Fostering Open Biological Sciences: One Petri Dish at a Time

If you recently attended Michigan’s first ever Maker Faire at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, you may have come across a scientific experiment taking place that is usually reserved for a university lab. James Peyer, entrepreneur and PhD student from the University of Michigan, provided a fun and innovative learning opportunity to visitors of all ages with a demonstration of a PCR machine (thermal cycler), part of his Open Bio Tool Kit. Participants created genetic art by actually cloning a gene and painting it on a petri dish. This open tool kit, and Peyer’s innovative strategy combining education and tools, promises to provide access avenues for public school students and hobbyists alike to gain skills and knowledge in the biological sciences.

For high school students, who may take classes with limited resources, a cheap (by comparison) thermal cycler will enable them to gain direct knowledge and skills in the biological sciences. Peyer writes, “it’s hard to get students excited about biology without letting them get their hands dirty actually doing things themselves.” By building a thermal cycler that is affordable for high school science programs to acquire, and by providing an educational program to support the use of this machine and engage students with hands-on opportunities, Peyer is opening a door to the world of biological sciences for many students across the country.

But Peyer doesn’t stop at public demonstrations. One of his goals is to foster experimentation and creativity by encouraging open access to the biological sciences. He wants to enable people who may be outside higher education and research institutions a chance to learn, participate and grow the field. His strategy consists of a two-pronged approach: providing open educational platforms and learning modules for students and teachers to use and providing the tools for them to apply their new found knowledge. His tools can be found on otyp and his educational programs can be found on gen.otyp.

The results of this approach, as demonstrated at Maker Faire, are quite fun and interesting, illustrating the enthusiasm and creativity of folks everywhere. We here at Open.Michigan were pretty excited to learn about Peyer’s activities and we think you’ll find them very interesting as well.These kinds of strategies are similar to what we at Open.Michigan are engaged in every day. We applaud the kinds of work that Peyer and others at the Maker Faire are involved in, as these activities put knowledge directly in the hands of those who want or need it. In fact, all this activity is pretty close to our overall goals: “Open.Michigan encourages researchers, learners, and instructors to maximize the impact and reach of their scholarly work through open sharing.”

Maybe you know someone who will benefit from Peyer’s efforts? If  you do, feel free to share this post with others or read the following articles for more information about James Peyer’s work and the Maker Faire:

3 thoughts on “Fostering Open Biological Sciences: One Petri Dish at a Time

  1. Hey Emily,

    Thanks for writing about us! I came across open.umich randomly this morning. Perhaps you guys would be interested in talking about how Otyp and UMich can work together to promote open education?

    I’d love to hear more about what you guys are doing, it seems like it could be right up our alley.

    James (from Otyp!)


    • I’m so glad you found our post! We at Open.Michigan were excited to see your work.

      We would also be happy to discuss Open.Michigan with you more and how we may be able to collaborate in the future. I’ll be in touch!

      In the meantime, you can also browse more of our resources on our wiki and you may be particularly interested in reviewing the list of projects we’re involved in.


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