The Biodesign Challenge offers teams of 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.



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 Stella McCartney Prize for Sustainable Fashion

The Stella McCartney Prize for Sustainable Fashion is awarded to the BDC team that explores and/or develops proofs of concept for fashion alternatives that are biological, sustainable, ethical, and free of animal products. We ask the teams to explore lifecycles, production processes, disposal, and potential for recycling. The teams should consider how their projects might propel the fashion industry in novel ways.

The ORTA Prize for Bioinspired Textiles Processes

The ORTA Prize for Bioinspired Textiles Processes is awarded to the team that explores sustainability in the fabrication and treatment of textiles. These include spinning, colors, dyes, coatings and treatments that produce new features and qualities. These may provide new types of circularity, protection, textures, modes of expression, and benefits to health. We ask teams to consider how living processes fit into textile lifecycles and production. Students should consider how their manufacturing and application affects users, ecosystems, and the environment.


The Outstanding Social Critique Prize is awarded to the team that best explores and most clearly communicates a criticism of biotechnology through a social lens. The team’s project will address the positive and negative effects of a technology or system on users and nonusers, potential societal reactions to these effects, and ways to mitigate negative ones.

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 or exhibits mastery of scientific techniques. 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 that produces exceptional visual renderings and models, and delivers an outstanding presentation at the Biodesign Challenge Summit that communicates their project in a clear and compelling way.


Judging will happen in two rounds:

At the end of the academic semester, each professor, in conjunction with expert consultants who have worked with the class, will assess 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 winners.

Judging criteria

Projects will be judged on:

  1. Concept

  2. Presentation

  3. Cultural and Environmental Context



Is the project original? Does it approach its subject in an innovative way?


How effectively does the project communicate values that go beyond its formal and functional qualities?


How deeply has the team considered the viability of its project? We subdivide Feasibility into two categories:

A. Scientific

Team projects should be based in real science. How well has the team demonstrated that trends in current science indicate that their vision will be possible?

B. Cultural

How deeply has the team considered whether biotech is the best method to respond to this issue, as opposed to other technologies or social solutions? Has it considered how this vision fits into or replaces already-built cultural and material systems?


Oral presentation

Each team is expected to use a 15-minute presentation to tell the story of their project. This presentation should explain how the design functions, the subject it addresses, the science behind it, and how it may be adopted. The presentation and slides should be engaging while treating the project seriously.

How well did the team explain how the design works, the needs that it meets, the science driving it, and how it may be adopted, and the process by which it arrived at the idea?


Visual rendering and physical model

Each team must create visual renderings that capture the look, functionality, and possible uses of their design. Teams should also create physical models or prototypes that demonstrate their design work.

How well does the visual rendering and physical models illustrate the vision, including its look, functionality, and possible uses?


Video (recommended)

We recommend that each team produce a 2-3 minute video describing their project. We ask that students be creative here. For example, they might make an advertisement for 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 use the design as a prop in a short narrative video. We encourage speculative ideas.


Website (recommended)

As with the video, each team is urged to create a website that describes their design, acts as an 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 considered the ways in which their project can both positively and negatively impact humans and their environment?

A. Target Audience

How well has the team considered its users? For example, is the project meant for an entire global system, or is it designed for a specific group? How well has the team researched this group?

B. Users

How well has the team considered the impacts on the lives of those who use it?

C. Nonusers

How well has the team considered the impacts on the lives of those who don’t use it? As an example, this might include workers involved in its manufacture, or those who can't afford to pay for a product.

C. Ethics and Cultural Suitability

Has the team considered ways in which its 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? How deeply has the team considered the ways in which the project may change the living environment?

B. Efficiency

Has the team considered issues of efficiency? How well does the project consider the use of resources (e.g. water, feedstocks, energy, labor, etc.)?

C. Life Cycle

Has the team considered their design’s entire life cycle? How 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. 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?


Banner image: Luke Jerram, the Glass Microbe