MIT DIYbio:ASA Application

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Why are you, the founders, starting the group?

The founding members are very interested in synthetic biology as an academic discipline and growing area of research within the field of bioengineering. We also are excited about helping do-it-yourself biology grow as a national movement. While synthetic biology has gained a degree of traction within the Department of Biological Engineering, in general, synthetic biology is not very well known at MIT. Given MIT's reputation as the world's hotbed of scientific innovation and exploration, this seems incredibly unfortunate. We would like to help address this deficit by creating a student group dedicated to fostering exploration and awareness of DIYbio at MIT.

How is this group unique? Could the ASA find similarities with other groups? If so, why should this group obtain recognition? What are the differences?

This group is substantially different from other biology- and bioengineering-oriented groups at MIT in that we would focus solely on synthetic biology and DIYbio. While our focus may seem narrow, other groups already exist that focus on particular issues within the life sciences, such as BE-BMES (Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering Society) and MUBA (MIT Undergraduate Biochemistry Association). In addition, we would focus more on actually performing experiments, and arranging biological demonstrations for the student body, which no other student group currently does. Moreover, unlike the Bioengineering Undergraduate Board (BEUB), we would not have any official connection to the Department of Biological Engineering as an advisory/advocacy group.

We also differ from the above-mentioned groups in that we would try to maintain a general hacker philosophy. Although we have designed our organization with an Executive Board, those positions exist mainly for administrative purposes. We will strive to create an environment where anyone, even new members, can feel welcome to boldly experiment and take responsibility for projects they are interested in. Additionally, we would welcome students from majors and departments outside of the life sciences, which is something that has seemed lacking in other life science-oriented groups.

Why does the group need ASA recognition? What resources do you expect to use?

First, we would like ASA recognition in order to legitimately use MIT as part of our name. Although we do hope to involve experienced "biohackers" from the greater Cambridge/Boston area, our primary focus is on involving MIT students; thus, DIYbio MIT is the most appropriate name for our group, and we would like to legitimize our use of this name by obtaining ASA recognition.

Second, the ability to attend the ASA Activities Midways during Orientation and Campus Preview Weekend would be very helpful. In addition for recruiting purposes, we would also try to add variety to the Midway by showing off an actual synthetic biology experiment (if we receive clearance from EHS regarding appropriate biosafety procedures).

Third, we would appreciate being able to apply for money from the Fresh Fund for supplies and instruments.

Finally, we are possibly interested in applying for office space under the ASA. At the very least, having some physical space to store our various supplies and instruments would be incredibly useful. Beyond that, if there is some possibility of adapting existing space in Walker for our use, that would be quite amazing. However, we understand that space is in high demand, and that the biosafety constraints of our group are incredibly limiting.

How do you plan to fund the group?

Initially, we hope to receive money from the Fresh Fund for initial supplies and perhaps some permanent equipment. Beyond that, we would definitely appreciate a small amount of funding from the UA Finboard for additional supplies and incidentals such as publicity. Eventually, though, we would probably prefer to become funded by the Department of Biological Engineering rather than Finboard, but more discussion with Course 20 faculty and Environment, Health & Safety representatives would be necessary for this to occur. We have been talking about acquiring some supplies, either by donation or at a discounted rate, from professors at MIT and Harvard, or from biotech companies that have recently had to close their doors.

How do you expect your relationship with your sponsor to work?

What type of events or meetings will the group have? Give specific examples.

If we acquire laboratory space, the major activity of the group will be DIYbio itself - that is, amateur biology and "biohacking" within the lab space. Whether we obtain space or not, we will have biweekly club meetings, which will be open to the general public, making group decisions, socializing, and discussing how past projects have worked.

Additionally, we plan on holding public events advancing general awareness of DIYbio. In particular, we plan on holding seminars about DIYbio and synthetic biology, both from invited speakers and club members. We would also like to arrange public DIYbio demonstrations (if we can obtain CAC and EMS approval). Finally, we will also offer general resources for the community, including a wiki and (with sufficient physical space) a library.

Who is the intended audience of the group?

The intended audience is primarily MIT students, especially those from bioengineering, biology, and the other life sciences. However, we would certainly try to reach out to students from other disciplines, in order to diversify the experiences and perspectives to be found among group members. We would also welcome contributions from the greater DIYbio community in Boston and Cambridge.

How do you plan to recruit new members?

If we receive recognition, we would recruit new members by (a) emailing the departmental mailing lists for Course 7, Course 20, Course 5, Course 3, Course 9, and Course 10; (b) distributing posters around campus; (c) participating in the Activities Midway; (d) word-of-mouth; (e) speaking about the group at departmental seminars; and (f) mentioning the group in Course 20 seminars, such as 20.20 (which deals extensively with synthetic biology).

How large do you expect the group to become? Why?

We would love to have participation from a large portion of the student body at our major events and demonstrations. While we would probably start by holding small events aimed at 20 or so students, we would certainly try to scale-up as we become better known, perhaps to events that target 50 or 100 people within the next two semesters. By the end of the academic year, we would consider it a great success if we built up to 30 members who regularly contribute to projects and planning events. Depending on EHS regulations, however, we might have to limit the number of active keyholders.

What has already been accomplished?

We have had three meetings to work on writing our constitution and determining other details about the group. We are working on designing posters for publicity. We have begun building a web presence on OpenWetWare (a wiki for life scientists, which hosts webpages for many labs and centers). We have written an initial list of materials and supplies we would like to have, as well as possible experiments and demonstrations to perform with them. We have reached out to Cathy Greene and Natalie Kuldell in the Department of Biological Engineering about the steps that need to be taken with the Environment, Health & Safety Office. Finally, we have begun reaching out to the greater DIYbio community by touching base with Mac Cowell, one of the co-founders of DIYbio as a national movement.