Quick Post: DIY Biology and Design Thinking

I wanted to quickly share two sources of inspiration.  I’m reading a book called Biopunk.  You are probably familiar with the stories of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Brilliance disguised as uninterested students; sequestered to home garages to innovate the personal computing age.  They “hacked” a scientific revolution.  Now imagine a similar story, but instead of hacking circuit boards they are hacking their own DNA or medical devices.  This underground DIY Bio culture is happening and is the basis for Biopunk.  From the book description:

You’ll meet a new breed of hackers who aren’t afraid to get their hands wet, from entrepreneurs who aim to bring DNA-based medical tools to the poorest of the poor to a curious tinkerer who believes a tub of yogurt and a jellyfish gene could protect the world’s food supply. These biohackers include:

– A duo who started a cancer drug company in their kitchen
– A team who built an open-source DNA copy machine
– A woman who developed a genetic test in her apartment for a deadly disease that had stricken her family

It’s fascinating, check it out.  If it’s too close to the end of summer to start a new read, do yourself a favor and watch this episode of “The Next List” from CNN.  Jose Gomez-Marquez uses component parts from toy stores – legos, a motor from a toy helicopter, silly putty, and bicycle pumps – to create medical devices that are effective and affordable for the poorest and most remote areas of the world.  Jose explains that he uses smart recombination (the using existing technologies and engineering design in new ways) to innovate affordable medical options.  He “tinkered” with his ideas as a hobby, and then went on to enter and win MIT’s Idea competition 3 times.  A doctor that Jose works with says Jose moves rapidly from an idea to prototyping and has an ear for problems of third world doctors and patients.  Sound much like bias towards action and empathy?    My wheels are turning now, how might we make a lesson plan that captures the spirit of DIY Bio?

A taste of the Design Thinking Summit 2012

This spring the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation based out of a independent school in Sandy Springs, Ga hosted a Design Thinking Summit.  Innovative educators from Atlanta’s independent schools, public schools, and universities came together to learn about the power of design thinking.

This is a taste of an inspiring day of innovation, collaboration, and fun!

Props to Project H design/build Students!

I’ve been following the @projectHdesign feed on twitter and wanted to pass along the awesome work they are doing.  I truly believe this is one form (of many) that design thinking can take in K12 education.  In case you haven’t noticed I’m a fan of the TED and TEDx conferences (or lectures, or events, or engagements…WTH would you call it?!!).  Anyway, Emily Pilloton gave a fantastically engaging talk a year ago about her project – Project H. This thing is the manifestation of exactly what I want this blog to explore.  Project H is part shop class, part STEM, part social innovation, and lots of empathy and creativity.  In a nutshell – it’s design thinking.  In a piece written by the NY Times, Emily said they teach “design thinking, leadership skills, shop skills and citizenship” and students in the class said “Oh my God, this class is crazy awesome.”   Hallelujah!!

Please check out their website as they describe their inspirations and intended outcomes better than I.  BUT, basically, Emily teaches HS students from and an extremely rural area of N.C. all about design, modern construction techniques, some engineering and some architecture ALL within the concept of improving the local community.  Yes, these students get their hands dirty.  They build stuff.   Real stuff, like public chicken coups (told you it was rural!!!).  Their latest effort – their Pièce de résistance – is a farmer’s market building that will bring the community together in a meaningful way.  All this by high school students – barely with a driver’s license.  So inspiring!  Their project is apparently being filmed for a future documentary.

Truthfully, my short narrative cannot adequately describe the context and extent of their work.  So if you have a minute to be inspired please follow this short recipe:

1) Watch Emily’s TED talk or read this piece in the NY Times for an overview of the concept

2) Visit ProjectHdesign.org to get a sense of the scope of their work

3) Visit the Studio H student blog for pics of the new ‘market’ project

4) Applaud and spread the word!


Quick Post: Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”

I’ve mentioned Bruce Mau before, but just recently found his firm’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.”   (thanks @jonhusband for tweeting) This is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in positively affecting their world.  Depending on your perspective this is good parenting advice, cliff’s notes for Design Thinking, learning objectives for a design class, or humorous satire.  The “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” has 43 points.  Which are your favorites??

Intro to Biomimicry

Since I mentioned biomimicry in my previous post, I thought I’d link to a few resources until I can devote a full post to the subject.  This TED Talk from Janine Benyus is a great intro and will hopefully get you excited about biomimicry, how relevant the subject is, and how much potential it holds.

Here is a brilliant product called Sharklet (mentioned in the video).  Imagine proactively defending against bacterial infection by using this stuff on “touch surfaces.”  What a powerful alternative to continually cleaning with disinfectants and harsh chemicals.

Speaking of which, proactively rethinking how we design chemicals and reduce environmental impact of existing chemicals are a few examples of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry outlined by Beyond Benign.  Please check out their website to learn about the 12 Principles.  Their ideas relate closely to Design Thinking in that they challenge us to rethink how industrial chemistry is currently practiced so as to reduce the potential for waste and toxicity.  For us teachers – they also have some great lesson plans available for all ages.  (Here is the obligatory Creative Commons License link: Beyond Benign / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)  I’m currently taking a class offered by Beyond Benign and am thrilled at the possibilities of integrating these lessons into my existing Chemistry (and Biology) curriculum.

Back to biomimicry… Beyond Benign also posts great biotechnology lesson plans.  For even more lessons and a curricular map, follow the link from Beyond Benign to one their partners at the Biomimicry Institute.

I hope this inspires some ideas for science teachers out there!  I would love to hear feedback from any of you that are implementing Biomimicry or Green Chemistry concepts in the classroom.  What works and what doesn’t?

Designing for Change – watch the bigBANG! conference live

Part of the impetus behind Design Thinking over the last decade or so has stemmed from the idea that designers can help improve – well, anything – through a sound design process.  This includes solutions for wicked problems like clean water in 3rd world countries, alternative energy, pollution, and mobility products for the physically disabled.  These sort of gorilla designers are getting noticed more and more.  Check out the Hippo Roller (a combination transport and filtering device for water) from Emily Pilloton of Project H or the Lifestraw from Vestergaard Frandsen.  These are just a few examples that I have found that really drive home the idea of Social Innovation.  Because the main focus of my Blog is to be a clearinghouse of information, I’ve added a new category of links to the right where you can read more about groups and individuals committed to innovation for common good.  (Thanks TedxSMU and bigBANG! whom I’ve shamelessly reposted their links).


Speaking of bigBANG! – they are a group in Dallas, Tx that produces annual conferences that link social innovators and non-profits with angel investors and sponsors.  This format in not uncommon to the world of venture capital and startups, but the twist here is that these business ideas seek to drive social change.  Kudos!

You can watch a live stream of the conference live TODAY from their site or right here:  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/4491062