2016 Workshop on Engineering Living Systems

Wednesday August 3 – Thursday August 4, 2016

Questions? Please contact us.


Meeting Overview

One of the grand challenges facing our scientific community today is to develop the capability to design, engineer and produce complex living systems or “biological machines." These systems might arise from the guided differentiation of a cluster of pluripotent cells, drawing upon our capabilities to apply chemical, physical, or electrical cues to direct co-differentiation, as well as the intrinsic properties of cell populations to produce functional interactions through emergence. This can be thought of as a “bottom-up” approach to biological design. Alternatively, a top-down approach might first produce a high-level conceptual design, which leads to the specification of components consisting of clusters of phenotypically distinct cell types. The clusters might be capable of sensing, actuation, and information processing, for example, and could be effectively combined to create functional machines. In either approach, the basic cellular building blocks can all be derived from pluripotent sources.

Critical to the successful design of such engineered living systems is a fundamental understanding of the interactions between cells and their environment, their control by biochemical and mechanical cues, and the coordinated behavior of functional cell clusters. Examples range from biological robots to organs-on-a-chip, and have broad applications across medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, energy management, among other disciplines. By convening this meeting, we seek to bring together a group of forward-looking thought-leaders whose primary goal is the exploration of the ethical and research implications that arise from these complex biological interactions; the emergent behaviors they produce; and the ultimate creation of engineered living systems to perform specific, targeted functions

The participants envision that in the near future we will have the ability to design and create complex biological systems that can perform a variety of useful tasks. We see these biological machines moving beyond medical applications and transforming the energy, agriculture and home security sectors, as well. As pioneers in this burgeoning field, our immediate objective is to collaboratively define that vision. Through this meeting, we aim to chart the course that will enable us to meet our vision within the next decade and to anticipate the ethical questions that will inevitably arise. 

A white paper on the vision for integrated cellular systems, and a draft proposal solicitation for the NSF Emerging Frontiers in Research Innovation program will be deliverables of this meeting.

Attendance at the meeting is by invitation only. Participants will include world leaders in the field of biological machines, a curated group of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and representatives from the National Science Foundation.


1405 North Fifth Avenue
St. Charles, IL 60174
  • Please plan to arrive by late afternoon of Tuesday August 2. Informal dinner will take place at 6:00pm CST.
  • The Workshop will end by 3:00pm CST on Thursday August 4.
Local airports include O'Hare International Airport (35 miles away) and Midway International Airport (46 miles away). We encourage you to register as soon as possible, and to secure your flight arrangements early, to allow for logisitics coordination between airports and the Q Center.
Lodging and meals at the Q Center are included for the duration of the Workshop. Funding allows reimbursement of airfare and local transportation up to the following amounts per individual:
Local travelers: $100 (inclusive of mileage)
Travel within United States: $400
Travel from Europe: $1,500
Travel from Asia: $2,000
Please note that itemized receipts MUST be submitted for reimbursement. If you are attending from UIUC or Georgia Tech, please submit your receipts to EBICS staff at UIUC or Georgia Tech respectively. If you are attending from anywhere else, please submit receipts to EBICS staff at MIT. All airfare receipts that do not explicitly indicate coach/economy class seating (or business class for continuous flight time > 6 hours) will be rejected.

International Steering Committee

  • Roger Kamm – Meeting Chair (MIT)
  • Rashid Bashir (UIUC)
  • Ick Chan Kwon (KIST, Korea)
  • Celeste Nelson (Princeton)
  • Robert Nerem (Georgia Tech)
  • Josep Samitier (IBEC, Spain)
  • Shoji Takeuchi (U Tokyo, Japan)
  • Muhammad Zaman (Boston University)


View the Agenda



·      Q: Will we have roommates?

o   No, everyone has their own single-occupancy room.

·      Q: What is the dress code/ what activities should I pack for?

o   Business casual dress during meeting hours. Illinois is very hot right now, so you may want to bring a variety of clothes for indoor and outdoor events. Dinner will take place outdoors on Wednesday August 3.

·      Q: Can I park at the Q Center?

o   Parking is available at the Q Center.

·      Q: What events take place at the Q Center?

o   All meetings and accomodations are located at the Q Center.


You should have received messages from Carrie Kouadio on Monday July 25, 2016, about ground transportation options between airports and the Q Center. Please check your inbox. If you have not yet received these transportation messages, please let us know.



Special thanks to National Science Foundation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for their funding contributions to make the 2016 Workshop on Engineering Living Systems possible.