Next stop in our running tour of hackerspaces in North America: Brightwork CoResearch, Houston, Texas. Jacob Shiach, founder of this 24/7 place for science addicts, has opened the doors to us. Let’s discover this passionated and passionating “indie” scientist.
Could you introduce yourself?
“Hi, I’m Jacob Shiach. I studied bioinformatics, computer sciences and math at Uni, but only because they didn’t have a degree in synthetic biology. So, I decided to try iGEM. Everything was ready, all the funding was raised, but it didn’t work out because I couldn’t get two professor’s to sign on… It was entirely frustrating. But, all of this led me, pretty early, to the DIYBio movement and the wider Open Science movement, when I took a bus from Houston for the first Open Science Summit. In a desire to share all I was learning, I naively published a short lived magazine called Citizen’s Science Quarterly magazine with my business partner Aneela Rashid. I’ve learnt so much more and have met so many more creative people via the DIYBio mailing list and from events like OSS than during my degrees. I realized that it doesn’t make sense to do science in any other way than in an open way. At the same time I was learning about this strange, new way of sciencing. I got involved with the founding of Houston hackerspace (TX/RX Labs), and learned about Making, Fab Labs and all these alternative models of R&D spaces. Groups of hobbyists pooling their resources to build these awesome spaces. But it wasn’t enough for me to work a traditional job or do a Phd while working on my passion projects after hours. And so Brightwork CoResearch was created. Outwardly it’s a think tank with the lofty goal of advancing the world through the research, development and implementation of science, technologies and policy. But it also serves as a way to experiment and find a way to fund indie scientists to work on the projects that really drive them, not the safe/trendy things that will get them tenure or grant funding. In the light of that from May to August, I’ll be helping to kickstart some really cool open source synthetic biology projects as the director of the Synbio Axlr8r!
What does hacking represent for you?
“Actually, I don’t know if what I am doing is biohacking. It’s just biology to me. It certainly makes a good story calling it biohacking, but no matter of how you’re putting your hands on it, Biology is the same. And as long as you follow the scientific method the Science is the same. We’re just doing it in an open and independant way. You know, just like the indies in music. They still do music, just not under a big music label. That’s who I am: an indie scientist!
The best way to do science is an open science way. In academia, you spend more time doing other things than doing the science, like applying for grants year after year. Besides, if you help someone else, you are not spending time helping yourself making progress, building your own prestige profile. It’s super political. In open science, people just can help each other and this is how I want to do science.”
What do you expect from a hackerspace?
“Most hackerspaces are focused on general electronics/hardware hacking than focusing on science. Besides, most of these amazing fab labs are pretty much dead during the day. People come for the evening and the weekend. But, if this is what your passion is about, you should spend all your time on it, shouldn’t you? There was also another problem doing biology down there, because people would store their stuff in our clean hoods and incubators. It’s not a good place to do science. Requirements to do biology are a little bit different to general hacking. You need sterility, cleanliness. It’s a little bit more professional, focused of an environment than you’ll find in hackerspaces. That’s what I am expecting, a space where I can do actual world changing science. So, I would not call Brightwork CoResearch a hackerspace, but rather a science think tank. I litteraly have a list of ideas. On my own, each one of them would take ten to twenty years to do. Yet they all need to be done. That’s why I started Brightwork, to have a lot of driven, passionate people working together on these cool projects! “
>> Picture: Dailylaurel (CC)