Day in the Lab

XXV.5 September-October 2018
Page: 18
Digital Citation

Waag open wetlab

Lucas Evers

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Editors’ note: For this Day in the Lab, we look outside HCI to a bioscience and biodesign lab to see similarities in practice. Approaches that we associate with HCI are becoming more widespread, as other disciplines embrace participatory approaches. This bodes well for emerging areas such as biodesign, since the gap is narrowing between HCI and some recent disciplinary colllaborators.

How do you describe your lab to visitors? The Open Wetlab at Waag in Amsterdam is a laboratory for creating biotechnologies from a public perspective. Waag’s core values are openness, fairness, and inclusivity. Our lab tests and develops biotechnologies (like CRISPR Cas9) in a way that both remains true to these core values and increases public understanding of the potential of biotechnologies. We offer artists, designers, and scientists a space to conduct experiments under the requirements of biosafety—with the help of our own appointed biosafety officer. We are convinced that by doing this, we provide our audience with a value-oriented (rather than technology-focused) vision of emerging technologies.


What is a unique feature of your lab? It’s the only lab at Waag that has a lock and a key. I just mentioned Waag’s core value of being open, so this lab is open, but on the condition of maintaining biosafety. We work with the newest gene-editing techniques, but we can do that only if we provide a situation that is safe. Safe not only for the environment, practitioners, and organisms, but also safe in the way that all participants are allowed to voice their opinions about those technologies. The lab is closed when no authorized colleagues are there because we do work with microorganisms and certain low-grade pathogens.

How many people are in the lab, and what is the mix of backgrounds and roles? At Waag we have a number of research groups containing six to 12 people each, and we work with a group of research fellows in addition to that. In the lab itself, we have a setup allowing us to work with the most basic microbiology techniques, but we also collaborate with people from all over the world. For example, I’m currently developing an adipose tissue-culture project with a cardiovascular tissue-culture expert in New York, and I’ve brokered lab space at the Hubrecht Institute for a visiting artist from Australia to grow his own brain tissue. Apart from having a physical laboratory, the Wetlab, we are a virtual laboratory that is part of a network of people from other laboratories that one can potentially work with.


Briefly describe a day in the life of your lab. We have students coming in for the BioHack Academy throughout the day. During this 10-week course, we teach people how to set up and make their own microbiology lab. In between the classes, we give tours of our facilities to visiting artists and researchers who want to know a bit more. In the evening, we have another workshop where an artist teaches the general audience how to work with tissue cultures or in vitro meat. This means that sometimes we need to work around the clock.

What is one feature of your lab that you could not do without? We cannot do without the incubator because understanding what to grow and how to grow it is the start of every biotechnology project. For that reason, we introduce most people interested in working at the Wetlab to microbiology. To culture microorganisms you need an incubator. We actually started off with incubators we bought at a pet shop, used for hatching reptile eggs. At the same time, we have a lot of do-it-yourself types who make their own incubators and other hardware at our lab, such as PCRs and microfluidics equipment.


What feature do you not have but would you like to have? We would love a DNA sequencer. Recently they have become more accessible, in that they are less expensive and more effective, which brings them closer to the do-it-yourself domain. DNA sequencers can tell us the exact order of the G, T, A, and C nucleotides of a DNA molecule, which can then be used for many diagnostic purposes. Commercial companies collecting human DNA sequences confront us with questions about the nature of the information generated by DNA sequencing. Who owns it? Should we create a novel agency concerned with where that information is kept? Is it still ours as citizens? I would love to work with a DNA sequencer much more in our lab, so that we can address these questions by doing, by making our own DNA sequences.

How would you describe how people interact in your lab? Responsibility is very important to the culture in our lab, which is characterized by its criticality and by our way of looking at the values behind current research in life sciences. In an era when we can make anything, the question is not what to make, per se, but how to make it. The same applies to the creation of new biotechnologies.

What is the one thing you see as most important about your work here? The most important thing is to create a culture of research, to show that research in essence is something that can be done by many—not only by scientists but also by artists, designers, and citizens. Biotechnologies hold a lot of promise, but they also spark public fear about ecological danger and the ownership of life. By stimulating research that is more diverse and built on a vision of collaboration between humans and non-humans, between society and ecology—by stimulating research that is reciprocal, we are convinced we can create biotechnologies that are more beneficial and meaningful to society and ecology.

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@Mark Albin (2012 06 30)

This is a very interesting article about social bots, thanks for sharing.

@Aman Anderson (2012 07 18)

This is great
“So what’s the center of a design? In one sense, it is the designer’s nuanced understanding of the problem or opportunity at hand. The focus of design is problem solving, not self-expression.” - Uday Gajendar, Interaction Designer

@Bill Killam (2012 07 31)

This is a long overdue article.  And I couldn’t agree with it more.  I’m current working on yet another Federal RFP that is asking for us to do work using short cut methods that are likely make it harder to get them quality results, and we can probably propose a cheaper and more data rich approach if they didn’t specify how we had to do the job.  Sad.

