BioBuilderClub is an afterschool program in synthetic biology for high school students. Student teams design, build, and test synthetic biology solutions to real-life challenges. The projects are wholly student-selected and -driven, and their successes are definitely student-generated!
The BioBuilderClub program’s inaugural season was during the 2013/2014 academic year. Since that time, more than 1700 students from demographically and geographically diverse schools have participated in BioBuilderClub.
That first season had five teams in three US states developing their synthetic biology ideas. By the 2019/2020 season that number had grown to 33 teams from seven countries (Canada, Chile, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Taiwan, US) and 22 US states. Even during the pandemic, 19 teams found innovative ways to collaborate and develop their projects.
BioBuilderClub teams have developed bioengineering projects to address challenges in a number of different areas: the environment, medicine, biomaterials, and more. Just a few examples of their innovative ideas are:
Check out the BioBuilderClub project library to see more student accomplishments.
Now, a new season is ready to get rolling. As students form their teams and begin their project research, they (and their teachers) have the support of a number of professionals:
In addition to gaining bioengineering knowledge, BioBuilderClub helps students develop their communication and teamwork skills.
At a virtual Final Assembly in March, teams are invited to give a one-minute “lightning talk” about their project and present a poster about their work. Teams that do so will have their project documented in the BioBuilderClub Project Library.
Teams can also submit their work to BioTreks, the only international synthetic biology journal that publishes solely high school student-authored and student-reviewed articles. Students learn to follow the journal’s author guidelines to prepare a professional-quality article that is presented at a yearly online review conference. Students also review and provide feedback on their peers’ submissions during the conference. These practices allow students to gain valuable pre-professional experience writing and evaluating scientific manuscripts.
All of these aspects of BioBuilderClub support real and meaningful student research, enabling them to take their ideas from concept to prototype to publication. In addition to hands-on laboratory skills, students report substantial gains in essential skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, project management, research, and teamwork.
The authenticity of this program sparks engagement as students experience the true process of research and learning. They generate a valued finished product that reflects their creativity, hard work, and productive collaborations.
Here at BioBuilder, we look forward to continuing growth in the number of BioBuilderClub teams, teachers, and schools. We anticipate 20–30% growth each season in the numbers of students and teams, and a corresponding increase in student projects published in BioTreks.
BioBuilder will continue to partner with supporting organizations and companies such as New England Biolabs, Ginkgo Bioworks, and others to help expand the reach of the BioBuilderClub program. Such partnerships will provide mentoring of student teams along with professional-grade molecular biology reagents, tools, and publications.