Science Online New York (SoNYC) encourages audience participation in the discussion of how science is carried out and communicated online. To celebrate our first birthday, we are handing the mic over to the audience so that anyone who would like to participate will get five minutes to show off their favourite online tool, application or website that makes science online fun. To complement the celebrations, we’re hosting a series of guest posts on Soapbox Science where a range of scientists share details about what’s in their online science toolkits. Why not let us know how they compare to the tools that you use in the comment threads?
Benedict Noel is an Australian scientific entrepreneur with BSc and BCompSc degrees from the University of Western Australia. He has always worked for startups, and over the past few years he has become instrumental in mediating between outsourcing contractors and local companies. In late 2009, it came to him that there was a gap in the outsourcing sector — science. He launched his scientific and R&D outsourcing company, Zombal, with the goal of bringing this new sector into the public light.
I’ve always had a passion for science and I’ve earned degrees with majors in Geology, Archaeology and Computer Science. However, I’ve discovered that entrepreneurial pursuits bring me the most happiness.
A few years ago my father asked if I could find a freelancer to do some science work for him — physics calculations. After I really struggled to find an ideal candidate using the available freelancing sites, the idea for Zombal was born – an outsourcing site especially for science. The primary goal of the site is to provide a hub for scientists to register for work, displaying their skills through a profile. If you need assistance from a scientist, you can come to the site, post your requirements and then invite particular individuals to place a bid on your proposal. This online hiring process is made simple for both the employer and the scientist. In fact, we want to make the process of connecting like-minded people as easy as possible.
As an outsourcing site, Zombal offers a wealth of possibilities for collaborative research; prospects that didn’t exist before the Internet. It also offers more opportunities for scientists who would rather pursue their interests as freelancers. We feel we’re creating a marketplace for independent types and autodidacts. (Interestingly, if you look up the autodidactism on Wikipedia, you’ll be presented with a wonderful image of a self-portrait of the most famous one of them all, Leonardo da Vinci.)
As well as recruitment, one of our other aims is to connect people requiring answers to scientific problems, to the people who can solve them, regardless of geography or other such limitations. Anyone can freely browse Zombal and read about the projects going on, including the results of completed research. One example in our public “vault” is a project titled, “What is the angle between the planes of the solar system and of the Galaxy?” The answer, 62.6 degrees and a more descriptive document can be downloaded by anyone. We also have a new area on the site that allows you to post solutions to scientific problems. Other members can then jump in and comment and critique your solution/ idea.
Zombal is still in its infancy and there are several features that set it apart from other sites. Firstly, we have a hierarchical labeling system that is constantly evolving, linking all elements of the site together. For example, a chemistry label may be applied to a member’s profile, as well as the work they have posted, their equipment and their ideas. This multi-use functionality allows you to tie together and locate information and people more easily. Secondly, if you have access to a laboratory, you can attach photos of the equipment in your lab to your profile. This means people can find you based upon your lab’s resources, both on the site and through Google – another avenue through which employers can search for candidates.
It is also FUN!
In addition to this, we’re trying to keep things entertaining. We’ve introduced an awards system where members can display their achievements as a badge of honor. We’ve even begun conducting interviews with interesting scientists in a variety of disciplines. We’ve just finished our first interview with a mathematician and self-described “autonomous autodidact,” who has embarked on solving one of the greatest problems in mathematics — the Riemann Hypothesis. (For readers unfamiliar with this prime number hypothesis, visit the website of the Clay Mathematics Institute, offering a $1 million prize to anyone who can prove it.)
Examples of Vaulted Scientific Challenges at Zombal
Assets and Equipment with a “Chemistry” label attached and the “Search Members” pop-up launched.
A completely filled out Zombal profile can act as the reverse of a resumé, where work opportunities come to you instead of you having to find them. Think about it, if you can publicly showcase novel ideas you’ve had, along with relevant details about past work completed and feedback you’ve received, an employer will quickly be able to gauge whether you’re the right person for an advertised position.
We have a lot of plans and ideas for the direction we’d like to take the site. One day in the near future I hope to start reinvesting profits from the site to support Zombal’s own R&D projects. We’re trying to become a supporter and facilitator of all kinds of scientific endeavors, even if the research itself isn’t actually done through our site. The open source movement has gained a lot of traction and it is the way of the future for computer software. I want to steer a small proportion of how science is done in a similar direction.
You can follow the online conversation on Twitter with the #ToolTales hashtag and you can read Mary Mangan’s Tool Tale here, Dr Peter Etchells’s Tool Tale here, Alan Cann’s here, Jerry Sheehan’s here, Boris Adryan’s here, Anthony Salvagno’s here, Daniel Burgarth and Matt Leifer’s here, Zen Faulkes’s here, Jenn Cable’s here , Mike Biocchi’s here, Susanna Speier’s here, Derek Hennen’s here, Musa Akbari’s here, Chris Surridge’s here and Gerd Moe-Behrens’s here.