Cork's getting a biohackerspace!

Skip to first unread message

Cathal Garvey

Mar 16, 2014, 10:02:23 PM3/16/14
to,,,, diybio
Hey all!
Here's a post explaining the title, and why I've been so quiet for days:

Below is the text for those who prefer email to outward links. If you're
interested in helping out (physically, monetarily, via donations of
hardware, design or whatever; all help is welcome!), get in touch by
joining the DIYbio-Ireland googlegroup or contacting me personally. With
any luck, we'll soon be able to build-out the space and I'd love every
pair of hands I can get! :)

This is big news, and I hope ye'll all join me in celebrating a bright
future for synthetic biology and biohacking in Ireland!


Let me share some extraordinary news with you. After years of watching
the biohacker movement rise to prominence around the world, my home city
of Cork is suddenly and rapidly becoming a hub of Synthetic Biology, and
as part of this transition will soon have a biohackerspace modelled upon
the success of La Paillasse, Paris.

In case you don’t want to read more, here’s all you really need to know:
there’s an assortment of people and supports nucleating rapidly around a
biohackerspace in Cork City, very possibly in a unique and curiously
appropriate location. You should be a part of it. Join the
DIYbio-Ireland mailing list, if you want to be ready to help build-out
the lab ASAP when a location is finalised.

Let me tell you about how this came about.

Firstly; much deserves to be written here about my experience with
IndieBB (which, if you are not keeping track, failed to achieve its
target funding goal by ~25%), but I’ve got more important things to
share, and IndieBB’s backers have already received some updates since
the campaign closed. Anyone who hasn’t gotten the news by now doesn’t
need it.

So, the story. For months now, an effort has been underway to attract
bright ideas and proposals for synthetic biology to an unprecedented
startup accelerator program, Synbio-Axlr8r, which will be running over
this Summer in Cork. As part of the push to get people to consider Cork
as a destination for research and development, we arranged a conference,
named The Synthetic Biology Future. The conference would bring local
researchers and their overseas colleagues together to discuss the future
of synbio and their roles in it, as well as the potential for locations
such as Cork as hubs of innovation.

I was prepared for an interesting conference; I’d seen the names on the
sheets and been CC’d on some interesting email exchanges. I knew I’d
meet researchers and synbio developers from around the world whose work
I’d been exposed to previously, and I was looking forward to a great

Several things went unexpectedly well at once, which together felt, to
me, (by the day’s end) like an ignition.

A large number of students and postgraduates turned up for the event;
the former in part because of strong encouragement from course
coordinators, the latter due to a few convincing characters in the local
scene getting the word out and bullying people to attend in person.

Then, the delegates started to throw around the word “biohacker” with
unexpected comfort. This was prior to any of the “usual suspects” like
Synbiota or Thomas Landrain or myself; this was people from without the
biohacker community discussing it as if it’s a legitimised part of the
synbio movement. It is, of course, but this is the first time I’ve seen
non-biohackers say so first.

To reinforce the early, welcoming mention and discussion of biohacking,
the lineup already included a number of self-identified biohackers;
Thomas Landrain of La Paillasse, Synbiota cofounder Justin Pahara,
conference organiser and serial do-er Jacob Shiach, and (humbly) myself.
By the time we had a chance to present our talks and our work, the
audience had already heard panels discussing the bright future of
small-synbio and biohacking, as well as having been regaled by Seán
O’Sullivan of SOS Ventures about the importance of risk and “near death
experience”. Our reception was, mildly put, warm.

Constant mention was made of the various state and city level constructs
that are on the way besides Synbio Axlr8r itself; business parks,
earmarked funding, research groups. Absent, I suppose, was my tier;
self-driven, open ended research as enabled by biohackerspaces. But,
more on this below of course.

Finally, a tidbit revealed early in the day that probably made all the
difference was that Cork would be fielding an iGEM team. This came as
part of a Cork researcher’s presenting work with synthetic “protein
origami”, which was (to me) exciting enough on its own.

At the mixer afterwards (I arrived late after helping with some
technical issues in the main auditorium), Bill Liao, whose project the
accelerator and conference had been in the first place, expressed an
interest in seeing a La Paillasse in Cork, and I have to say it was the
first time I didn’t immediately doubt such a thing could happen.

All of this was pretty exciting; we all left the conference feeling
uplifted and motivated, I think. I met a lot of great people, many of
them in Cork and with a new or revived fascination with the field of
synbio, and a taste of the freedom provided by the biohacker mentality.

The next morning, after a late night (Hi Jacob, Thomas, Synbiota & Cork
iGEM!) and a failed crowdfunding campaign, I was woken by a call from
co-organiser and excellent person Wayne, who told me to be ready to
visit a site by early afternoon. There was interest, after the
conference; while I was sleeping in (typical) people were planning a
biohackerspace, and a potential site was already suggested. Thomas,
Jacob and I received a tour of the space, which is amazing and very
appropriate, given its history. No early reveals here until it’s final,
but I’m excited about this location already.

Over the last few days, the project has gained momentum; plans,
communications and collaborations are being put together. A few
serendipitous connections presented themselves in that all-too-weird way
that they can do. The Cork Biohackerspace is going to happen; it has too
much inertia now not to.

This is, to me, the most exciting thing to hit Cork, ever. Obviously I’m
biased! But, I’ve been working in my own lab for years, lamenting the
company of like-minded biohackers. And, this week I have discovered that
there are indeed a sizeable number of like-minded hackers, along with
sympathetic academic colleagues, eager supporters, and a network of
potential funders and assistants, in my own City. In scant months, Cork
will host teams from around the world who are planning ambitious
synthetic biology projects, and will incubate and send forth an iGEM
team to compete in the jamborees.

And now, we’ll have a place for us all to call home; somewhere to hang
our micropipettes and incubate our projects. Somewhere we can apply for
a collective license (the EPA explicitly suggested a club to me to
simplify licensing, when I applied years ago) and run teaching classes,
workshops, tutorials, demonstrations and have fun!

If this excites you as much as it excites me, get thee to the
DIYbio-Ireland mailing list, and be ready to help build out the lab. The
call could be coming sooner than you think!


Cathal Garvey

Mar 17, 2014, 6:16:35 AM3/17/14
to Biotech Ryan,,,
Thank you Ryan! Exciting times for Cork, and all so suddenly. Feels
remarkable, slightly unbelievable. :)

On 17/03/14 06:02, Biotech Ryan wrote:
> A much deserved congratulations Cathal, you've been putting in an
> incredible amount of passion and energy into the movement and it'll be
> great to hear of all the fantastic biohacker projects you'll all be
> developing in the new biohacker space Cork!
T: @onetruecathal, @IndieBBDNA
P: +3538763663185

Cathal Garvey

Mar 17, 2014, 11:12:12 AM3/17/14
to,, diybio
I can't take all the credit at all; this is thanks to Bill driving the
synbio-in-Cork initiative, Jacob organising the conference, Synbiota
guys drumming up excitement about open science, Thomas showing everyone
that libre-synbio is possible, and the audience for piecing it all
together and getting excited. That I'll have a biohackerspace to play in
is something I'm grateful for, rather than proud of! :)

On 17/03/14 12:07, Andreas Stuermer wrote:
> Sounds very awsome! Great you got the momentum to get it running finally ;)
> On Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 11:16 AM, Cathal Garvey <
>> wrote:
>> Thank you Ryan! Exciting times for Cork, and all so suddenly. Feels
>> remarkable, slightly unbelievable. :)
Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages