We are now leaving the US for a while to discover some great DIY communities in Canada. Let’s start with the dynamic Victoria Makerspace, Victoria, British Columbia. Derek Jacoby, particularly involved here in the community biotech lab Biospace, is introducing himself and his deep motivations.
Could you introduce yourself?
I’m in a PhD program at the University of Victoria (UVic). In the course of the program I’ve done a fair amount of bioinformatics, but my thesis project is actually on the interpretation of EEG signals in an application designed to train kids with attention deficits to be able to sustain attention better. Prior to that I have a pretty checkered past – wooden boatbuilding school, primitive living skills apprenticeships, a decade at Microsoft (mostly MSFT research working on speech recognition), a few years at MD Anderson cancer center doing biostatistics. Kind of all over the place. I decided in 2009 while starting the first UVic igem team that if I didn’t take the technologies out of the university then they weren’t mine and I was just borrowing them, so that’s when I built my first garage lab. The public biology space ultimately grew out of that.
What does hacking represent for you?
I don’t tend to use the word biohacking much. It’s too confusible with body modification and non-wetlab biology uses, and in our space we’ve had some serious pushback on the hacker terminology and now call ourselves a makerspace rather than a hackerspace for the most part. Regardless of the label, DIY bio is important to me because it puts the locus of control back in the community. Synthetic biology is my primary interest, and it’s an area that is so far outside the experience of most people that it’s dominated by academia and industry at the moment and the idea of being personally empowered to use the technology doesn’t even occur to people. This is really dangerous, because if people aren’t empowered to work on these technologies themselves then it simply becomes something that is done to them. I think beyond the social reasons for doing this, my main motivation is an intellectual one – it feels like when I was first getting into computer programming in the 80’s but perhaps at an even earlier stage. Complex systems are inherently fascinating.
What do you expect from a hackerspace?
What I expect from a community biolab is some basic equipment and a group of people to share knowledge and experiences with. More than ever, science is a group activity. I’m not a huge fan of social hierarchies, and a community lab is almost unique in its ability to allow a collection of people to come together with whatever level of knowledge and ability they have and productively engage on the topics that I find most fascinating.
>> Picture: Dailylaurel (CC)