DIYbio Prototypes Collection & Hackteria archive

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Living Instruments, Cosmoscopes and early DIYbio prototypes

Collectors of DIYbio prototypes: Denisa Kera and Rudiger Trojok

We decided to build the first DIYbio prototypes collection as an archive of Hackteria & friends projects, but also as an exploration into the value and meaning of these artefacts. We are offering our DIYbio prototypes collection to museums and other exhibition venues with a catalogue and description of the artefacts, but also with a set of workshops, discussions and events, which Hackteria members can organize in your city. We have a mobile collection of early DIYbio artefacts, which capture the various functions and visions behind these often biopunk looking tools, which connect science with design, but also art and probe various future scenarios.

These early DIYbio prototypes, such as the openPCR tools, spectrometers, gel boxes etc. show the promises of future personalized medical equipment, which will disrupt and decentralize the present medical care and provide tools for interacting over DNA and various molecules with the world around us, where crowdsourcing data about our bodies and the world will become a common practice of all citizens and where bioprospecting is a form of civil duty. They also embody the promises of citizen and open science efforts, which enable more equal and democratic involvements in the R&D around the world, and especially in the Global South. These tools demystify and celebrate science at the same time, but most importantly, they embody the value of peer involvement and interaction in their design and use. They are not only low tech and cheap laboratory tools for supporting open science and citizen science efforts around the world. They are artworks expressing various aesthetic, moral and cosmological views, just like the old 16.century artefacts build by visionaries, mechanical artists and alchemists who believed in the value of tinkering and who dared to involve in their scientific pursuits also poetry, visual arts and even religious sensibilities.

While most bioart projects reflect and use biotechnologies in the context of various art institutions and galleries, the DIYbio and biohacking efforts grow and spread through the emergent culture of hackerspaces, makerspaces and citizen science laboratories. Rather than simulating the laboratory in the gallery and public space, or enabling amateurs to visit and take part in the guarded activities of the closed laboratory, the DIYbio movement is trying to transform the laboratory into a public space or even nomadic, temporal, and movable space. In this sense, these tools remind us of the origins of the laboratory as a special theatre, in which not only new knowledge, but also new politics is envisioned and negotiated around new actors entering our common world. We perceive the DIYbio movement as a return of the private and public functions of the laboratory rather than its present corporate and bureaucratic functions of a space regulated to guard patents. We see a value in this revival of the mechanical arts and pre-modern science for their appreciation of tinkering and more holistic and complex involvements with the society and the arts of their period.

The prototypes in our collection are attempts for an original archaeology of the DIYbio movement, inspired by the brilliant work of a historian of science, Vera Keller, who emphasizes the importance of tinkering as a practice, which back in the 16.century enabled science. We believe that these tools serve a similar purpose today in the hackerspaces and citizen labs around the world. They enable original engagements between politics and science over prototypes. This "folly of empiricism", how tinkering is ridiculed in the 16.century according to Keller, refuses to accept any pre-given ideas or to bend to authorities of any kind. It is an eclectic and holistic approach to experiments, which results in prototypes that are never just useful tools resolving a particular problem or serving pre-defined goals. Prototypes are "living instruments" expressing scientific as much as cosmological insights, but also political and social ideals. Nowadays we are trying to articulate the various visions of open hardware being a tool for democratizing science and better oversight, which can even support research in the developed world. The "living instruments" as an expression of makers knowledge in history, but also today with DIYbio open laboratory equipment, are not mere tools for experiments. They are the experiment, they are an attempt to bring science and politics together through tools, which enable us to formulate new questions and test various visions of the common future. The DIYbio prototypes as "living instruments" bring together and put in relation different ideals, objects, but also institutions and environments. They show how the goal of innovation can go hand in hand with the goal of public participation and oversight of science, how we can create new value chains and relations between individuals, communities and countries, which go against the biotech corporate monopolies guarded by agencies, such as the FBI.

The DIYbio prototypes in our collection present the return of the repressed "folly of empiricism". We are engaging with something similar to the Renaissance "living instruments", prototypes, which enable more global and even cosmological reflections, or how Keller describes them as "forgotten fantasy — a single, living machine that could encapsulate, prove, and effortlessly convey universal knowledge of nature". The Renaissance prototypes designed by mechanical artist and philosophers, such as Cornelius Drebbel, were just like the DIYbio prototypes a probe into new ways of imagining not only science, but also society and the universe: "Drebel never intended his object to be merely an instrument of measurement, but rather a moving microcosm or compendium of all natural knowledge to be observed in a glance. Contemporaries usually called this a perpetual motion, and we might term it a cosmoscope... The cosmoscope suggested a single, pansophic artisanal philosopher, who based his knowledge in his own manual construction of a working microcosm that validated all of his theories. This model entailed a close association between the body of the artisan and the content of his own natural philosophy encapsulated within his single, personal device."

Contact us if you want to exhibit our prototypes and engage with workshops, which can both demystify modern biotech and nanotech tools and connect them with old explorations of the universe via various tools designed by 16.century mechanical artists and alchemists, such as incubators, microscopes etc.

DNA Lab-in-Box

Technical Description & Credits:

Prototype of a lab-in-a-box suitaces with DIY Thermocycler, Gel Electrophoresis Chamber, Transilluminator, Pipetting Station and Noise Synthesizer. Built by Urs Gaudenz during MobileLab Hackaton organized by BioTehna citizen lab (Kapelica Gallery) in collaboration with from June 10th to 18th 2013 in Ljubljana. Suitcase, 44 x 35 x 9 cm, 3.5 kg


Scan this QR code to build your own lab-in-box and join Hackteria open biology enthusiasts and other biohackers on their DNA sequencing missions. Do you want to know what organisms live in your neighborhood or some far away jungle? Do you want to check your food for GMOs or learn what bacteria live on you skin? The elegant black suitcase, which is also a noise box, allows you to travel and sequence bacteria and other organisms you meet on the go and even add them as your Facebook friends. You can sequence DNA while you are DJing in a club and generateelectronic sounds and noise music with a miniature synth while amplifying DNA. The DNA lab-in-a-box is part of a series of mobile labs, which enable citizen scientists and open biology enthusiasts around the world to perform experiments literally on the streets and their local cafes. You can experience and reflect upon a future, when DNA sequencing will be like a mobile app geolocating your favorit bacteria or dangerous pieces of DNA you don’t want to meet.


First suitcase solution for a travelling biohacker in a jungle.

Kafi-Schnapps Detektor & Kresse Shields

Technical Description & Credits:

BabyMidiTurbidoGnusbuino aka Optical Density Meter for DJing with daphnia and other zooplankton, monitoring water quality and similar efforts.


This standalone sensor allows to measure the optical density (OD) aka turbidity through a standardized cuvette. 1-Channel for different wavelengths use multiple sensors with different 5mm LEDs. The design fits nicely a TIL-99 phototransistor.

Lifepatch Microscope

Gene Gun