The Living Machines thread is an interdisciplinary project-centric apprenticeship focused on biotech and medical devices. The current theme is the human gut microbiome organ-on-chip from basic biology and microbiology to devices and sensors. Ambitious technological advances often require highly interdisciplinary teams from science, engineering, and design working together in synergistic fashion. Each team member brings individual disciplinary skills, but must bridge to other disciplines which have different semantics, common knowledge, and ways of approaching problems. The Living Machines thread provides a structured experience in how to be successful in such projects, through an apprenticeship in an interdisciplinary project: the “gut-on-a-chip” for drug development and disease modeling.
Mice, monkeys, and other animals have been cured of cancer, arthritis, diabetes and scores of other diseases in pre-clinical drug development — by drugs then fail to work in humans after over $1 billion invested in the effort. “Organs-on-chips” — a buzzword referring to technologies emerging to fix this problem – are hyped in the press, but tremendous scientific and engineering challenges remain before these technologies are robust, economical, and “fit for purpose” for use in drug development. One of the most exciting frontiers for therapeutic development is the human gut microbiome. Faculty members from several different departments at MIT have been working together with academic and industry colleagues around the world to bring the “body-on-a-chip” technology and science into practice, with funding from DARPA, NIH, NSF, foundations and several companies. The goal is to (a) define relationships between the gut microbiome and human health, and (b) to build computational and highly instrumented in vitro experimental models of the human gut, including the microbiome. These projects merge clinical medicine, systems biology, microfabrication/microfluidics, tissue engineering, stem cell biology, sensors and optics, mechatronics, biomaterials, and immunology and are highly interactive with local industry partners. The vision is that this technology will ultimately replace the use of animals in drug research and development.

Meet Our Instructors

The Living Machines faculty are dedicated to creating a unique learning experience for all our scholars.

  • Dr. Timothy Kassis

    Dr. Timothy Kassis

    Lead Instructor

    School of Engineering

  • Prof. Linda Griffith

    Prof. Linda Griffith

    Faculty Lead

    Biological Engineering

  • Prof. Eric Alm

    Prof. Eric Alm

    Faculty Lead

    Biological Engineering

Living Machines Classes

These are a series of 12-unit unrestricted elective classes that LM scholars take throughout the three-year program.


20.051 - Sophomores


20.052 - Juniors


20.053 - Seniors

20.051 - Sophomores

MIT's Living Machines Gut-on-Chip

20.051: 12-Unit LM Class for Sophomores

Scholars work in small highly interdisciplinary teams organized analogous to biotech startups. The 'companies' operate in a very similar manner to a real-world company. They have to pitch their project at the beginning of the semester to get funding. We use our own currency known as the Living Machines Currency (LMC) that the companies have to use to purchase materials and supplies, consulting time and various services related to their project. Companies have their own name, governance style and even get to file internal patents to protect their idea from other companies. The goal of the 20.051 is for each company to build a fully functional gut-on-chip that has a novel component not previously reported in literature. Current implementations include lymphatic integration, immune cell integration, novel materials (other than PDMS) and vertical membranes to facilitate high resolution imaging. The emphasis of 20.051 is to learn a variety of hands-on technical skills, team-work, organization behavior, resource and project management, intellectual property and communication skills. The class culminates with the companies showcasing their achievements at the annual NEET Research Symposium organized by the Living Machines Academic Liaison Officer.

The Research Lab

Living Machines Scholars have their very own dedicated BSL-2 laboratory.


The Living Machines laboratory is available for use by all scholars. It is a fully equipped facility for human tissue culture, device microfabrication and testing. Including:

  • 1

    Biosafety cabinets, tissue incubators, fume hoods, centrifuges, cell counters and electronic pipettes.

  • 2

    3D SLA printer, ovens and a variety of microfluidic pumps.

  • 3

    A fully programmable pipetting robot.

  • 4

    An integrated fluorescence microscope with access to a top-of-the-line confocal system.

Career Development Programs

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Peer Mentorship Program

Upperclassmen mentoring sophomores

Life at MIT can be hectic. Our mentoring program links upperclassmen from LM with sophomore mentees from their own major. The mentors provide a listening ear, help with class selection, general academic and personal advice as well as help navigating Living Machines. Mentors and mentees interact through a variety of events including LM organized socials and drink credit.

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The Community Space

Intended to be a social space where Living Machines scholars can meet, socialize and collaborate. The space is only accessible to LM scholars and is open 24/7. It has several desks, a meeting table, a TV, fridge, microwave, tea kettle and cold water dispenser. Numerous snacks are always available.

Recognition and Awards

Living Machines scholars are recognized for their commitment and contribution through a variety of annual awards. Only one award of each is given annually.

  • Outstanding Researcher

    Granted annually to an individual for most intellectual contribution towards LM projects. 

  • Best Sophomore Project

    Granted to the sophomore team that demonstrates the best 20.051 project. 

  • Above & Beyond Award

    Granted annually to an individual who has gone out of their way to make the LM experience an outstanding one to other scholars.

  • Outstanding Peer Mentor

    Nominated by their mentees, this award recognizes one mentor annually that has shown extraordinary mentorship.

Our MIT Partners

  • MIT School of Engineering
  • MIT Biological Engineering
  • MIT Center for Microbiome Informatics & Therapeutics
  • MIT Mechanical Engineering
  • MIT Chemical Engineering

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