The Biodesign Challenge offers teams of art and design students the opportunity to envision future applications of biotechnology in a competition that highlights student work. The winning teams and their professors will be invited to New York City in June for the Biodesign Summit, where they will present in front of a wide audience from the art, design, industrial, and academic communities. Their work will then go on display at venues across the country.


Judging will happen in two rounds:

At the end of the academic semester, each design professor, in conjunction with the expert consultants who have worked with her class, will assess her students' projects and pick one team to go to the Biodesign Summit in June.

At the Biodesign Summit, a jury of experts will assess the attending teams' projects and presentations and select the overall winners.

Judging criteria

Projects will be judged on:

  1. Conceptual elegance
  2. Presentational strength
  3. Consideration of various cultural and environmental factors



Is the project original? Does it approach the chosen problem in an innovative way?


How gracefully and powerfully does the project respond to the chosen problem or issue? How effectively does the designed product or process communicate values that go beyond its formal and functional qualities?


How well does this design work to solve a real-world problem or enhance some aspect of culture?


Oral presentation and slideshow

Each team is expected to use a 15-minute presentation to tell the story of their design. This presentation should explain how the design works, the needs that it meets, the science driving it, and how it may be adopted in the commercial world. The presentation and slides should be fun while treating the design idea seriously.


Visual rendering and physical modeling

Each team must produce a poster illustrating the look, functionality, and possible uses of their design. Teams should also create physical models of the design. These models should capture the look and feel of the design.


Video (recommended)

Each team should produce a two- to three-minute video describing their project. We ask that students be creative here: They might make a commercial advertising their product; they might describe the team’s personal journey in coming up with their design; they might tell a fictional history of their product; they might create a short narrative video, using the design as a prop. We welcome speculative video ideas.


Website (recommended)

As with the video, each team is urged to create a website that describes their design, acts as a faux advertisement, or hosts a blog that records their ideas as they develop. A website is also a great place to highlight team members’ biographies and achievements.




Has the team deeply considered the possibility of its design coming to fruition? We subdivide feasibility into several criteria:

A. Science
Any science that the students describe should be based in reality. We’re asking students to consider technology that will likely become available five to ten years from now. Has the team demonstrated that trends in current science indicate that their vision will be possible?

B. Suitability
What makes a biotechnological solution the best method to address this problem, as opposed to other technologies or social solutions? Has the team considered why a biological design is the right fit for the problem?

C. Compatibility
How does this vision fit into already-built systems? Does it require an entirely new infrastructure to be built along with it?


Human impact

In what ways does the product or process have the potential to both positively and negatively impact humans and their environment, and in what ways has the designer worked to mitigate the negative and maximize the positive impacts?

A. Users
How does the design change the lives of those who use it?

B. Nonusers
How does the design change the lives of those who don't use it? These people might include workers involved in its manufacture as well as those who don't have access to the new design or can't afford to pay for it.

C. Scalability
Has the team considered how widely its design might be used? Is this a product or process that’s meant to change an entire global system, or is it a niche product for specific markets?

D. Ethics and cultural suitability
Has the team considered ways in which the vision fits with the moral principles of the cultures meant to use it?



Can the project be achieved with methods that do not deplete or destroy natural resources?

A. Environmental impact
How does the team intend their design to interact with living environments at the sites where it’s manufactured, used, and disposed of? Is the product or process intended to change the living environment? How so?

B. Efficiency
Does this product or process use fewer resources—for example less water or energy—than products currently available?

C. Life cycle
Has the team considered their design’s entire life cycle? Can it be recycled, or reused in other ways?



Has the team considered the potential negative effects of its vision?

A. Safety
Has the team accounted for possible harm to human health and the living environment associated with its product or process malfunctioning? Has the team changed their design to mitigate these risks?

B. Dual use
In the hands of someone with ill intent, any design can be used nefariously. A hammer, meant to bang in nails, can be turned into a murder weapon when swung at a person. Nuclear technology can be harnessed to create energy, but also to create a bomb. Has the team considered how their design might be harnessed for ill intent? Has the team considered how its design could be negatively exploited, and how to mitigate that risk?




The Overall Winner of the Biodesign Challenge will take home the Glass Microbe, which will be passed to each year’s winners. Created by artist Luke Jerram, the Glass Microbe is a unique artwork and symbol of the intersection of art, design, and biology. 


The Runner-Up Prize goes to the team with the second highest score with regard to the judging criteria and a vote among the judges. 



The PETA prize will be awarded to the team that explores and/or develops proofs of a concept for a sustainable biomaterial that could replace animal wool. The student teams should take into consideration the material’s lifecycle, production processes, disposal, and potential for recycling, as well as how the biomaterial manufacturing process might scale up to be compatible with or even propel today’s garment industry.


outstanding FIELD RESEARCH:

The Outstanding Field Research Prize goes to the team that takes the initiative to go out into the field and interview experts as well as potentially affected communities in order to find and understand the real social impacts of their project.


outstanding SCIENCE:

The Outstanding Science Prize is awarded to the team that designs and executes outstanding scientific experiments, exhibits mastery of traditional lab techniques, as well as analyzes, interprets, and best communicates scientific data. These students not only obtain an adept understanding of systems and structures in a scientific framework, but also consider the ethics and reproducibility of their work.


outstanding PRESENTATION:

The Outstanding Presentation Prize is awarded to the team creates the best visual rendering, designs the best posters and models, and delivers an outstanding presentation at the Biodesign Challenge Summit. 


Banner image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, T Cell.