The sharing economy comes to scientific research

 at the Conversation: “…to perform top-quality and cost-effective research, scientists need these technologies and the technical knowledge of experts to run them. When money is tight, where can scientists turn for the tools they need to complete their projects?

Sharing resources

An early solution to this problem was to create what the academic world calls “resource labs” that specialize in one or more specific type of science experiments (e.g., genomics, cell culture, proteomics). Researchers can then order and pay for that type of experiment from the resource lab instead of doing it on their own.

By focusing on one area of science, resource labs become the experts in that area and do the experiments better, faster and cheaper than most scientists could do in their own labs. Scientists no longer stumble through failed experiments trying to learn a new technique when a resource lab can do it correctly from the start.

The pooled funds from many research projects allow resource labs to buy better and faster equipment than any individual scientist could afford. This provides more researchers access to better technology at lower costs – which also saves taxpayers money, since many grants are government-backed….

Connecting people on a scientific Craigslist

This is a common paradox, with several efforts under way to address it. For example, MIT has created several “remote online laboratories” running experiments that can be controlled via the internet, to help enrich teaching in places that can’t afford advanced equipment. Harvard’s eagle-i system is a directory where researchers can list information, data and equipment they are willing to share with others – including cell lines, research mice, and equipment. Different services work for different institutions.

In 2011, Dr. Elizabeth Iorns, a breast cancer researcher, developed a mouse model to study how breast cancer spreads, but her institution didn’t have the equipment to finish one part of her study. My resource lab could complete the project, but despite significant searching, Dr. Iorns did not have an effective way to find labs like mine.

Actively connecting scientists with resource labs, and helping resource labs keep their equipment optimally busy, is a model Iorns and cofounder Dan Knox have developed into a business, called Science Exchange. (I am on its Lab Advisory Board, but have no financial interest in the company.) A little bit Craigslist and Travelocity for science rolled into one, Science Exchange provides scientists and expert resource labs a way to find each other to keep research progressing.

Unlike Starbucks, resource labs are not found on every corner and can be difficult for scientists to find. Now a simple search provides scientists a list of multiple resource labs that could do the experiments, including estimated costs and speed – and even previous users’ reviews of the choices.

I signed onto Science Exchange soon after it went live and Iorns immediately sent her project to my lab. We completed the project quickly, resulting in the first peer-reviewed publication made possible through Science Exchange….(More).