A digital revolution is transforming scientific research into a more open, more interconnected, more global, and more data-driven endeavor. Many of these changes are driven by new digital infrastructure.
But science is also done in the laboratory and in the field. Experimentalist need to prepare solutions, calibrate complex instruments, and make measurements on samples. This more down to earth aspect of research has gotten a bit less attention from open science and digital science enthusiasts. However new approaches and new tools may improve the way we do research in the lab. A handful of digital science companies are already thinking how digitalization and connection to the internet can improve the way we use scientific instruments. For instance Transcriptic and Emerald Cloud Lab have installed armies of robots in their Silicone Valley warehouse (or at least that is how I imagine it) that are awaiting your orders to perform experiments. The results are then delivered directly to your computer screen.
BioBright, a startup out of MIT and Harvard University , wants to connect our lab instruments. The idea is that connecting sensors to your instruments, even the most simple one, would give you more control and a better understanding of the exact conditions in which the experiment was done.
Practically, BioBright is working on a collection of sensors and software solutions that can be associated to the most common lab instruments. These extra pieces of data could provide the experimentalist with precious details about the environment in which the experiment was done, making it easier to troubleshoot or reproduce the experiment. BioBright has already mentioned connecting thermometers, but other sensors such as hydrometers, motion sensors, and light sensors could also be useful. Eventually, these measurements could be automatically associated to the data generated by the instrument, then transmitted and archived in electronic lab notebook.
BioBright is one of the first to bring the internet of things (or internet of instruments as mentioned by this Techcrunch article) to the research laboratories. It has taken years for web 2.0 technologies to reach researchers. But perhaps BioBright and others related initiatives such as TetraScience, are early signs that innovative connected scientific instruments will be developed alongside the recent and very trendy connected home technologies (and not 10 years later).
Impactstory tracks the online impact of your research. It looks through news outlets, social media mentions, and more to quantify the reach of your research output. Impactstory is one of the first startup founded around the idea that a new set of metrics is needed to properly evaluate scientific research and researchers. The digitalization of research and scholarly communication is an amazing opportunity to harness very large quantities of quantifiable data, which can give completely new insights in the impact of research. Many now talk about altmetrics, a term originally coined on Twitter by Jason Priem, co-founder of Impactstory. These new metrics are still young and will need a few rounds of trial and error to find out what information and what representation of the information are the most meaningful. But regardless, altmetrics are bound to become essential for the future of research evaluation.
The new profile page has a very fresh and clear look. Login is now only through ORCID, the unique identifier system for researchers. Then within seconds, Impactstory recovers your published articles and generates an overview of your mentions, which give you numbers on your online reach. But Impactstory tries to give perspective to these number though what they call achievements. These are badges focused on
- the buzz your research is creating (volume of online discussion),
- the engagement your research is getting, which looks at the details of who is mentioning you, and on what platform.
- and your research’s openness, which look at how easy it is for readers to access your work.
For many of these badges, Impactstory also tell you how well you are doing compared to other researchers. One particularly interesting badge is about software reuse. There, Impactstory has integrated a tool that they recently released called Depsy. Depsy is specialized in evaluating the impact of research software, going beyond formal citations to understand how research software are being reused and to give proper credit to its contributors. This will deserve a post of its own in the future.
Hopefully, these sets of metrics and others alike, will become a standard part of your performance reviews, grant applications, and tenure packages in a very near future. You can already share your profile by directly pointing to your public Impact Story url. But new features will come shortly to make it easier to share and showcase the story of your online impact.