBuilderClub Team Resources

If you need help with the password, please contact us (info@biobuilder.org).

I'm a working scientist or engineer. How do I get involved as a volunteer mentor?

Please contact us (info@biobuilder.org) to sign up as a BioBuilderClub mentor.

Mentors include grad students, post docs, and scientists in the field. Mentors primarily serve as a resource for teams, particularly as they work toward their project to be exhibited at the Final Assembly in March.

The minimum time contribution expected of mentors is approximately 1 hour per month (October – December), and 2 hours per month (January – March), which may include team calls and email correspondence.

Mentors primarily serve as a resource for teams, particularly as they work toward their project to be exhibited at the Final Assembly in March. Most mentoring occurs virtually, due to the diverse geographic locations in which both teams and mentors are located. Mentors are matched with teams in mid-November.

You can sign up as a BioBuilderClub mentor here.
Or contact us at info@biobuilder.org with any questions.

When do you accept applications for the Apprenticeship Challenge?

Applications open January 1st, 2018 and are reviewed on a rolling basis.

How do I know if I’m eligible to apply?

Applications are accepted from students who:

  • Attend an under-resourced high school in the metro Boston, Brockton or Worcester area or who self-identify as economically disadvantaged
  • Can be nominated by a teacher or academic adviser
  • Are 18 years old as of June 1st following the Apprenticeship and who want to work in a biotechnology company in the summer
  • Or are 16 years old as of June 1st following the Apprenticeship and who want to work in an academic lab setting or a non-lab setting in a biotechnology company.
  • Are committed to pursuing a summer internship in the life sciences. Students who will be extensively engaged in other summer opportunities (travel, volunteering etc) should not apply.

How does the nomination and selection process work?

Students interested in participating must complete an assessment form (link to form) and identify a teacher who can serve as a reference to support the student application. The BioBuilder Educational Foundation and the Massachusetts Life Science Center will review applications. Priority will be given to students from underrepresented backgrounds and those in underserved local high schools. Participants are accepted on a rolling basis and all will be notified no later than March 15. We regret that we cannot respond to all student inquiries.

Are students paid for the Apprenticeship Challenge?

There is a $500 stipend for students who successfully complete BioBuilder’s Apprenticeship Challenge held March through May. All students are then encouraged to pursue one of the paid summer internships that the Apprenticeship Challenge may arrange. Summer placement opportunities and compensation amounts will vary.

How do interested companies and academic labs get involved?

We are eager to enroll new companies and labs into our program. Reach out to us for more information.

What is the Learning Lab?

BioBuilder’s Learning Lab brings science education into a place where science is happening. We run programming for students during the school day, after-school, on weekends and during school vacations. We run programs for teachers professional development and specialty seminars and workshops for STEM professionals.

What programs do you offer?

Current programming in the Learning Lab is built on BioBuilder’s open source curriculum. We offer workshops for home schooled students, teacher professional development, site visits for our BioBuilderClub, and an eight-week Apprenticeship Challenge for high school students from underserved communities.

We are also continuing and extending partnerships and site-specific work with the local community. Examples of these partnerships include our work with the Cambridge Science Festival, the Nord Anglia schools, Wuhan University, and EF tours.

Finally, we are always working on new programs since synthetic biology is an emerging field and developing innovative offerings is part of our mission.

Who sponsors the Learning Lab in LabCentral?

The LabCentral Learning Lab is powered by New England Biolabs and was developed out of recognition that tomorrow’s innovation relies on exposing the next generation to why science matters today. LabCentral is Greater Boston’s premier co-working laboratory and serves as a launchpad for high-potential life-sciences startups. They opened the community-oriented STEM facility in the fall of 2017 as part of a major expansion of their Kendall Square location. It is thanks to the early vision of BioBuilder and the significant support of the lab’s primary sponsor, New England Biolabs® (NEB®), that this vision has come to life.

How large is your space?

We have more than 1,000-square-feet of state-of-the-art classroom and laboratory space suitable for carrying out project-based design work as well as biosafety level-1 experiments.

Who can participate? Can you develop a specialized program for my group?

The bulk of our programming is suitable for high school and college students and their teachers. We also offer additional programming that meets the needs of middle school students as well as feeds the curiosity of our local community residents and biotech professional education.

Teachers, homeschool groups, international visitors, and community members are invited to contact us to discuss customized programming.

