The Lybbaverse / biohackathon  

Wrapping up our series on STEM and STEAM education


We hope you’ve enjoyed our series on STEM and STEAM education over the past month. Here is a recap of the stories we posted, plus resources where you can find out more about the future of STEM and STEAM:

  • Lybba participates in the first Biohackathon LA event for students from LA’s Promise Manual Arts High School. 
  • Lybba invites readers to explore key questions about STEM and STEAM education
  • Lybba features RISD’s innovative STEM to STEAM initiative, highlighting the close relationship between science and design. 
  • Claremont Graduate University’s David E. Drew explains why we should be optimistic about education in the U.S.
  • Dr. Charles Zollner writes a heartfelt piece about how he got interested in STEM education
  • Two Bit Circus launches the exciting STEAM carnival for kids in downtown Los Angeles.
  • Lybba pays tribute to as a musician and proponent of STEM education. 


STEAM education: where science meets design

At Lybba, we are particularly interested in the intersection of science and design, which is also the focus of STEAM education.  Here are some fascinating projects that bring the two disciplines together:


We’ll keep you updated on our continued involvement in exciting new STEM and STEAM initiatives.

What happens when science collides with art?


“The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.” – Theo Jansen

Every invention begins with a spark of creativity. With that in mind, Rhode Island School of Design’s  STEM to STEAM program is leading an initiative to add art and design to the national agenda for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

STEAM education in practice

What happens when you combine art with science in the real world? Innovators like kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen emerge:

Why have educators historically treated art and science as separate disciplines, and how can we help make a shift toward more integrated curricula?

Schools of thought: Lybba examines STEM education


Policy makers agree that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education should be a top priority in American schools, but we are just beginning to discover the best ways to integrate STEM into existing curricula. Lybba is actively collaborating with thought leaders in STEM education to both shape the conversation and directly impact students.
Most recently, Lybba collaborated with The California Endowment, The California Biotechnology Foundation, and Wondros, to create the first Biohackathon event for high school students in Los Angeles. The Biohackathon event spotlighted educators who are making science exciting to a new generation of students and most importantly, it generated awareness about careers in biotechnology among students who may not have considered such a path. Other STEM initiatives are underway all over the country, and educators working hard to address questions with exciting implications for students and our future economy: 
  • How can we ensure that STEM education translates into real jobs? 
  • Which influencers are doing the best job of making science, technology, engineering and math compelling to students from all walks of life?
  • What STEM success stories have we seen so far and how can scale them?

In a series of upcoming blog posts, Lybba will explore these questions and more. We will examine the current state of STEM education and spotlight some of the innovators who are making STEM accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. We’ll also look at STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) and spotlight some of the fascinating work being done at the intersection of art and science. 
We invite you to share your thoughts about STEM education as our series continues. What aspect of STEM would you like us to cover here?

Our favorite photos from Biohackathon L.A. 2013


We're so happy to share these photos from Biohackathon L.A. 2013! Students from L.A.'s Promise Manual Arts High School proved science is cool, and learned about cross-disciplinary opportunities in the life sciences while genotyping themselves. Stay tuned for our series on biodesign, STEM, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education), coming up in April!

Biohacking with DIYbio’s Romie Littrell


2013 is off to an eventful start at Lybba. Our first post is an Ars Biologica interview with our collaborator, UCLA Art | Sci educator, and the founder of DIYbio Los Angeles Romie Littrell. Romie will be leading our bio-design and genotyping workshop for ninth grade biology students at L.A.'s Promise Manual Arts High School on January 30. We're delighted to bring this immersive learning experience and introduction to biotechnology careers to an under-served community in Los Angeles. Here, Romie shares with us the vitality of Do It Yourself (DIY) culture, why biohacking is so integral to our future, and how you can get involved.

Can you give us the background on DIYbio Los Angeles?

