Without hardware, there is no science. Instruments, reagents, computers, and lab equipment are the platforms for producing systematic knowledge. Innovations from lenses to atomic force microscopes to DNA sequencers to particle accelerators have opened up new fields of knowledge with huge potential impacts for science and society. However, participants in the Gathering for Open Science Hardware, currently taking place at the Innovation Centre, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, argue that limited access to scientific tools impedes the progress and reach of science. Black-box scientific tools block creativity and customization through high mark-ups and proprietary designs, compounded by intellectual property restrictions. Open Science Hardware addresses part of this problem by sharing designs, instructions for building, and protocols openly, for anyone to reuse.
The Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH) would like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for its ongoing support.
The open science hardware movement and examples
There is a growing movement for open science hardware with successful projects, communities and companies setting up across the world that increase access to many groups of people and GOSH 2017 aimed to represent as many points as possible across the multidimensional open science hardware space. Sensors for environmental monitoring developed by Public Lab combine DIY sensing and citizen science within a broader theme of environmental justice, engineers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva want to share open designs to increase the reach of their technology and its benefits to society, but also pragmatically to avoid vendor lock-in, the deep sea exploration vehicle OpenROV arose from a drive to make research equipment cheaper but led to a range of projects making oceanography available for everyone: from communities in Papua New Guinea to US high school students.
Working with communities is a key feature of many open science hardware initiatives: grassroots networks and collectives like Hackteria publish open designs for microscopes and lab equipment and runs workshops around the world from Tokyo to Yogyakarta to Nairobi combining bio-art, traditional biotechnologies such as fermentation and DIYbio. Interspecifics.cc from Mexico are an art collective who experiment in the intersection of art and science, for example in the use of sound to understand the bioelectrical activity of different bacterial consortiums, plants, slime molds and humans using DIY and custom-made sets of hardware.
Working with communities requires a strong and intentional approach to equity and ethics. Max Liboiron directs the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), a feminist marine science and technology laboratory that specializes in citizen science and grassroots environmental monitoring of plastic pollution. Her talk at GOSH 2017 emphasised the need to consider equity in working with communities and the failure of ‘universal’ scientific protocols to consider local factors, from the fact that cost and language are significant barriers to engagement of local and indigenous people through to methods of sifting sand to count plastic microparticles being impractical in frozen northern Canada.
Open science hardware also has huge potential for education, another key theme for GOSH 2017. Participants such as Backyard Brains aim to use open hardware to teach neuroscience while Karkhana is designing learning experiences for future innovators in Nepal and many other initiatives across the world are harnessing kits and manufacturing. The Latin American network TECNOx is seeking to bring interdisciplinary groups of students together to tackle Latin American problems using open technologies and the 2017 round includes over forty teams from across the region.
From a manifesto to a roadmap
GOSH 2016 was held at CERN in Geneva and brought together community convenors for the first international and interdisciplinary conference focused on Open Science Hardware. The shared values and passion for change of the diverse group of participants was articulated in the GOSH Manifesto, which has since been signed by over 240 signatories and translated into six languages. Online tools like the GOSH Forum or the Journal of Open Hardware arose after the conference to help connect this international movement.
GOSH 2017 moved to Chile with strong encouragement from the community to hold the meeting outside of the US and Europe in an area which has a clear need for increased access to tools and many local initiatives that may be under-recognised outside of the region. We drew over a third of our 90 participants from Latin America and arranged visits to local projects and maker spaces, with 30 countries represented in total and attendees ranging from physicists, biologists, artists, community organisers, engineers, social scientists, musicians, IP lawyers, educators to curators.
The goal of GOSH 2017 is to bring the spirit of the GOSH Manifesto to life. Discussions included different topics such as: scaling up open hardware production, standards for safety and quality, the impact of open science hardware in developing countries, inclusivity and diversity, the embedded politics of scientific tools, and interactions between art and science. GOSH 2017 will culminate in drawing together outcomes of discussion to collaboratively author a roadmap outlining actions required for open science hardware to become ubiquitous by 2025.
Using the roadmap, the GOSH community intends to: change the norms within established, institutional science so researchers openly share knowledge and technology; so research can happen in or out of the academy, in or out of the lab, in or out of commercial spaces; and so enable science to take place where it would not usually happen.
- Photos: All of our event photos are available on Flickr (goshcommunity) and are in the public domain under a CCZero waiver.
- Tweets: We have been tweeting from the @GOSHCommunity account. See #GOSH2017 for reactions and social media posts from participants.
- Session information: We are documenting sessions online in our Forum.