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STAT | Kendall Squared

Kendall Square opens its doors to the public for HUBweek

A view into a glass hive that was produced on a 3-D printer.
lane turner/globe staff
A view into a glass hive that was produced on a 3-D printer.

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They’ve been accumulating trash for weeks. They’ve got thousands of bees ready to go. And they’re bringing it all to Kendall Square.

The exhibit by the Best Bees Co. is one of 26 events taking over Kendall Square Thursday as part of the ideas festival known as HUBweek.

At “Inside Kendall Square,” the public will be able to mingle with scientists on the cutting edge of cancer, neuroscience, and genetics research, and hear from company founders about how they build a welcoming work environment. Events range from the intellectual to the festive, including a discussion between a painter and a software engineer about beauty, a demonstration of the latest health gadgets, and a block party to wrap up the night.

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“This is a Kendall Square open house,” said Danielle Duplin, a HUBweek producer.

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At the bee exhibit, visitors will use the trash — old T-shirts, shoeboxes, and bottles — to create “hotels” they can take home to attract bees to their backyards. And those of you with apiphobia (fear of bees) shouldn’t fret. The bees at the event will be contained in see-through hives.

In fact, honey bees shouldn’t be feared but appreciated for the role they play in agriculture, said behavioral ecologist Noah Wilson-Rich, one of the company’s founders.

People have an appreciation for flowers and fruit, Wilson-Rich said, but “you have a pollinator in the middle that doesn’t get any attention.”

One of the hives is made of glass and was 3-D-printed at the MIT Media Lab, part of a new partnership between the lab and the bee company. Admittedly, the hive looks like a standard glass box, but it’s lined with wooden frames, each latticed with wax and honey. And it’s brimming with bees, of course.

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The partnership between the Media Lab and the company just started, and Wilson-Rich said the first step was to study how bees responded to living in the glass hive before trying out other, as yet undisclosed, collaborations.

The Media Lab itself will be opening its doors for the event, as will other MIT-affiliated research centers. (HUBweek is founded by The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital.)

Absent from the lineup, however, are many of the pharmaceutical and biotech companies that have distinguished this area as a biomedical hub.

Some are involved — Pfizer, for example, is hosting an event with its scientists, and Novartis is cosponsoring a discussion at Google. But for people trying to get a peek at some whiteboards and boardrooms, organizers say maybe next year.

Supplying startups

Draper Laboratory, where scientists study everything from artificial intelligence to tissue engineering, is wading into the e-commerce world.

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For sale: custom-made silicon chips that allow researchers to study tiny amounts of liquid samples.

So-called microfluidic devices are a powerful tool in biotech labs, since they allow researchers to do cheap, quick analyses of how fluids react, for example, or the toxic effects of a molecule on a cell.

The venture, known as the Sembler initiative, marks a departure from the lab’s usual model of scientists-for-hire. Traditionally, Draper partners with a corporate, academic, or governmental group on a specific project. But in this case, anyone with an Internet connection could be a customer.

Draper says its program will be more affordable and faster than other options, whether that’s buying similar supplies from companies or partnering with a university to access its equipment. Some startups also craft their own microfluidic devices, but that takes them away from their research, said Nathan Wiedenman, Sembler’s program manager.

“These people want to be testing their concept,” Wiedenman said, not building tools.

Sembler customers can upload their design specifics online, and Draper will manufacture and ship the devices within a few weeks. The microfluidic chip is the first of what the company says will be a number of products geared toward biotech startups — a way, Draper hopes, of using parts to open doors to further partnerships.

Handing over the wheel

The man leading the research at one of Kendall Square’s most prominent — and most curious — laboratories is leaving.

Robert Johns, who has been director of the Volpe transportation center since 2009, is departing at the end of the year, Volpe officials said. Johns, who directed the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies before coming to Cambridge, will join that university’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs as a senior fellow.

The next director will be coming on at a pivotal time for the US Department of Transportation complex.

The government is planning a new research facility for the site in the coming years, which will allow the center to expand its studies in fields like drones, while maintaining a focus on issues such as pedestrian and bicycle safety.

One challenge for Johns’s successor: spreading the message of how that research affects daily life. In an interview earlier this year, Johns acknowledged as much: “There’s a lack of awareness of what happens behind the walls here.”

Andrew Joseph can be reached at andrew.joseph@statnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrewQJoseph. Follow Stat on Twitter @statnews.