The alchemists: opportunity for a research project on biohacking/citizen ethnography


In Edgeryders (and therefore on the biofab forum, if not done now it is easy to do) we make everyone go through something called an Ethical Funnel before they are allowed to post. This consists in answering questions. You cannot post until you get the answers right. This makes sure people understand the rules, and won’t, for example, share their personal medical data or credit card details. It’s not just disclosure, it’s extremely prudent disclosure.


what exactly does
We also do "citizen experimental economics on it.

more soon…


Hi all, I’ve been slammed this week and have not been able to respond earlier. However, I will have a block of time that I will use tomorrow to synthesize what we discussed on Monday along with the call for proposals and the MoRRI. I definitely have some additional thoughts on what the architecture of the MVP could potentially look like, with CCL, Reagent, et al. Till soon!


Agreed @rachel, I would have to say that it is more aspirational, so that citizen/community science could be all citizens or members of a community (not necessarily bound by geography) could participate in.


So are we thinking that the fellows would be from the labs themselves, embedded from another lab, or recruited from our respective communities? Who do we see as ideal candidates for fellows?

… And I’ve been giving this more thought. One consideration is that in the U.S., we do have a few of the oldest biohacking spaces globally: Genspace, Biocurious, and Counter Culture (CCL), so that we could create a narrative about the rationale for partnering with US labs. This would allow for deep dive into the different programs that have grown as a result of maturing spaces, creating a more global stage for citizen science. While we have a wide reach of members and projects and CCL, I’m still unsure if we could be a direct partner being that it is EU-funded. If that were a viable option, we could potentially run the fellowship program. Again, I defer to @anique.yael while she is gathering more info.

Lastly, the one aspect I think that we have not mentioned here is the use and push for open science as a means for more fluid knowledge sharing. Citizen science is effectively crippled in the absence of open knowledge, which has the power to permeate different socio/geo/politico strata. This could be most relevant to the toolkit idea.

[Edited to collate multiple posts]


and we have to somehow be more inspirational too? :wink:
for our citizens of the global group really hoping for the ‘greater good’ whose community is without walls (like Hackuarium now)!


This is true also of the user-generated web…


It’s the beauty of community, no? That not everyone needs to be involved in everything. Food concerns everyone, but in a community not everyone is growing it (simultaneously). Same for cooking the food, fixing the cars and looking after the kids. People specialize. That’s how you get a bigger diversity of value created and consequently a higher level of prosperity.

Yes, air quality concerns everyone and everyone should be as aware as possible about it. Should everyone be involved in the actual research into it? I don’t know, maybe, maybe not. Maybe it’s about a few dedicated leaders doing most of the work and getting support when/where needed. Or maybe it’s about thousands of people spending 5 min a day doing one measurement. The question for me is: which roles can citizen science play? Taking into account more diverse options than those being practiced now in the mainstream.


I’m very sorry in my very late response (things were a bit too hectic the last days…), but I finally found some time to follow up on the thread and get some thoughts written down on what you’ve been discussing so far.

I do understand your point @rachel. @ Reagent, we have the same experience with just this group of very dedicated people that are getting a study done. But just as @ramykim mentioned, I think there is a large potential to evolve to a form of citizen science that more members of a community could participate in, called community science. Therefore I think that if we go for a global project, we need to find one that allows different levels of participation and time investment by citizens on a topic that is close to their heart. Air quality is a perfect example. Also Climate Change or water quality are also potentially interesting, if we keep the project open for participation of a wide range of citizens (with a wide range of interests and expertises).

I agree @ramykim that this approach of having CCL as hub could create a more global stage for citizen science. I’m curious what input @anique.yael can give us based on her inquiries. @winnieponcelet and I have given this more thought as well and we would be interested to run the fellowship program here at Reagent (if for instance if a hub at CCL is not an option). We do want to make a sustainable contribution to the project as we do feel a strong need for pushing the role of citizen/community science in society. This will also depend of the budget foreseen for coordinating the fellowships as well, as with Reagent we’re not sure how our flexible we’ll be in 2020-2020 from a financial perspective. If there is a way to have a hub @ CCL and @ Reagent, we would be really happy with this type of architecture as well! Looking forward to discuss with you further on the project.


Agreed, very open to this! Let’s navigate this based on the info we get.


Update! This is my understanding from a call we just had following up to the discussion in this thread.

