School of Design, Dept. of Fine Arts
College of Arts & Sciences, Dept. of Biology                          

fnar/ipd 268/568 - Integrative design studio: Biological Design

Fall 2016
Orkan Telhan, Ph.D.; | Karen Hogan, Ph.D.; 
| TA: Jiwon Woo


This course is a research-based design studio that introduces new materials, fabrication and prototyping techniques to develop new design proposals in response to the theme: Biological Design. The studio introduces life sciences and biotechnologies to designers, artists, and non-specialists to develop creative and critical propositions that address the social, cultural, and environmental needs of 21st century. Through lectures, hands-on workshops, and assignments, students will work on developing living artifacts that can their manifest ideas and learn how to situate their work in relation to the current discourse in contemporary art and design. The course assumes no background in Biology and will provide the necessary lab training to work in a Safety Level 2 Biology Lab at Penn.

The course will participate in the 2nd Biodesign Challenge.

Key Objectives

 + Learn to think and work in new design spaces shaped by chemistry, biology, and computational technologies.

+ Develop advanced research and design methods that are informed by current conversations on life sciences, biological design, synthetic biology, bio-arts, interaction design.

+ Practice a variety of prototyping techniques and fabrication methods to build functional prototypes that can be showcased as artistic/ designerly statements, proposals, and knowledge.




w1 - Aug 31 (wed)

Aug 31 (wed) - Lecture (@ Addams 111) What is Biological Design? Making vs. Designing vs. Manipulating Life


w2 - Sep 5 (mon - no class) - Sep 7 (wed)

Sep 5 (mon) - Labor day holiday- no class

Sep 7 (wed) - Lab + Lecture (@Levin L57): Life before Biology (Abiogenesis, Chemotaxis, Crystals, Primordial soups)


w3 - Sep 12 (mon)- Sep 14 (wed)

Sep 12 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Synthetic Biology I (Introduction to the Synbiota Tinker Kit: Plasmid Design and Assembly)
Sep 14 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Designing Biological Circuits


w4 - Sep 19 (mon) - Sep 21 (wed)

Sep 19 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Synthetic Biology II  (Living Circuits)

Sep 21 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Building biological circuits  


w5 - Sep 26 (mon) - Sep 28 (wed)

Sep 26 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Designing Life at Different Scales 1 (Biosynthesis, Biofabrication, Bioremediation)

Sep 28 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Introduction to the Biodesign Challenge; Synthesizing Electricity (MFC)


w6 - Oct 3 (mon) - Oct 5 (wed)

Oct 3 (mon) - Workshop (@Addams 111): Marc Dusseiller/Hackteria -

Oct 5 (wed) - Workshop (@Levin L57): Introduction to Microbial Design Studio.


***Fall Break*** (Oct 6-9)


w7 - Oct 10 (mon) - Oct 12 (wed)

Oct 10 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Designing Life at Different Scales 2 (Biosynthesis, Biofabrication, Bioremediation)

Oct 12 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Automated culturing


w8 - Oct 17 (mon) - Oct 19 (wed)

Oct 17 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Designing Living Interactions (Microbial Ecologies, Biofilms, Mycelium Tectonics)

Oct 19 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Sample collection, DNA extraction, PCR, prep for sequencing


w9 - Oct 24 (mon) - Oct 26 (wed)

Oct 24 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Designing for the Microbiome: From products to buildings and urban life

Oct 26 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Working with the microbiome; Project Proposal Discussion


w10 - Oct 31 (mon) - Nov 2 (wed)

Oct 31 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): The Culture of Nature (Why and how nature governs and gets governed, the before and after of the anthropocene).

Nov 2 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Visualizing life: electrophoresis, DNA images, sequence data; Projects: Discussion with Karen Ingram.


w11 - Nov 7 (mon) - Nov 9 (wed)

Nov 7 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Special Topics: Biomaterials Classwide Discussion

Nov 9 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Projects


w12 - Nov 14 (mon) - Nov 16 (wed)

Nov 14 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Special Topics: Energy (i.e, methane, fossil fuel production, fermentation, biofuels); Classwide Discussion on topic

Nov 16 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Projects;


w13 - Nov 21 (mon) - Nov 23 (wed - no class)

Nov 21 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Classwide Discussion (each group presents)

Nov 23 (wed) - Thanksgiving break- no class


***Thanksgiving Break*** (Nov 24-27)


w14 - Nov 28 (mon) - Nov 30 (wed)

Nov 28 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Mid-Project Presentations with Guest Daniel Grushkin (Director, Biological Design Challenge)

Nov 30 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Projects;


w15 - Dec 5  (mon ) - Dec 7 (wed)

Dec 5 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Classwide Discussion (each group presents)

Dec 7 (wed) - Lab (@Levin L57): Project reviews (wed)


w16 - Dec 12 (mon - last class )

Dec 12 (mon) - Lecture (@Addams 111): Taking Living Matters into Own Hands (DIY Biology, Medicine, GMO in food);

Lab (@Levin L57): Pre-exhibition  meeting 2PM Addams 319


Final - Dec 19 (mon) - final meeting/exhibition



Every student will be responsible to do the labs, summarize the class content in the class blog for one week, and do a final project that responds to the material covered in the class.


Final Project

Humans have always been manipulating living things for their own needs, wants, and desires. However, today our manipulations are at a different scale; they are not only more transformative in changing the nature of the living but also prompting deeper cultural, moral, and ethical questions concerning our relationship to the rest of the living. As biology is shifting towards a design-driven disciplines, glowing synthetic plants, drug-delivering artificial cells, smell-changing bacteria, propelling mouse tissues are increasingly gaining public awareness and finding their place in the vocabulary of the contemporary design. Like all artifacts of design, everything we create requires serious critical reflection. We need scrutiny to evaluate our designs with relation to complex issues such as environmental pollution, obesity, extinction, and the immediate needs of a dying planet.

We would like you to critically respond to the promises of biological design from your own perspectives and develop a project in response to the course material. The project will be evaluated based on two main criteria:

1) Design (Instructor’s evaluation);
As instructors, we will evaluate the 1) intellectual rigor, 2) research efforts, 3) execution, 4) communication and documentation efforts of your project. The final outcome of your work will be featured at public presentation/exhibition at the end of the semester.

2) Competitiveness for the Biological Design Challenge (Jury evaluation).
Together with external judges, we will evaluate your project as a competing entry for the Biological Design Challenge. The winning entry will be developed further in Spring 2016 until it gets featured at the Biological Design Summit in New York during Summer 2016.