Press Release:

The Tech Interactive makes bioengineering fun with trio of new activities

Science center creates hands-on biotinkering experiences to make science more fun and accessible.

June 11, 2019, San Jose, CA— A young girl concentrates as she carefully adds three drops of oolong tea, a dash of molasses, and a healthy serving of blue sugar water to her special concoction in The Tech Interactive’s BioTinkering Lab. She’s making her own food for a microorganism that will take a few days to grow into a leather-like material that can be crafted into a keychain or notebook cover. Each decision she makes will influence whether the material she’s creating is light or dark, thin or thick, colorful or plain. The activity named Making with Microbes is one of three new experiences scientists at The Tech created to empower visitors of all ages to use biology to create sustainable materials.

“We love empowering visitors to get creative with biology and explore their own ability to build and make with it. These activities will help a new generation of students experience the excitement of using biology as technology, “ says Anja Scholze, Ph.D., Program Director for Biology and Design.

The Tech Interactive also designed an experience called Bio Inks, where visitors create non-toxic ink by harvesting pigment from a bacteria commonly found in soil. They can manipulate the ink’s color using different acids and bases. A third activity, Mushroom Bricks, allows visitors to shape a mixture of sawdust and living fungus cells using a 3D-printed mold. After the object grows for several days and glues together, it is baked to become an organic, biodegradable play brick. Engineers are exploring this method to grow everything from insulation to biodegradable buoys and packing materials to furniture.

The materials grown in the BioTinkering Lab have also inspired and been used by Bay Area artists. Corinne Takara made a chandelier from the mushroom material and Michelle Gieu helped visitors create stamped artwork from Bio Inks for a large, collaborative display in the BioTinkering Lab.

“People leave our space fueled with creative confidence. Not only are they learning that biology can be used in these incredible ways, but they get to be in a lab making these connections for themselves,” said Gretchen Walker, VP of Learning at The Tech.

One of the challenges in creating hands-on experiences with biology is the incubation period while organic systems grow. The Tech’s experience developers got creative in making sure visitors can experience every step of the process. For example in Making with Microbes, visitors prepare a biomaterial for a future participant in the activity, while they create an artistic memento like a keychain with what someone else grew just days before.

“Visitors can participate in a week-long process in the span of less than an hour and that’s a pretty unique opportunity. The activities are also purposefully hands-on and a little messy, smelly and squishy to give visitors an authentic and memorable experience with biology,” said Scholze.

The activities were made possible by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the NIH, awarded in partnership with Stanford University’s Department of Genetics. The Tech is hoping to help inspire creative problem solvers around the world by making it possible for other science centers to host these novel activities.

Visitors can experience Making with Microbes every day this summer in the BioTinkering Lab. The drop-in activity is first-come, first-served and times may vary.

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About The Tech Interactive

The Tech Interactive is a family-friendly science and technology center in the heart of downtown San Jose. Our hands-on activities, experimental labs and design challenge experiences empower people to innovate with creativity, curiosity and compassion. The Tech is a world leader in the creation of immersive STEAM education resources to develop the next generation of problem-solvers locally, nationally and globally. We believe that everyone is born an innovator who can change the world for the better.

Inspiring the innovator in everyone.