How much does it cost to use the Learning Lab?

The cost varies depending on the activities you would like to do in the lab, the length of time spent there, and the number of participants. Please contact us to discuss your project and request a quote.

Can you develop a specialized program for my group?

Yes, you can contact our team to discuss possible programming for students and/or educators.

Do classes held in the Learning Lab qualify for academic credit?

No, but teachers may receive professional development credit.

What should I wear in the lab?

Closed-toe shoes and pants; longer hair should be pulled back. Protective equipment will be provided, but it is best to wear clothing that can withstand spills that may occur.

Are the workshops geared toward high school, middle school teachers, elementary, or university level teachers?

The workshops are designed primarily for high school teachers, but all educators are welcome. In the past, we have also had participants from educational organizations, government, and nonprofits doing work related to STEM education.

How many people may participate in each workshop?

The average workshop has 15—20 participants. Class sizes range by location due to laboratory space limitations.

How much does it cost to attend a 3-day workshop?

For those who register prior to April 1, workshop tuition is $400. A $50 non-refundable deposit is required at the time of online registration, with the balance due four weeks prior to the workshop. The tuition fee increases to $500 per workshop after April 1.

How do I register?

Please register through the links above, selecting which location you wish to attend. Summer workshop registration opens in January through a rolling admissions process. As space is limited at each workshop, attendance is reserved on a first-come, first-served basis through payment of the $50 registration deposit.

What does the registration fee include?

Participants are provided with lunch each day, a copy of the BioBuilder textbook, and a binder with handouts of the workshop material covered. Workshop registration fees also cover consumable laboratory materials, instruction, and operational support.

What is the payment process?

Upon completing online registration (see links above to register by location), you will be directed to electronic payment options including American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal. You may pay the $50 non-refundable registration deposit to hold your place at the workshop or pay in full: $400 if registered by April 1; $500 after that date.

Schools may request to pay in full by check for teachers that have completed the online registration (without PayPal payment). An invoice with check payment instructions will be emailed to the school email provided. Please note that we are unable to issue Purchase Orders.

For those not paying in full at the time of registration, the remaining balance is due 30 days prior to workshop: $350 if registered before April 1, $450 if registered after April 1. Balance invoices will be emailed through PayPal.

Do you have scholarships available?

Yes! To request a scholarship application, please send an email to info@biobuilder.org with the subject line: “Request for Summer Workshop Scholarship Form.” Anyone requesting financial assistance MUST register and pay the $50 deposit for a workshop prior to submitting the scholarship application. The registration deposit fee will not be covered in the scholarship. The scholarship amount awarded will be based upon the availability of funding. Scholarships will be awarded on a rolling basis, in biweekly periods.

Scholarship support for certain BioBuilder workshops is available only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents due to restrictions mandated by U.S. federal funding agencies. Travel support is not available to any applicant.

What is the difference between the workshops held at various locations?

Summer workshops all follow roughly the same format. The core BioBuilder curriculum is taught through engaging lectures and hands-on labs. There may be slight modifications in lecture and lab content, with teaching module variations selected by the instructors. Luncheon guest speakers will vary by location.

Who will teach the workshop?

Workshops are taught by two trained BioBuilder instructors, one of whom is a university faculty member or grad student, and the other a high school teacher with direct experience teaching the BioBuilder curriculum.

Logistics: Where do I find information about parking, suggested lodging, and other travel information?

Logistics and other pertinent information will be emailed to participants one month prior to the workshop, including a 3-day schedule, map, directions and parking, area information, lodging options, and synthetic biology reading / video resources.

What should I bring and wear to the workshop?

Because workshops are taught in both laboratory and classroom environments, be sure to wear closed-toe shoes and pants for the laboratory setting. Lab coats will be available. It would be helpful to bring a laptop if you have one. Finally, please bring a valid form of identification.

Can I bring my own food or are lunches provided? What if I have dietary restrictions?

Lunch will be provided daily for all participants. During the registration process we ask participants to list any dietary restrictions and we will do our best to order food that avoids any listed restrictions.

What about the Northwestern University workshop registration?

The workshop at Northwestern University is free, thanks to generous support from The Baxter Center for Science Education, a hub for high school and middle school curriculum, teacher professional development, and resources in the field of biotechnology. The Baxter Center for Science Education has a separate online application process and registration for this workshop is unavailable through the BioBuilder website.