Before heading to LA I was a part of the first meetings for DIYbio in Boston a couple years earlier, and starting another group was always in the back of my mind while I was a bioengineering grad at UCLA. The biggest problem with LA compared to other large cities is that it’s spread over such a wide area. Getting and sustaining an initial critical mass of likeminded people is a challenge. Fortunately, Chris Kelty at the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics brought together DIYbio people from all over the country at his Outlaw Biology conference on campus. I realized that there wouldn’t be a better opportunity to get that initial seed of people and registered a workshop for the last day of the conference with the sole purpose of keeping the momentum going and start a permanent organization.
With five or so core members we started our meetup group and began the coffee shop meeting strategy and gradually attracted more members until finally deciding to look for a permanent home. The best model for DIYbio groups so far has been to join an existing hackerspace usually focused on unrelated things like software, electronics, and fabrication. In addition to providing stability there’s often a significant overlap in interest between members and, in our case with our current location at Null Space Labs, their expertise has given our low-tech hardware goals a boost.
To sum up the already brief mission statement on our site, it’s simply the maintenance of a space with the resources we need to pursue our interests. Aside from that it’s really up to each person to engage in projects that appeal to them. Perhaps more than anything, it’s a place for people to learn from and work with likeminded people on topics that stem from interest and curiosity rather than the stipulations of job, a grant, or a desire for a degree.


What are the challenges faced by the DIYbio community? 
The main challenges expanding the community and work with DIYbio are mostly cultural and political. In addition to the misconception that it’s not possible to do biology outside academic and industrial institutions, there’s a cultural undertone that it’s a “bad” thing. The new and unknown are already challenging enough to develop without having to dispel negative connotations from the media and movies. However, I think the broad range of appeal for bio-related projects compared to other comparable hobbyist pursuits make it less of a fad and rather an inevitability. Pushing through the slow beginning can still be frustrating when resources and interest are not where they should be, however.
There’s also the political threat of a crackdown on the tools of DIYbio in the US. For example, the anti-GMO laws in place in Europe unfortunately trickle down to small private users. Transforming a bacteria to do something useful or interesting, a classic goal for many DIY biologists, requires going through regulatory hurdles that may dissuade a hobbyist. Opinions about if this should happen here are all over the place. A recent presidential inquiry ( implied that the freedom of DIY groups may decrease as capability rises, but that the efforts of biohackers may also be integral to advancement of the field and in its security.


Do you have any predictions for the DIYbio movement for the next five years? 

In the past two years, new DIYbio groups and their various projects have been popping up in cities all over the globe. The success and failure of these initiatives are still anyone’s guess, and I think the real disruptive projects have yet to begin. In the short term the obvious niche that needs to be filled is a source of tools and information to feed the new demand. Distributors for reagents and kits aimed at individuals and educators rather than labs are currently hard to come by, and which procedures make more sense to ironically outsource back to a commercial lab isn’t always obvious. The IP framework for products and discoveries that eventually arise will also need to be established, particularly in regard to publishing.
I’m more involved in making art and curiosities than discoveries and products, however. The influence on culture through art can accomplish as much a shift in public and political opinion as scientific debate. Biological tools in the hands of artists are becoming more common and I think we’ll see an increase in simple public awareness of the real possibilities.


What suggestions do you have for someone who might be interested in learning about biotech and getting started at home? 
The easiest way to start is to look around at how biology is already present in our lives. We actually do biology and biochemistry all the time when we cook. Taking the step further to understand why recipes are they way they are leads to the science of proteins, oils, and sugars, all of which are products and building blocks of biochemistry. Molecular gastronomists are just are just taking things lab scientists already know and applying them to creating new and amazing dishes. If you’re more crafty you may even bake bread, brew beer, or have a garden. These hobbies with all the tricks and tools that make them possible are actually the heart of biology.
The best way to do anything new is to make it personal since investing a significant amount of time and energy is usually necessary. Learning takes time and things don’t always go perfectly in the beginning. Something that gets overlooked way too often is that DIY projects don’t have to result in more money or new data. Creation is an end of its own. I love to tinker and to find out how things work. Other people may want to cure a disease in their family where, for whatever reason, there isn't an economic incentive to fund research. Selfish or selfless, finding that personal pursuit is the key to developing something meaningful.
Though we call it “Do It Yourself”, for many reasons finding a community of interested people is always my first advice. If you’re not in a large city this might be a challenge, but there are always online forums if local biohackers are not easily found. is a great list with people eager to help those who will put the effort in to learn. If it seems like you’re alone, just starting an open ended meetup or online group will give others a way to find you.