Daniel Grajales | Co-Founder | DIY Barcelona

DIYBio Barcelona is a group of bio – and technology enthusiasts  building a DIY bio- community lab in Barcelona area with the aim to
1) close the gap between bio-sciences and the citizens,
2) make open science and technology with the aim to help biology
3) and explore new applications of biology to every-day life which can improve their relation with the earth and themselves.

Tell me about yourself, the team you worked with to build DIY BIO BARCELONA and why did you build them?

Nuria Conde Pueyo
Post-doctoral researcher at  Complex Systems Laboratory at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in the PRBB. She holds a major in Biology and a engineering in informatics and performed her research thesis about biocomputation, that it is at the interface of both fields.  Nuria eventually teaches biology for architects, artist and designers of IAAC, Elisava or Massana universities.  

Esteban Martín Gimenez
Informatics and Systems Engineer by Pompeu Fabra University with a second major in arts by the Massana University, He is pursuing a master's degree in Systems and Robotics. Esteban works as a software engineer designing and implementing multiple system's architecture. Esteban is a maker, programer, coder and consolidated designer. Esteban has seen the birth and bloom of the makers scene in Barcelona and has a long trajectory of expertise in 3D printing and design.

Alvaro Jansà Mas
Currently works as project manager at Pompeu Fabra University, developing a medical device based on electroporation. Alvaro holds a Human Biology degree by Pompeu Fabra University with a master in Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical industry. He owns more than six years of experience in the fields of Industry and Technology transfer and cancer research. He has been part of the makers scene in Barcelona and an active member of MADE (www.made-bcn.org).

Daniel Grajales Garcia
Electronics and Telecommunications engineer with more than five years of international experience in radio telecommunications industry and a Master's degree in "Molecular Nano and Bio-Photonics for Telecommunications and Biotechnology" with support from European Union. Daniel is currently a PhD candidate (third year) at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. He is currently working on the integration of a lab-on-a-chip biosensor based on photonic interferometry with applications on environmental and health sensing.

Co - Founders (from left to right) Nuria Conde, Esteban Martín, Alvaro Jansà, Daniel Grajales & Oscar Gallardo

Co - Founders (from left to right) Nuria Conde, Esteban Martín, Alvaro Jansà, Daniel Grajales & Oscar Gallardo

In 2013 Daniel heard about the DIY bio movement while working in Seattle, WA. After moving to Barcelona, he was looking for interested candidates in the diyBio mail list. A small group of people was assembled around Thomas Landrain during FAB10 asking for advices in how to start a DIY BIO group. The first advice was to build community before getting equipment. Since Alvaro was already a MADE member (a local maker-space  www.made-bcn.org) the group (Oscar, Alvaro and Daniel) decided to move there and ask for a small room where to setup the laboratory. As one of the first activities, the group decided to join efforts with the WAAG society and work as a node to transmit the first Biohack Academy (BHA). Since the beginning and planning of the BHA, Esteban and Nuria joined as part of the organising team. After ten weeks of intense collaboration the core group was formed by the four of us working with a higher level of compromise. There is a second tier group of friends who come to collaborate, to propose ideas, to connect local and European groups and they make things flow. Finally there are visitors and curious citizens who come to visit and see what we do, but never come back.

New bio-hackspaces are blooming around the world with fresh ideas on how to translate the crazy ideas that you do not do normally inside the academia. Barcelona is an European hub of design, arts and (bio)technological research and famous for its social and urban innovation. People keeps experimenting with architecture, urbanism and alternative social models becoming the a vessel of innovation.

How did you find the space and funding?
Alvaro was already a MADE member. MADE is a young local maker-space and hacker squad. There, we had the necessary tools to start building our own equipment and we had access to a closed room that we used as a (very basic) wet lab.

The required funding to pay the bills, to buy electronics and lab stuff to start our own lab, came from our pockets. We have received a few hardware (fridge, mini centrifuge, sonic bath, etc.) donations from the local research institutions. As time passed by, the group grew and the space became insufficient. Everybody in the group was looking for places where to move to. 

Finally, Nuria found a Daniel and Nina Carasso foundation scholarship program to collaborate with Hangar foundation (the main hub for artists in Barcelona www.hangar.org), and PRBB (Parc de Recerca Biomédica de Barcelona). We have moved this February and we are setting up the new lab. The agreement is to get a lab space for two years and as exchange, to support the bio-work that any artist could need.

