Tracks/Art Design


iGEM 2014 Art and Design New Track


iGEM is a unique design competition for engineering students. Over the past ten years, thousands of students from dozens of countries have imagined a future where biology is the ultimate design medium, with applications in medicine, energy, and the environment built from open-source, standardized parts. The growth and success of iGEM has centered on the power of this vision of biological design.

iGEM calls on students to build diverse teams of students and advisors, bringing together knowledge from biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, and computer science to develop new technologies. Often the most successful teams also work hard to imagine their projects in a social context, working with students and advisors from the humanities and social sciences to explore topics concerning ethical, legal, social, or safety issues related to their work. Considerations of these “human practices” is central to building safe and sustainable projects in the public interest. iGEM teams that make significant contributions to this area, integrating social concerns into the design of their synthetic biology devices are awarded with the Special Prize for Best Human Practices Advance.

Since 2009, another development has been the number of teams working closely with artists and designers, incorporating elements of artistic enquiry and experimental speculative/critical design practice into their projects, even inspiring engineering/science teams to adopt these approaches. Much of this work seeks new ways to consider the ethical, social, cultural and political implications of synthetic biology, as well as adding strong concepts to drive iGEM projects. Collaboration between artists/designers and scientists/engineers has taken many forms in the context of iGEM, including:

Many more teams fit somewhere along this spectrum, contributing significantly to the Registry, as well as to Human Practices, innovating communication and outreach, developing imaginative projects with great potential for future technologies in a range of applications, as well as developing new design practice in the processes of biological engineering. The teams incorporating art, design and human practice see applications and implications are inseparable in their design thinking, which we believe is very important for the future success of synthetic biology.


There are many great examples of collaborative work between synthetic biologists, artists and designers. For more examples and references check out the following resources:


Some recent museum exhibitions have curated many great examples of Art & Design projects related to synthetic biology.

  • ‘Bio Design,’ New Institute Rotterdam (September - December 2013)
  • ‘Alive/En Vie,’ EDF Foundation Paris (April - September 2013)
  • ‘Grow Your Own,’ Science Gallery Dublin, (October 2013-Jan 2014)
    Exhibition website includes a great deal of background on the role of Art & Design in synthetic biology and includes videos of many of the artists discussing their work.

Other iGEM projects

Besides the projects listed above, many projects have brought together a range of artistic elements and design methods and many teams of engineers have collaborated with artists and designers on different aspects of their projects. This is of course far from a complete list, there are many many more great iGEM design projects than we could possibly list here!

What We're Looking For

The details of judging rules and requirements for both the cross-track Art & Design Prize and the Art & Design Track will be updated within the next month. In principle, we are looking for:

  • Thoughtful, critical, investigation using art and design to open up our thinking.
  • Collaboration between artists, designers, engineers, scientists, and social scientists.
  • Projects that use art and design to consider and explore current and future implications of synthetic biology (including stakeholders, communication, pedagogy, thinking outwards), not designing fake applications that increase hype but do not add value to our understanding.
  • Projects that use art and design to innovate around issues of applications, social, cultural, ethical, political, economic and technological implications and applications of synthetic biology, especially related to the scientific aspects of the project, not just visualizing or aestheticizing biological material.
  • Actively engaging with the public, communities and stakeholders to open up debate and discussion.
  • Asking who will be using synthetic biology, what new laws might be needed, how might it change the way we live?


Art and Design teams must meet the general iGEM 2014 requirements. In addition, A&D teams must meet the following track specific requirements:

  • Team Composition While iGEM is primarily a student competition, we acknowledge that there may be artists and designers who are interested in participating and who do not have a university affiliation. We strongly recommend that artists interested in participating with a team or forming their own iGEM team find team members and advisors from local universities or community labs. This is an experimental track, so please contact us at artdesign AT with any questions or concerns about participation and team requirements.
  • Project Presentation: Each team must give a twenty minute presentation discussing their project at the Jamboree, including description of goals, process, and outcomes. In addition, teams must present a poster during the Jamboree poster sessions. Please feel free to bring any additional materials that support the presentation of your projects. Special presentation requirements (e.g. video screening, installations) can be arranged on a case by case basis (deadline for special requests: October 1, 2014). Please contact artdesign AT with questions.
  • BioBrick Parts:Teams participating in the Art and Design tracks are strongly encouraged to work with the materials of synthetic biology, including BioBrick parts, although it is not a strict requirement. To receive a distribution copy of the parts registry, teams must request one from artdesign AT and have an affiliated university or community laboratory and follow all safety regulations. Teams that do wish to use and submit a new part must adhere to safety and iGEM submission guidelines.

Medal Criteria

Bronze. The following 5 goals must be achieved:

  1. Register for iGEM, have a great summer, and attend the Giant Jamboree.
  2. Create a team wiki sharing background information, context, inspirations and goals for the project, and documentation of your process and outcomes.
  3. Present a poster and talk at the Giant Jamboree
  4. Demonstrate the use of art and design for thoughtful, critical investigation of the current and future implications of synthetic biology.
  5. Demonstrate the active engagement of engineers, scientists, members of the public, and other stakeholders as part of your project, during the initiation, development, presentation, and documentation your project.

Silver:In addition to the bronze medal requirements, a team must:

  1. Create a short film about or as part of your project. This video must be sent to the committee and iGEM HQ.

  2. AND at least ONE of the following:

  3. Design and execute a workshop or event for a group of people outside of your team.
  4. Produce an installation or experiment (does not need to be biological) and document it or recreate it at iGEM (please contact to arrange space for presenting your project before October 1st).

Gold: In addition to the Bronze and Silver Medal requirements, a team must:

  1. Provoke us to think about synthetic biology and its implications in a new and novel way. We are looking for teams to break new ground and surprise us!

  2. AND at least ONE of the following:

  3. Collaborate directly with an iGEM team in another track.
  4. Design and document on the Registry of Standard Biological Parts at least one new standard BioBrick Part (teams working with biological materials must adhere to all laboratory safety requirements maintained by iGEM).
  5. iGEM projects involve important questions beyond the bench, for example relating to (but not limited to) ethics, sustainability, social justice, safety, security, or intellectual property rights. Describe an approach that your team used to address at least one of these questions. Evaluate your approach, including whether it allowed you to answer your question(s), how it influenced the team’s scientific project, and how it might be adapted for others to use (within and beyond iGEM). We encourage thoughtful and creative approaches, and those that draw on past Policy & Practice (formerly Human Practices) activities.

Art and Design Cross Track Prize

The cross-track Art & Design prize recognizes exceptional effort to use methods from art and design to explore the potential applications and implications of synthetic biology. For teams of primarily science and engineering students competing in any of the other tracks to be eligible for the Art & Design Prize, they must demonstrate at least ONE of the following:

  • Develop a meaningful long-term collaboration with artists and/or designers, whether they are fellow students, advisors, or other project partners. This relationship can take many forms: run a design brainstorming workshop together, co-host an event where artists and scientists share their work and expertise, involve artists directly with the work in the lab, or any other creative mode of collaboration.
  • Present a piece related to your iGEM project in the Art & Design exhibition at the Giant Jamboree. Your piece can be in any media and take any form, from video to sculpture to multimedia installation (but for safety reasons no biological materials please). If you are interested in participating in the exhibition, please email: artdesign [AT] igem [DOT] org by October 1st to arrange space for your project.

Art and Design Committee