Baltimore Underground Science Space, also known as BUGSS, provided an open door to see some experiments on the last day of Baltimore Innovation Week 2017 with its fifth birthday celebration.
BUGSS was born out of a desire to democratize the world of biological technology, prompting Founder Tom Burkett to open the community lab in Highlandtown.
One of Burkett’s goals in opening the lab was to create a space for people who are curious about science but who don’t have access to the knowledge and techniques that would allow them to explore that more, he said.
The lab currently has about 20-25 members who pay a monthly fee to access the lab and work on projects they want to pursue. Volunteers like Michiko Kennedy, a Johns Hopkins Core Laboratory lab tech, help staff the public lab.
“[BUGSS] allows you to have the lab experience without the pressure,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said the community lab environment allows people to express and satisfy their curiosity, explaining why it attracts amateurs, artists, professionals, activists and students alike. BUGSS hosts classes, seminars and school-age programs, with a homeschool course beginning soon. One class held earlier this year was focused on genome editing tool CRISPR.
“It’s a really hot new technology for being able to change the human genome,” said Lisa Scheifele, an associate professor of biology at Loyola University Maryland, who serves as secretary on the lab’s Board of Directors. “It’s really gotten a lot of attention and for us to be able to do it in a community lab is really exciting…to be able to give people hands-on [introduction] to that.”
BUGSS is also the current home of high school iGEM team BioCrew, who won a bronze medal for their work in last year’s international competition held in Boston. The team is working on plastic degradation. They are engineering bacteria to break down plastics, Burkett said, with a particular emphasis on saving the Inner Harbor.