Was building the DIY BIO BARCELONA community hard? Who is/was part of the community?
Despite the amount of research centers and makers living in Barcelona, building a DIYBio community here has been harder than one may think.  This is also because we want to keep our independence. 

There are members who visit after many months. Former members include a postdoctoral researcher on microbiology and proteomics (Oscar G.), PhD students in microelectronics, in technology and science, chemistry/biology/mechatronics students, architecture students, pharmaceuticals, artists, designers, makers and so on. Some members have a humanities background with high interest (and skills) in technology. Some of them are more concerned with the social and ethical implications of the DIY Bio movement.

What types of equipment did you find you needed and what were the challenges you encountered?
We wanted to start with microbiology techniques so, in order to achieve it, we build an incubator and a centrifuge, among others. Each machine has its own problems: the incubator takes too long to get the right temperature, in order to get the centrifuge working the motor and rotor should be well balanced, there were software bugs, or hardware differences across countries, etc. The bright side of this is that with every new challenge we learned something new that can be used in other machines/projects.

What types of projects have you and the DIY BIO BARCELONA team worked on?
Firstly we started doing MeetUp workshops in order to recruit members. Then, an architecture master student (Akanksha Rathi) came looking for help to make a bacteria-bioluminescent bulb. Oscar and other members helped to design the experiments and she learnt how to collect, grow and store her own bioluminescent bacteria. Eventually she presented a proof-of-concept as her final master work.

Some members try to keep a constant production of home brew beer for internal consumption. They improve their processes, machines and receipts looking for the perfect biohacker-beer.

We participated at the BioHack Academy (https://biohackacademy.github.io/) as a local node with the aim to enlarge the community.

In the arts venue, we contribute with two artworks and one workshop to the second edition of +Humans exhibition at the Contemporary Cultural Center of Barcelona (CCCB). It is about the relation of humanity with technology in the near future (http://labsdieroboter.com/projects/proyectos.php?id=human).

Additionally, we run some courses for teachers and citizens for the CRG in order to show them how can they create simple wetlab tools with stuff they have at home.  
In the same vein, we participated in a few citizen science festivals such as Novum or the Mini Maker Faire Barcelona.

On the other side, we also have failed on some projects. We tried to set a local node for the BioStrike movement (http://www.diybcn.org/ca/category/biostrike-ca/). Unfortunately, without a grant that helped us to cover the expenses, we couldn’t start this project. 

What do you see as the future for biohacking in Barcelona and globally?
Locally, biohacking in Barcelona has a long run to go. Barcelona is one of the largest biomedical research hubs in Europe and it has a long tradition in design and architecture. It is a multicultural city with smart and restless people from everywhere concerned about technology and society. There are other associations trying to start communitary wetlabs in Catalunya and we are in close collaboration with them creating a very special network of biolabs. 

The Valldaura Green Fablab (http://www.valldaura.net/) is part of the Institute of Advance Architecture of Catalunya (www.iaac.net) and they try to explore the most alternative side of architecture. They study the intersections of digital design, 3D printing, biology, permaculture, architecture, robotics, etc. The person in charge is in close contact and collaboration with us and Nuria has helped them many times with biological experiments. Actually, the bioluminescent bulb project was leaded by a master student (Akanksha) from here. They work as well with carton scaffolds and mycelium dough as building material. The company Mamotok (www.mamotok.org) is a startup created by a former Green FabLab student (Roland) who was also part of the first generation of students in the BioHack Academy. Basically, they use this mycelium dough to 3D print objects. 

In the other side of the spectra, we could find more radical groups as Calafou (www.calafou.org). They have created a whole self-sustained community in an old abandoned industrial town up in the hills in Catalunya (2 hours driving from Barcelona). They created a FabLab and eventually a wet lab. They organise open workshops, develop their own tools, projects, etc. They brew their own beer, food, and so on. We are in close contact with them and we offer our help and resources as well, if needed. 

Globally, we hope that this movement will be the seed of a new conception of the reality, as it was for computers in the 70s. It should help people to understand what can bio-stuff do for you, besides what it has been doing for mankind since the invention of the vaccines or (even older) some agricultural techniques. We envision a future in this revolution which could change the way we relate (and have related) to matter and biology, opening the doors to a new reality between citizens, science, environment and the way we live.