This experiment is part of the Community Biology Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Demystifying PCR: fostering scientific literacy through hands-on PCR education

Raised of $5,500 Goal
Funded on 7/05/24
Successfully Funded
  • $5,505
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 7/05/24

About This Project

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) has been the cornerstone of molecular biology since it began decades ago. Despite this, a lot of mystery surrounds PCR in the general public. We aim to demystify PCR and provide further training for those with some experience. As there is some eroding public trust in science, projects like this can help foster science literacy. Our goals are to provide resources for PCR and science education and to empower individuals to perform PCR for things of interest to them.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

Part of the purpose of Community Biology is to cultivate an accessible commons of knowledge, launch community biology projects and enable local educators. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) has been the cornerstone of molecular biology since it began decades ago. Our weekly local Meetups have provided some hands-on training for people in PCR. In "Demystifying PCR" we aim to demystify PCR, spark interest and provide greater community training in its many applications. A vital tool in molecular biology since its inception, it remains mysterious to many despite its wide use during the COVID pandemic. This project seeks to educate and empower anyone interested to conduct PCR to answer questions relevant to biology, the environment, or to use in synthetic biology.

What is the significance of this project?

Demystifying PCR opens doors for enthusiasts and learners alike to delve into the realm of molecular biology. It provides a gateway for individuals to utilize a fundamental technique, equipping people with the tools needed to amplify and quantify specific DNA sequences.

Yet, with the vast array of possibilities, many are unsure where to begin. Demystifying PCR will lower barriers for individuals interested in conducting PCR tests through training and resources. By enabling people to perform PCR, this project fosters a culture of scientific curiosity and innovation within communities.

Ultimately, Demystifying PCR aims to democratize biotechnology and promote scientific literacy, empowering individuals to explore and understand the molecular world around them.

What are the goals of the project?

Our goal with the Demystifying PCR project is to make PCR techniques accessible to everyone. We'll create a PCR methodology for easy DNA amplification. We'll develop online educational materials to simplify PCR, real-time PCR and their applications in synthetic biology, PCR testing and biotechnology. Through community outreach, we'll promote the Demystifying PCR and engage with local venues for hands-on training. If successful, we'll expand offerings to include kits for expression, genetic analysis and environmental testing. Our aim is to democratize biotechnology and promote scientific literacy by empowering citizen scientists to explore and understand the molecular world.


Please wait...

Support for our trainees and facilitators, and their supervision forms a large proportion of the expenses. This will provide DIYBIOTO access and a stipend for the part-time trainees (presently one engineer, and another 3rd year McGill Biology student) who will help us with PCR testing, PCR design and construction, Taq expression and mix preparation, writing, development of educational materials/kits and general lab maintenance. The next expense is for Reagents and Consumables for the lab work (oligonucleotides, probes, SYBR and other Taq mixes). The rest of the project’s expenses are for Community Outreach, both online and in-person to communicate the methodologies, promote their use in kits, and rental of community spaces for teaching.

Endorsed by

I enthusiastically support this project. As a classroom teacher, PCR was a daunting technology for me to try to learn independently. However, in working with the "Demystifying PCR" team, not only have I acquired the basic principles of PCR, but I also have resources to support my students in learning the technology. A sincere thanks for helping me overcoming the barriers to learning PCR and giving me tools to empower my students to better understand the molecular world around them.
The invention of the Nobel Prize winning Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) has transformed so many fields of scientific practice and is now imbedded in the public zeitgeist following on from the pandemic but what really is this important method? It is actually a very fun technique to learn. Karen is a very talented scientist with an equally talented team working to bring science to the people at DIYbio Toronto. I wholeheartedly endorse Karen, her team and this project and wish the team well in their campaign.
This project is genius! Tremendous erosion and distrust of science and scientists has occurred in the last few years, spiking during the pandemic. Scientific literacy amongst the lay public is poor. PCR is ubiquitous in biology, law (DNA evidence), and environmental spheres, to name a few. Grasping the power and limitations of PCR would go far to restoring personal public trust in science, thereby bettering society. Dr. Aitken is a highly published and creative molecular biologist, with 30 years in academia. This project is in superb hands.

Project Timeline

Formalized methods and social media to communicate and teach standard PCR and real-time will be developed in-house. We will utilize similar approaches and materials that have worked in our DIYBIO.TO Meetups. After trial in-house with DIYBIO members, we will reach out to libraries and other community centres to teach these methods to those interested. The educational materials will be available online and on an OpenMTA to provide resources for other groups to use.

