F.Lab – DIYbio are working hard to develop their own food and agriculture focused citizen-science lab-space in Thailand. They do DIY-everything, 3D printing, CNC milling, laser cutting, building electronics, woodworking and more. Some of it they do alone, some of it they play with others, and some of it is outsourced to others that can do it a lot better than they can (for now).
Me: How did you find the space and funding?
F.Lab: We currently don’t have a dedicated space since we’re just starting up (September 2015). We are a collaboration among several different organizations and individuals, with the founders coming from Raitong Organics Farm, Maker Zoo / Bit Magazine, and DSIL (Designing for Social Innovation and Leadership). Our activities are currently self-funded as we begin to explore the needs of the communities we serve and the technologies that are appropriate for our contexts here in Bangkok and rural Thailand. We’re looking into several options for funding from government, private, and bilateral aid sources for some of our projects.
Me: Was building the F.lab - DIYbio Thailand community hard? Who is/was part of the community?
F.Lab: The community is still nascent, but as we talk more and more with students, community members, teachers, hackers, makers, shopkeepers, farmers, and more, we’re seeing an enthusiasm for the prospects of utilizing science at different levels for different applications. At this early stage, the toughest part really is convincing people to join our effort and share/learn what they can, in spite of already hectic work schedules and limited time available. DIYbio is still a relatively new concept globally, and even more so here in Thailand, especially when we link in the concepts of Open Source and P2P. However, we expect this to change in the near future as the makerspace and fablab movements establish themselves here as necessary and relevant.
Me: What types of equipment did you find you needed and what were the challenges you encountered?
F.Lab: Having some equipment, even for demonstration purposes helps build support and enthusiasm. Also, some of the tentative first projects we’re working on require some basic equipment which we are determined to make on our own. In this capacity, were looking to Open Source and modular schematics in a sense that they can be improved incrementally as we learn. A centrifuge, magnetic stirrer, electrophoresis system, and a simple thermocycler all are projects others have tackled in a similar manner, so this is where we are starting as well. It also helps us get to know and develop relationships with people involved in the open-source lab equipment community. The challenges we encounter are numerous, but are inherently part of the learning process. Each one we overcome, whether it is determining what sort of motor to use in our centrifuge, or what power source to use for our electrophoresis system, gives us new technical insight we can apply to future projects.
Me: What types of projects have you and the F.lab - DIYbio Thailand team worked on?
F.Lab: So far, we are involved mainly in advocacy -- for general awareness of what biotech is, what it can be used for now, and what in the near future it may be used for. We’ve done a workshop showing people just how easy it is to hack together basic lab equipment from discarded electronics, and this is the sort of activity we learn from that will help us organize more advanced workshops in the future.
A local university invited us to take part in a project designed to give absolute beginners hands-on experience in a molecular biology lab. This also gives us great insight into the challenges and opportunities that face us as we try to make biotech more DIY and mainstream. We’re also working on a delightfully disruptive p2p organic certification project, which incidentally, we’re actually looking for people to help us develop and to scale up to other countries around the world under Open Source and Creative Commons principles.
Me: What do you see as the future for biohacking in Thailand and globally?
F.Lab: In Thailand it is pretty clear. People like to do things themselves, from the grassroots up to institution-level. They like to do things cheaper and more efficiently because of budget and resource constraints and they are excited about the prospect of escaping some of the costs and commitments that come with the biotech industry as it stands today. While our focus currently is on Food and Agriculture, in many other technological fields we have seen Thais do some pretty creative things to compensate for a lack of resources, and in biotech they are no different. Showing them that this seemingly “black box” technology can be opened and hacked by regular people will be the start of what we think will be a very sustainable biohacking community here. Globally, it is reasonable to assume that biohacking is going to eventually catch on as personal computers and personal manufacturing have. It will empower people and allow them to decide for themselves what is done with this technology, where, and when.