@Demosthenes Leonard Zelig (2012 08 12)

Great Article, it is funny to notice that such huge corporations do not even bother to do a market research before releasing products on a new market. However, I guess we are still learning from our mistakes. (2012 10 24)

Hi everyone, In the Technological University of Panama there is also a movement. There is a 2 years MS in IT with a specializtation in HCI. We are also trying to include HCI as part of our main curricula. This year we started a research with a company interested on incorporating usability in their development. We expect to receive a Fulbright Scholar next year in this area…


Karla Arosemena

@John Michael Sheehan (2012 11 06)

There are thousands of blogs that requires comments on them. What is the intention of blog comments? Sent From Blackberry.

@Junia Anacleto (2012 11 07)

A very shallow and naive view of a much more rich and complex context.
I am still waiting for a fair position paper to be presented.

@Rick Norton (2012 11 17)

Excellent article raising significant issues that are largely overlooked.  The prospect that the collapse of sustainability for a growth/consumption related societal model is inevitable, is a topic I have often wondered about, given the nature of capitalism as we know it today.  Even the “Great Recession” of current times gives me pause to wonder just how long we can keep this economic engine going before we have to face the reality that we are all going to have to learn to “live with less”.  (A quantitative assessment, not necessarily qualitative.)

Keep up the good work.  Hopefully, you will raise awareness of these topics.

@Noah McNeely (2012 11 27)

Very nice article, that raises meaningful questions.  I actually think that the idea of sustainable products and sustainable product development is a bit of a myth.  All products consume energy and other resources in one form or another during their production, use, or re-use.  The key, ultimately is to balance resource consumption with resource production, but we will always need to be producing new resources.  See my blog post on the subject at ( ) (2012 11 30)

The quote in the article mis-contextualize James Landay ‘s essay. James actually is actively working to break down those stereotypes, but you can’t do that without understanding what the deep problems are.

James’ blog post on this is at

@Lee Crane (2012 12 03)

This is a topic that is thought provoking and important.  The message explores how humans can escape and survive the world they have jumbled.  So many of the theories and ideas are basic.  Our future may look a lot like the distant past.  And indeed we may be happier for it.

@ 4996484 (2012 12 19)

this is a great article David and Silvia!  I’‘m so excited that you guys wrote this up and are showing everyone the complexities in this space. I hope Interactions features more of this kind of research on China.  Although I agree w/ @landay’s assessment of China’s creativity problem - but he’s working with a very different population than you guys. I think you research is absolutely on point - creative folks are going to hacker spaces like Xinchejian, they aren’t ending up in institutions like Tsinghua!  I explain more here:

@Joe (2013 01 04)

I think that if you study the Elliot Wave Theory it can answer your questions.

@Rafeeque (2013 01 06)

good one

@zhai (2013 01 17)

Enjoyed reading this article. I finally got why Harold wants to call it “the Fitts law”. If enough people write it that way I would never have to correct another submission making the embarrassing mistake of ‘Fitt’s law”.

I did not completely get the following remark though:

        “The Accot and Zhai paper about the Fitts Law [3] has a clever title that illustrates
        the rules on letters, “More than dotting the i’s…”—a bad pun on eyes.”

I came up with the title, but the word “eyes” never came to my mind. We meant that the point-and-click style of UI is like dotting the i’s everywhere—- placing a click on constrained targets as the fundamental action in interaction. Why not using ” Crossing the t’s ”  as an alternative action?  Indeed, we presented models of a new style of UI, which systematically reveals when crossing is superior to clicking,  hence the subtitle of the paper “Foundations for crossing-based interfaces.”

Shumin Zhai

@Mohamadou M. Amar (2013 03 22)

I am a Doctoral student in I/O Psychology with Touro UW and need to access your articles.

@Mohamadou Amar (2013 03 22)

Need access for Doctoral Research

@William Hudson (2013 04 09)

Gilbert overlooks the important issue that the ‘big boys’ largely do not appreciate the need for design all and the problems that real people have with technology. I admit that we’ve had a hard time selling UCD but I am not persuaded by the arguments here to abandon it. Perhaps have a look at my article on a similar subject - User Requirements for the 21st Century - where I take a more pragmatic view of trying to address real users’ needs in the development process.

@ 0343665 (2013 04 29)

Fantastic text. I came here by searching for people that quote the Standford study on multitasking. The introduction is fantastic as it builds up an argument that attention has some features that do not change over time.

@Simon Taylor (2013 04 30)

not wanting to do anything so grandiose as building a (technology for) a world parliament, I have in essence been working on the same problems and facing the seven challenges with a project called ‘company.’ []

In 2011, working with senior software developers - gratis - although neither the ethical undertaking nor the promise of sweat equity were enough to keep them involved - I established the technical feasibility of ‘company.’
In 2012, turning from the ‘voluntary’ ‘principled’ participation model - because the attractions of real paying jobs had lost me my team - I received financial support from the New Zealand government. This part-funded an Intellectual Property Position Review - which government considered a pre-requisite - as commercial due diligence - to investing in an initial build, or beta. The IPPR recommended I do proceed… However, government offers only part-funding and without a team - either technical or commercial - there has been little to no investor interest.

As things stand at present, I have the tools and schematics for a beta build of something which would fit the sort of use imagined here. If you have any interest in helping, please contact me.

Simon Taylor