Jun 05, 2024

Project Launched

Jun 18, 2024

Develop resources and kits to teach standard PCR: primer design, Taq enzyme mixes, cycling parameters, agarose gel electrophoresis.

Jul 13, 2024

Develop real-time PCR resources, including genotyping and SYBR methods, as well as teaching the concepts and methods.

Jul 31, 2024

Outreach to teach basic PCR in Hacklab and libraries in Toronto and outside of Toronto. This will promoted through social media, advertising at libraries.

Sep 27, 2024

Develop teaching materials (in person and online) as well as kits for advanced PCR methods, such as immuno-PCR and real-time PCR. Perform outreach as with basic PCR.

Meet the Team

KJ Aitken
KJ Aitken
Officer of DIYBIOTO, Chief Biologist of 1000743688 Ont. Inc.


DIYBIOTO Toronto Club, 1000743688 Ont. Inc.,
View Profile
Vincent Marino
Vincent Marino
Board member,

Affiliates and DIYBIO Toronto
View Profile
Eric Boyd
Eric Boyd


Maple Leaf Angels. AI Tinkerers Toronto. Hacklab.TO
View Profile

Team Bio

We at DIYBIOTO, have a long-standing commitment to community biology. Through our Meetups, we have engaged many people in the joy of biology and supported many projects. KJ Aitken (PhD, University of Toronto) has been performing PCR since 1990 and has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the different kinds of PCR. Vincent Marino (B.Eng) and Gabriel St. Pierre (M.Eng) have utilized their engineering skills to improve facilities and explore biology in DIYBIOTO.

KJ Aitken

KJ Aitken is a scientist with a passion for unraveling the mysteries of the molecular biology. With many decades of experience, Dr. Aitken has delved into a fascinating array of research topics, from the evolution of single-celled creatures to understanding how our cells respond to different environments. Her skillset includes PCR, cloning, sequencing (both old school Sanger and next generation), western blotting, data analysis, immunofluorescence and live-cell microscopy. Lately, she is interested in exploring the potential to create organs-on-a-chip.

She is also Chief Biologist in a startup with the aim of making devices that make it easier and greener to do science.

She is also a member of, which houses an enormous amount of useful equipment for making and engineering, including multiple 3d printers, a laser cutter, metal workshop and CNC.

But Dr. Aitken isn't just about science – she's also a musician with her RCMT grade 10 in cello, playing in community music groups. She is also deeply committed to sharing her knowledge with others. Dr. Aitken is a champion for community engagement in biology and life-long learning. You can often find her lending her knowledge and expertise to DIYBIOTO, a grassroots lab in Toronto to promote scientific inquiry and education, hosting Toronto’s DIYBIO In-Person Meetup, and helping out at the weekly open house.

Vincent Marino

Vincent Marino (B.Eng) is a board member of, one of Canada's oldest makerspaces. He is also a active member of DIYBIOTO, contributing by using his engineering skills to create effective tools in DIYBIOTO, such as shakers and camera attachments for microscopic imaging. He is also proficient at PCR and regularly contributes to DIYBIOTO Meetups.

Eric Boyd

Technologist. Investor. Futurist. Maker. Yogi. Philosopher. Spreadsheet lover. Gamer. Programmer. Event organizer. Community promoter. Space geek. Robot lover.

I’ve done a wide variety of things in my life – everything from engineering and making to event organizing to angel investing. I keep busy with a wide variety of projects and I’m always up for a conversation about the future and how to make it better. Currently obsessed with:
• Machine Learning & AI: are we close to artificial intelligence, or will that require another 100 PhD level breakthroughs?
• Synthetic Biology: Cultured meat, genetic engineering, the design of living things. Engineered creatures; biology as advanced tech.
• Angel Investing: Startups and entrepreneurs, the ecosystem of innovation
• Educational Reform: making education more hands on and less academic. Creating citizens, not employees or consumers.
•Sustainability: Not just climate change mitigation, but also habitat protection, closed loop manufacturing, and utopian dreams in general
• Space: NASA and SpaceX love Mars, and I helped start Venus Labs, we promote the cloud city colonization of the planet Venus!
• Epistemology and Rationality: Carefully considering the nature of knowledge. How do we know what we claim to know? How does your information consumption make you into who you become?

Additional Information