Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Shared Space for the Amateur Scientist, Hacker, and Maker

A biofuel algae experiment at Genspace. Photo by: Dave Mosher/

We've looked at a lot of shared spaces for collaboration whether they are for the epicurean or the entrepreneur. Now we can add amateur scientist. Recently's David Mosher featured a piece about how a "DIY Biotech Hacker Space Opens in NYC." Genspace is the world's first government-compliant community biotech laboratory, "for a $100-per-month membership, anyone can use the space for whatever experiments they dream up."

With all of the complexities of navigating the regulations of urban real estate, you can imagine that setting up a biotech lab that is open to the public in one of the most densely populated cities would be a major headache, however, as Mosher points out, "biosafety officers approved it as compliant with the Center for Disease Control's biosafety level 1 regulations. That's a big difference between Genspace and DIY labs crammed into closets and garages across the country." Even the FBI had to get involved in this one.

Making sophisticated equipment available to everyone is a lofty goal and potentially an expensive one, so Genspace's founders got resourceful. "The small space is made of found parts. A sliding patio door, Plexiglas panels and old wire screens enclose the lab, and stainless-steel restaurant tables serve as lab benches," and they got most of the lab equipment donated.

After a little more digging I also ran across BioCurious, a similar venture that is starting up in the Bay Area. Check out the video on their successful Kickstarter fundraiser.

Co-working, incubator spaces don't have to be purely for the desk job crowd. There so many different varieties of these spaces/communities, that it is hard to keep up! I'm really excited about Noisebridge here in San Francisco. Tucked into a nondescript second floor space on Mission Street, Noisebridge describes themselves as, "an infrastructure provider for technical-creative projects, collaboratively run by its members. We are incorporated as a non-profit educational corporation for public benefit. We teach, we learn, we share." It's also exciting to see that TechShop is taking off here in San Francisco as a dedicated digital tool resource and workshop for makers of all kinds in the Bay Area.

As I described in the previous post regarding Chris Anderson's Wired Article on Crowd Accelerated Innovation, public space could learn a lot from the online video revolution that Anderson is championing. Public communal spaces like Genspace no doubt have a crowd who come together. And by bringing people together to share resources and knowledge in a common space they foster a visibility among members, light. And lastly there is no doubt, desire as this wouldn't happen without a lot of passion from hard-working community members and leadership.

Perhaps the continued development of these incubator/co-working spaces are the urban environment's "in real life" version of the online video explosion.

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