GOSH Community Member Profile of Urs Gaudenz: “Openness is being transparent, honest and down to earth”

Brianna Johns GOSH Profiles, Open Science Hardware News Leave a Comment

Source: Gathering for Open Science Hardware

This is the twenty-second (and final!) post of a series of profiles on GOSH community members who were featured in the GOSH Community Events Framework. You can access the framework, along with this profile in its original format, on the GOSH website at https://openhardware.science/gosh-community-events-framework/.

By Marcela Basch, independent journalist, Argentina. Twitter: @marbasch

Urs Gaudenz is a micro engineer, founder of GaudiLabs and Global Hackteria Network.

With an extensive background in electronics, mechanics and software, he worked for high tech companies and the Lucerne University of Applied Science and Arts. He put up GaudiLabs, defined as “creative spaces for working, thinking and living where culture and technology meet”, from where he conducts, teaches and promotes open research in open source culture technology. He also develops and sells open hardware.

Hackteria started in 2009, when Andy Gracie, Marc Dusseiller and Yashas Shetty met at Interactivos, in Medialab-Prado, Madrid (Spain), concerned with do-it-yourself biology for artists. “I knew Marc from the Swiss Mechatronics Arts Society. I think Yashas Shetty coined the name, playing with ‘hacking bacteria’. We started by turning hacked webcams into microscopes”, remembers Urs. “We organised the first workshop in Berlin, and then annual Hackteria labs. The first was in Switzerland and then in India, Indonesia and other places, growing the network”. Hackteria started as a platform and then turned into a global network for people interested in open science, do-it-yourself biology and open biological art.

Something growing up in Geneva

“In 2015, Marc heard rumors of something growing up in Geneva. We met François [Grey] for a beer and he said: ‘There is an idea of doing something with open hardware for science in CERN. We want to start a network’”, recalls Urs. “He was already in contact with Shannon [Dosemagen] and Jenny [Molloy]. I thought ‘it’s a great idea to meet up’. We had met Jenny in a Tech4Dev meeting, in Lausanne. Also Tuuli Utriainen, who had worked with me at the University of Lucerne, was in Idea Square, the creative place at CERN, and said: ‘Why don’t you do something in this creative technology space?’ At the same time, we were thinking about doing something with Public Lab. The puzzles were fitting together”.

Formats, venues, people

“We got a lot of practice in doing workshops, connecting people and doing good open hardware. So when we started thinking about GOSH, we tried to bring in our experience on different formats”, says Urs. “Number one is the open lab, pretty similar to unconferences but not just post-its, also prototyping, doing stuff and exchanging. Also, workshops and peer-to-peer skillshare, show and tell, exhibitions, hackathons. We also like to go out on field trips, inspired by Andy Gracie. And of course, staying late drinking beer, or without beer”, enumerates Urs.

“We thought we shouldn’t do GOSH every year at CERN: ‘Let’s go out, every year somewhere else’, says Urs. “And also a good choice of people is important. We discussed, in Hackteria and GOSH, about doing open calls or inviting people. I think it should be a bit of both: an open call to expand your network with random interested people, and also to cherry-pick some people to curate the event and set the spirit”, he remarks. “It is also great to meet people who have accomplished something, like the guys from Opentrons that we met in Shenzhen or Backyard Brains in Geneva, so new people can get motivated seeing others doing great stuff. Because for me, the primary goal to join this network is that we need more open hardware for science. It probably still won’t be ubiquitous by 2025, so we have to focus on this even more. There are other networks for everything else”, states Urs.

Street credibility

“It’s important doing show and tell, bringing stuff, doing hardware right on the spot in hands-on activities, on a not too high up level”, he highlights. I usually don’t join meta-level discussions. With Hackteria and Marc, we often have a little booth where we try to sell things: a practical approach. I try to bring in the technical aspect: doing a workshop, building a lab, experimenting.”

He talks about ‘street credibility’: “Don’t pretend too much, don’t talk about things you have not done yourself or you don’t know. Rather be honest about what you can and cannot do, what works and what doesn’t. Among academics, corporate and startups people there is a lot of pretending and showing off: I have this nice device, you can do everything, you can detect malaria with it, we’re going to save the world, just give us some millions’. People just make up big words. I would say: ‘I’m selling this, it’s open hardware but it’s really difficult to build and most of the time it doesn’t work, and I’m happy if someone wants to join me”. Being transparent and down to earth is vital. I think we got the GOSH network to get people to open up their hearts and be honest about what they are doing, and also what they aren’t sure they’re gonna get”, says Urs. “That’s also part of the openness. When I talk to people in startups, if they say “It’s a secret, we cannot talk about it’, it’s often because they don’t have anything. When something is open, everyone can see if there is not much”.

Open hardware every day

“In Hackteria, two months before an event we start doing activities and getting excited: emailing introductions and first projects, organising first meetups or exhibitions. That creates the atmosphere. Then the event is like the peak, not an isolated slot. It should be much more”, he remarks. “With Marc we usually arrive before in the event location, and we suggest making this phase part of the formal program. We had a great time a week before the last GOSH in the SteamHead hackerspace. It’s always valuable to have a bit of time earlier and after. It can be less formally organised, but it still should be organised. It is good to think that the event starts a month or two before and it ends two months later”. And he sums up: “I hope people take more time to work on open science hardware during the year. The GOSH event should be an opportunity to share what we have been doing. I hope that more people will take the experience from GOSH into their everyday life.”

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