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  • Boxing Clever

    By Dean W Veall, on 2 October 2014

    Dean Veall here. In my role as Learning Officer I am responsible for our exciting adult events programme, and I thought I would share our next event coming up this term, it’s the return of the brilliant Focus on the Positive. Focus on the Positive is an event developed by UCL’s Public Engagement Unit where UCL’s researchers pitch their ideas for projects to the audience in order to secure their vote with the successful pitch walking away with £2,000 prize money to make it a reality. Here at the Museum we jumped on the opportunity to host a Focus on the Positive back in February and the winners Philipp Boeing and Bethan Wolfenden are back to share with us how their project has been developing.

    Guest blogger Philipp Boeing

    In February, we won a Focus on the Positive award at the Grant Museum of Zoology with our vision of making biotechnology accessible and easy-to-use outside of academia. Previously we had created a small laptop-sized molecular biology laboratory called bento·lab (formerly: Darwin Toolbox).

    Bento·lab is a powerful, personal laboratory, and it is our hope to enable all curious minds to engage with biotechnology any place and any time.

    The money won at Focus on the Positive enables our group to go out “into the wild” and host trial workshops for teenagers, families and other groups in schools, city farms and community centres, where we hope to make the invisible world of biology and biotechnology visible and exciting.

    Philipp Boeing pitching for “bento·lab” (formerly: Darwin Toolbox) at Focus on the Positive in the Grant Museum

    Philipp Boeing pitching for “bento·lab” (formerly: Darwin Toolbox) at Focus on the Positive in the Grant Museum

    This idea began two years ago with a project called “The Public BioBrick” – incidentally also exhibited at the Grant Museum! As part of a UCL student team taking part in the IGEM competition, we initiated a collaboration with a group of amateur biologists based at the London Hackspace in Hackney to explore the notions of rights and risks surrounding access to biotechnology outside of traditional institutions.

    Examining a piece of DNA, the “Public BioBrick” at the 2012 “Right or Risk?” exhibition

    Examining a piece of DNA, the “Public BioBrick” at the 2012 “Right or Risk?” exhibition

    From this collaboration we found that biotechnology is often obscure to those outside of the immediate field. It is our aim to increase the visibility of biotechnology, and explore if different groups can form a direct relationship with biotechnology through hands-on engagement. This ties in with our aims for bento·lab as a whole: We are curious to find out what projects can be enabled if laboratory equipment becomes much more mainstream and affordable, and how we can support that process.

    We’d like to say “thank you” to everyone who supported us at Focus on the Positive and beyond, and we hope you’ll follow our trip into the unknown world of mainstream citizen biotechnology. This summer, we began testing out workshop ideas at events like Green Man Festival and EMF camp – more on this in our next blog post in a couple of months’ time.

    Both Bethan and Philipp have recently finished degrees at UCL: Philipp graduated with an MEng in Computer Science and Bethan with a BSc in biochemistry.

    This blog has been re-blogged from the Focus on the Positive blog http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/focus-on-the-positive/ (that’s a lots of blogs in a sentence!)

    If you would like help decide which UCL researcher will get their project funded then join us for our next Focus on the Positive event on Thursday 16th October at 7pm. For more details http://events.ucl.ac.uk/event/event:k69-hy1o1jsb-h0myno/focus-on-the-positive

    Dean Veall is Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zool0gy

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