Living Machines

What is it?

The Living Machines thread is an interdisciplinary, project-centric apprenticeship program in a broad effort to bring “human body-on-a-chip” technology and science into practice.

What will I learn?

From basic biology and microbiology to devices, sensors, and computational modeling, each member of the Living Machines team brings individual disciplinary skills, and they bridge to other disciplines with different semantics, knowledge areas, and approaches.

One of the most exciting interdisciplinary frontiers for therapeutic development is the human gut microbiome. Faculty members from across MIT are working with academic and industry colleagues to define relationships between the gut microbiome and human health. Their goal is to build computational and instrumented in-vitro experimental models of the human gut, including the microbiome, that will bring the “body-on-a-chip” technology and science into practice. They merge clinical medicine, systems biology, microfabrication and microfluidics, tissue engineering, stem cell biology, sensors and optics, mechatronics, biomaterials, and immunology.

What is this thread’s “new machine and system?”

Living Machines students will be oriented to the science, engineering, and business of the gut microbiome and develop intellectual and technical skills to translate their research into practical application. They will learn how to build a “gut-on-a-chip” from stem cells, micro-pumps to power it, and microscopes to image it, and they will measure and computationally model the way drugs, microbes and immune cells change their function. The skills developed are highly transferable to any biotech and medical device field.

Who do I talk to?

For more information about the Living Machines thread, please contact:

  • Linda Griffith, faculty co-lead and Professor of Biological Engineering:
  • Eric Alm, faculty co-lead and Professor of Biological Engineering:
  • Mehdi Salek, NEET lead technical instructor:
  • Check out the thread’s website, Living Machines
NEET Research


The Living Machines thread is of specific interest to students majoring in Courses 20, 26, or 10-C. Other technical majors may apply by petition. The core requirements are given below, but we encourage interested students to contact one of the thread’s faculty leads or the lead technical instructor for class selection and advising.

Core requirements for this thread include projects, seminars, and foundation subjects.


Each year Living Machines students will take a 12-unit project-centered class. The thread emphasizes novel research output as a fundamental part of the projects. The gut-microbiome theme remains consistent, but projects will vary depending on the cohort year.

Students develop a basic microfluidic design and wet lab skills in addition to introductory lectures addressing various aspects of the organ-on-chip field. These range from basic human physiology to understanding how the microbiome can be targeted as a medical therapeutic. Students will work in small groups structured as small biotech startups on an interdisciplinary year-long project to develop a simplified gut-microbiome microphysiological system with scientific and clinical relevance (12 units).

With the help of the thread instructors, students focus on one aspect of a more sophisticated system based on their major and interests. Research will be conducted in the context of UROPs in Living Machines-approved MIT labs. The type of project will depend on the student’s individual interests, the lab they choose, and the student’s career goals. Additionally, juniors will work on small projects during the 20.052 class. These vary by year. For 2019, students can choose between three projects: 1) investigating the endometrial microbiome, 2) optimizing fiber composition for healthy gut outcomes, and 3) a tri-culture microfluidic gut model (12 units).

Students integrate what they have developed and learned during their first two years into the wider more complex gut-microbiome microphysiological system (12 units).


Seminars are integrated within the project classes listed above.


Minimum 12 units per year UROP credit in Junior and Senior year

Foundation Subjects

The Living Machines Intellectual Diversity Requirement (IDR) is a core class from outside a student’s major/area that is decided on an individual basis depending on their interests and future career path. Students often take 20.110 Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems, 10.10 Introduction to Chemical Engineering, or 2.001 Mechanics and Materials I to meet this requirement. IDR class choice must be approved by Professor Linda Griffith.

For specific questions about the Intellectual Diversity Requirement please contact Professor Linda Griffith

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