What is the Biodesign Challenge?

The Biodesign Challenge offers art and design students the opportunity to envision future applications of biotechnology in a competition that highlights student work. Our organizers connect classrooms with a team of biologists and experts to guide the students as they develop their ideas.

At the end of the semester, the winning teams are invited to New York City to showcase their designs in front of members the academic, industrial, and design communities at the Biodesign Summit in June 2017.

What are students saying?

“A perfect fusion of biology and art that I have never seen offered before.” 

- Student survey response, RPI

"I learned that designing grounded in biodesign is not a limitation, but a lens through which I had never looked to consider the limitless possibilities that arise in combining biotech and design."

- Student survey response, NYU

“Never before had I had a sense of being able to create something truly new and relevant to a field (even when I had no clue of what I was doing at times). This is something that I had never been able to experience in a class.”

- Student survey response, UPenn

“I learned the importance of art in science and science in art. I learned that the two aren't polar opposites but rather different mindsets that both want to create something wonderful.”

- Student survey response, RPI

Why design?

Design plays an integral role in the development of any technology. All products start as a design process before they’re brought to market. For an emerging technology, designers’ visions both anticipate and inspire new applications. Their visions drive the scientific community and also influence society’s desires around technologies.

Biotechnology is unique because it harnesses life. Life as a technology introduces new capabilities and raises new concerns. Biotechnology has brought about new medicines and greener modes of production. It has also created new risks. As the science finds its way into our world and our products, designers need a full understanding of these concerns, so that when they are asked to design with biology, they do so creatively, thoughtfully, and ethically.


Our team

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Daniel Grushkin is founder and director of the Biodesign Challenge. He is co-founder and Executive Director of Genspace, a nonprofit community laboratory dedicated to promoting citizen science and access to biotechnology. Fast Company ranked Genspace fourth among the top 10 most innovative education companies in the world. Daniel is a Fellow at Data & Society. From 2013-2014, he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where he researched synthetic biology. He was an Emerging Leader in Biosecurity at the UPMC Center of Health Security in 2014. As a journalist, he has reported on the intersection of biotechnology, culture, and business for publications including Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Scientific American and Popular Science. 


Alison Irvine is the Program Associate of the Biodesign Challenge. She graduated from Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts with a degree in Theater and Interdisciplinary Science and studied political theater at The Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany. She received the Hunt Fellowship for her work as a theater artist creating performances that centered on the emergence of new biotechnologies and their implications in the context of social and economic inequities. She researches creative practices that engage the public with basic science and new technologies in ways that promote social reflection and ethical scientific conduct. Alison has also written articles on the intersection of art, science, and social justice for Imagine Science Films and The Center for Genetics and Society.


Nancy J. Kelley is a nationally recognized executive and lawyer who has driven key strategic initiatives in the business, government, nonprofit, and academic sectors for over twenty years. Most recently, she led a multi-disciplinary team effort to launch an advanced diagnostics testing company for Roswell Park Cancer Institute, receiving $25 million in financing commitments. She also recently led a one-year sustainability initiative to develop a strategic action plan to advance the field of synthetic biology in the U.S.  Ms. Kelley was the Founding Executive Director of the New York Genome Center where she led the Center from a start-up to a fully operational, world class genomics research center and provider of cutting edge sequencing and bioinformatics services, raising $110 million to do so. She holds a BA in Economics from Yale, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Malika Reid is an art director and product designer. Prior to becoming a designer, she did fundraising and development for several youth-based and environmental nonprofits. Her passion projects lie at the intersection of design and social good.






Banner image: Genspace.