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Creative Learning Sparks - Biodesign, Tinkering with Biology and Biomaterials

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Hello, Creative Learning Friends! The theme of this week's sparks is biodesign. It's clear that one key component of a more sustainable present and future is the design and use of materials that are better attuned to how the planet works. In other words, how do we avoid producing harmful waste that is difficult or impossible to recycle and break down and how might we shift our perspectives on how things are designed? Here are a few resources that I find inspiring and useful in thinking about how I can bring more sustainable materials into my practice as a designer and facilitator of learning experiences.

Spark #1 Grow It Yourself BioBuddies Kits - These kits are designed by an amazing team of teenagers who have imagined and designed a set of playful and creative kits that allow you to tinker with biomaterials like kombucha leather and mushroom mycelium. I think these kits make a topic that might seem intimidating to beginners feel fun and accessible. I also appreciate how they highlight applications for the materials and offer a thoughtful set of accessory materials that you can use the biomaterials with to craft something new.

Spark #2 Materiom - Materiom is an open-source library of biomaterial recipes. I've successfully followed a couple of these recipes to make bioplastics. I found the recipes to be pretty straightforward, the tricky part might be sourcing these materials to start with. It's always helpful to look at your local environment to see what's easily accessible (I have lots of marigolds growing in my garden, so maybe I'll try the marigold-dyed bioplastic recipe next!). I hope that more biomaterial researchers and designers follow this model and freely share their processes and recipes.

Spark #3 How to Grow (Almost) Anything - This is an MIT class that's based on a popular course called "How to Make (Almost) Anything". Here's how the instructors describe it: "...a course to teach experienced bio-enthusiasts and those new to the life sciences alike skills at the cutting edge of bioengineering and synthetic biology". There are a lot of interesting course materials freely available on their website. Even if you don't have access to wet lab materials, it's fascinating to dig into the outlines for topics like, "3D bioprinting" and "engineering the gut microbiome".

Spark #4 Genspace - wet lab materials are not often accessible outside of academic spaces like schools and universities. Genspace, located in New York, is a community biology lab that anyone can join. They offer classes and workshops like "synthetic biology 101" and "sculpting with mycelium". Don't live in NYC? They offer a virtual community membership option!

Spark #5 Learning in Places - This project offers resources, curriculum, and educator frameworks that explore how to create science learning experiences that take place in "the field" (e.g., in a school garden, or in your neighborhood), that facilitate culturally and personally relevant connections to science learning, and that highlight the connections between nature and culture. While this framework is not about biodesign or biomaterials, I think there's a lot we can learn from how this framework is designed. It makes me wonder what an approach to learning about biodesign might look like through the lens of this "Rhizome Model". Additionally, I know that this framework leverages and lifts up Indigenous ways of knowing and learning, and when I think about how topics like biomaterials and biodesign are presented sometimes (as something that is novel and trendy) I think about how Indigeneous people around the world have always been biodesigners and bioengineers with rich and rigorous knowledge that should be recognized in this space.

Learning in Places Collaborative (2021). About the Project. Learning in Places website.

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