A global community from 30 countries calls for open sharing of scientific hardware
Over 100 researchers, engineers, educators, entrepreneurs and community organizers from 30 countries have published a report describing the steps for providing global access to scientific hardware by 2025 through open source designs, collaborative research and new manufacturing techniques, including 3D-printing.
The group, who convened at CERN in Geneva and at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago in 2017 during meetings supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, argue that too few people have access to the tools needed to perform science, particularly researchers in developing countries and communities wanting to gather and analyze data about their own environment. From microscopes to microfluidics and water quality test equipment, they are part of a growing movement to share designs for scientific hardware openly online that anyone is freely able to use, modify and even commercialize. They claim this could drastically reduce the costs of research while enabling people to collaborate and learn in new ways. “Our project is sustained by the shared goal of creating common knowledge through direct public participation in science and technology. Not from the detached criticism but practical engagement” suggests one of the authors, Dr Luis Felipe R. Murillo from the “Institut Francilien Recherche, Innovation et Société” in France.
The authors of the ‘Global Open Science Hardware Roadmap’ lay out the steps they think are needed to help their community move forward, including greater institutional support from universities, funders and governments who often prefer inventors to patent their hardware. Report contributor Dr Max Liboiron published an academic paper about her attempts to ensure her low-cost device for sampling marine microplastic pollution was freely accessible to the Indigenous populations she works with in northeast Canada. Several others make the case that open sharing is compatible with selling products and could in fact bring new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Jorge Appiah, an engineer and innovator who founded the Kumasi Hive makerspace in Ghana, believes that open sharing reduces the cost of entrepreneurship in an African context and allows “rapid scaling of impact solutions through location innovation, application innovation, and incremental innovation”. This is supported by over fifteen startup companies who are successfully producing open hardware for science.
The report also tackles the need to ensure quality control and standards compliance, particularly to help reproducibility of science, which has been a major concern in recent years. Licensing, high-quality documentation and the social and ethical aspects of scientific work are also considered: “Scientific tools are not esoteric and boring pieces of technology that have no connection to our daily lives. Who can use them, how they’re used and the results they provide can affect progress in developing new medicines, responses to environmental disasters and educating the next generation of scientists and technologists: so we have to take a wider view” explained author Dr Jenny Molloy from the University of Cambridge.
Communities that use and develop open hardware are broader than one might expect. The report features academic projects such as “White Rabbit“, an open hardware technology developed at CERN that has the difficult job of ensuring sub-nanosecond accuracy in data transfers for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the OpenFlexure Scope, a 3D-printed microscope using a cheap Raspberry Pi camera that has recently received major funding from the UK government’s “Grand Challenges Research Fund”.
Open science hardware is also built and used by the public in community science projects: “Rede InfoAmazonia” works within a network of Brazilian communities to build drinking water quality sensors and send contamination alerts via SMS, while projects like EnviroMap and UTBiome map microbial ecology and environmental data with local communities in Austin, Texas. Public Lab, a US non-profit, convened citizens to map the “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill” in 2010 and continues to work with local communities around the world who are affected by industrial pollution using low-cost, open-source kits that are improved by volunteers.
There are ongoing efforts to spread the benefits of open hardware globally. TReND Africa, for example, have led workshops teaching over 24 African scientists how to build their own 3D-printers and lab equipment at as little as 1% of the cost of commercial alternatives and achieve control over how they design their experiments. Activity in Africa looks set to increase with the first Africa Open Science and Hardware Summit due to take place in Ghana in April 2018 “OScH is a powerful tool to reduce the gap between theory and practice in African Higher Education but we should be careful about the neocolonialism driven by technology” reflects co-organiser and report author Thomas Herve Mboa Nkoudou, who is President of the Association for the Promotion of Open Science in Haiti and Africa (APSOHA).
After issuing this call for support, the group is planning to move forward their plans for scaling both the community and the reach of open hardware distribution at the Gathering for Open Science Hardware 2018 in Shenzhen, China which is a UNESCO Creative City and has been described as the “Silicon Valley for hardware”.
Notes to editors:
For more information, contact Shannon Dosemagen, Luis Felipe Murillo, Jenny Molloy and Rafael Peretti Pezzi via email@example.com
The GOSH Roadmap is available at: https://openhardware.science/global-open-science-hardware-roadmap