  • We are considering applying to this call.
  • Project narrative: we study citizen science (in this case, biology) with citizen science (in this case, ethno-anthro).
  • How it works: we start from a bunch of projects that are being developed by the biohacking community. We fund fellowships to help these projects, and also to share notes on both projects themselves and the meta-discussion on what it means to do citizen- or community science, how it’s done, by whom etc. We then process this online discussion by means of SSNA, which running it as a “citizen ethnography” project. Additionally, we do other stuff around scoping the field (qualitative research, participant observation etc.).
  • As much as possible, we try to think in terms of ecosystems around citizen science. In principle, we should be able to observe and understand the dance between the citizen scientists themselves (the biohackers), academia that trains them and maybe works with them, (local) government (many biohacking projects are around public interest issues like water or air quality, or soil, or climate change), perhaps industry even (I know that Reagent, for example, gets its equipment via donations of local biotech companies. I would not be surprised if companies also recruited from the biohacking community).
  • The challenge, as always, is to plan activities that will help us observe this dance. In CCCP, for example, we had Milan as a sort of “internal client”, carrying a problem around boosting quality food production in the city; we had biohackers as “solution providers”, who committed to working with urban farmers in Milan to see what could be done around certain cultivars. And we had plans to mount a global online conversation around these candidate solutions, as well as local meetings etc.
  • Partners: The Lisbon Council; T-6 Ecosystems; Edgeryders; Reagent (with a formal involvement of other labs, starting with Counter Culture Labs and Hackuarium); University of Aalborg (reading me, @akmunk?). To be contacted: City of Milan (this is on me – reading me, @luciascopelliti?) and Zentrum für Soziale Innovation (this will be done by Francesco from TLC).
  • The main problem is the very bad prior probability of success: only one project will be funded. So, this needs to be triple checked before we spend time on it.

Ping @JasperB @ramykim @dfko @rachel @winnieponcelet and of course @anique.yael, whom I ask to correct anything I might have misunderstood.


Cool! There’s a lot of precedent from Boston and San Francisco of biohackers being recruited into company and university jobs.
The European scene less so in my impression. Even though there are interesting cases here and there. Eg. A biohacker guy that got hired by a large telecom company to just “explore” if biohackers could in any way at all benefit them


Cool thanks @alberto! Although yes there are some details on the framing and potential partners that have been missed. I’m stepping into back to backs right now but will update with more detail as soon as I can.

Also, Antonella, who is seemingly the scientific lead on this, and I are having a meeting on the consortium and work package architecture this Friday after which I’ll be able to share more.


Hi @alberto, I’ve been trained by @winnieponcelet as a biohacker, enough to go into academia. Now I’m training my students (coming from different departments) to become biohackers again, closing the loop. It’s quite a challenge (also bureaucratically, to swim against the flow) purely based on convictions, and I’m happy to ready you’re seeking for funding. We’ve gained a lot of insights and need a more solid backbone, help on the community building aspects, to continue doing this. So, if you’re seeking for partners on academia side, with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel we’d be interested to join and share experiences.


@Elise can you share more on what kind of contribution you think the VUB could offer? For example, methodology, impact. I have a meeting with the scientific lead on the project regarding the consortium tomorrow and if I’m clearer on what value-add VUB as a partner could bring that will support me advocating its consideration. Thanks :seedling:

To everyone else, more soon on how we see this lab/ meta-discussion partnership hub idea panning out.


Well, I think we can contribute as a case-study about “biohacking” in an academic context and the methodology to do so. I have a running project where my students are encouraged to keep a lab diary about their research on the biofabforum.
One of my research question is: “How can biologically augmented materials serve as trigger for systemic societal change with non-linear, anti-rivalrous and close loop dynamics?” I believe the answers are to be found by analysing and mapping the interactions that happen around the open knowledge transfer we do on this forum.

How can academia learn from biohacking groups, but also the way around, what do biohacking communities have to learn from academia? Not only investigate the differences, but rather find sustainable ways to work together.

When we look on this biofabforum, a lot of the contributions are done by students in an academic context. For example, the “academic”-posts usually contain more structured content, but are not necessarily “out of the box” experiments. While the posts by citizens are more crazy without clear protocol or process. I’m curious to analyse and trigger the interactions between both.

I don’t know if this falls under the scope of what you intend to do?


any latest news on all this? a key Hackuarium bioartist (Vanessa) is also back in town, after a long residency in South Africa, and is interested in grant writing for more collaborations, I believe. We also have a keen member wanting to pursue synthetic biology more (with HTGAA and iGem experiences). Of course, we are still technically ‘without walls’ but have great hopes that (as long as the safety inspections early in January go well) we will be moved into our new ‘home’ by February! :slight_smile:


Looking bad. We have a strong idea, but the call will fund only one project, so no point applying without a steel-plated consortium. We have someone looking into it. One last meeting (after the break), to see what’s the best consortium that we can put together, and then based on that we’ll decide. I would say about 20% yes, 80% no for me.


well, well. any news now that we are in 2019? will we have to find some other way to use the Hackuarium special EU number?? :wink: ciao for now and all the best!


@rachel et al and happy New Year. We have a call with our partners to assess if we move forward on Wednesday and will you let you know !