Highlights from the Biodesign Challenge Summit

A year of BDC culminates at the Museum of Modern Art
Luke Jerram
The Glass Microbe by Luke Jerram
Trophy for BDC 2016 – the Glass Microbe by Luke Jerram Luke Jerram

Nearly two years ago, we conceived of the Biodesign Challenge (BDC) as an open-ended experiment: What visions would art and design students create, what possibilities would they imagine if they were given the tools of biotechnology and access to scientific mentorship?

BDC was initially designed to explore the implications of emerging biotech for the world. It was founded on the belief that young artists and designers could bring new perspectives to the technology, shed light on potential environmental and cultural consequences, and open up new possibilities.

For the past academic year, I’ve been traveling between colleges to meet the students. Many hadn’t taken a biology class since high school, and yet they were 3D printing living materials, building ecosystems and manipulating DNA, all as part of their art and design curricula. I witnessed students falling in love with slime mold, spiders, lichen, cacti, and silkworms as inspirations and living substrates for their work.

I also witnessed the growth of a community. Artists, designers, and scientists who might ordinarily keep to opposite sides of campus came together to work with the students.

Here are some highlights from 2016. We’re already gearing up for BDC 2017:

Daniel Grushkin opens the Biodesign Challenge Summit 2016 at MoMA.

BDC Summit at MoMA

The teams, chosen from more than 130 participating students, showcased projects at Museum of Modern Art’s Bartos Theater during our daylong BDC Summit.

Keynote speakers included Paola Antonelli, MoMA’s senior curator of architecture and design, and Suzanne Lee, creative director of Modern Meadow and founder of Biofabricate. Learn More

Maryland Institute College of Art presents their project Starter Culture.
Maryland Institute College of Art presents their project Starter Culture. Elizabeth Rogers

SVA and Tech Museum showcase BDC projects

A weeklong gallery show, called Our Biotech Future(s): Student Projects from the Biodesign Challenge, took place at School of Visual Arts (SVA). Many thanks to Suzanne Anker, Chair of the Fine Arts Department, and her team for making the show possible.

Student projects, including UPenn’s Stabilimentum are now on display at the Tech Museum of Innovation’s new Biodesign Studio, scheduled to run for the next decade.

BDC in the News

Science Friday did a video, article, and radio segment on the BDC Summit. It’s a perfect summary if you missed the event.

Fast Company Design covered the BDC Summit, highlighting some of the students in context of contemporary biodesign.

Founders Fund featured BDC on Anatomy of Next, its new multimedia blog.

Daniel Grushkin awards the glass microbe to Fashion Institute of Technology
Daniel Grushkin awards the Glass Microbe to Fashion Institute of Technology. Elizabeth Rogers

Announcing BDC 2016 Winners!

Overall Winner

Fashion Institute of Technology

BIOESTERS: Tessa Callaghan, Gian Cui, Aleksandra Gosiewski, Aaron Nesser, Theanne Schiros, Asta Skocir

By creating yarn from extruded bacteria and fungi, Bioesters explored sustainable alternatives to wearable materials

Runner Up

School of Visual Arts

MYOTOMATO: Andrew Cziraki, Victor Taboada, Darya Warner & John Wells

To supplement nutrition, MyoTomato bioengineered a tomato plant to produce myoglobin, a protein normally found in meat.

MyoTomato by School of Visual Arts
MyoTomato by School of Visual Arts School of Visual Arts

Autodesk Prize for Best Visualization

Southern California Institute of Architecture

MUTUA: Mun Yi Cheng, Caleb Fisher, Fangyuan Hu, Brendan Ho, Ryan Odom, Anthony Stoffella & Xiangtia Sun

A panel inside homes on which organisms grow and behave as biosensors and living art, Mutua presented a living wall for interior design.


Carnegie Mellon University

SYMBIOSIS: Stowe Hammarburg, Daniel Kim, Yooyoung Ko, Zachary Schwemler & Jessica Shen

A satirical piece featuring bioengineered plants that release caffeine into the air during the day
 and melatonin at night, Symbiosis critiqued the way modern technology has influenced our sleep patterns.

Rensselaer Polytechnic University

LIVE(R) CLEAR: Amanda Harrold, Kathleen McDermott, Jacob Steiner and Perrine Papillaud, Jerry Huang

A living membrane on the surface of toilet bowls, Live(r) Clear proposed a toilet liner that traps estrogen and other pharmaceuticals excreted in urine.

Live(r) Clear by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Live(r) Clear by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

New York University

FLOAT FARM: Ayaka Habu, Carter Bird, Theo Mandin-Lee

Set in a once derelict dry dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Float Farm designed a greenmarket powered by an algae roof and housed on a barge.

Float Farm by New York University
Float Farm by New York University New York University

Maryland Institute College of Art

STARTER CULTURE: Gage Branda, Sarah Whelton, Jake O’Hagan, Emma Whitlock

A biomaterials starter kit designed to introduce makers to the expansive world of biomaterials, the Starter Culture team produced a maker’s kit for bioplastics, mycelium and silk proteins.

School of The Art Institute of Chicago

DEWPOINT: Bailey Beatt, Maurice Hampton, Jackie Huang, Sam Scheib

A set of spiny panels, Dewpoint drew inspiration from cactis’ ability to efficiently collect and store water droplets from fog.

Dewpoint by School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Dewpoint by School of the Art Institute of Chicago School of the Art Institute of Chicago

University Of Pennsylvania

STABILIMENTUM: Mónica Butler & Jiwon Woo

Latin for support, Stabilimentum is a couture mask meant to filter air using live spiders and the electrostatic properties of their silk.