By Anna Klinkova and Rachelle Choueiri, PhD students at the University of Toronto
As nanochemists, we’re bothered by the amount of nanomaterials that go to waste upon completion of a project, or after ages of being stored in chemists’ labs in cabinets and fridges. We know that a lot of work goes into making these materials, some of them are very unique and have a huge variety of possible applications that are yet to be studied - so why throw them away?
Additionally, these discarded materials may be needed by other researchers for a completely different project, sometimes in a completely different field. How do we learn about these opportunities? Scientists typically come across each other at conferences and by reading each others’ papers, but still most of the time they don’t know who has which materials available, and is open for collaboration. They certainly can try to reproduce the procedures to make their own samples (if they have the facilities and expertise to do that), but it takes a lot of time, money, and creates additional volumes of material that we still don’t quite know how to properly recycle.
In an attempt to address these issues, we’ve created a free and open resource (http://nanosupply.co/, currently in beta) where researchers can post information about the nanomaterials available in their labs that they can share with fellow scientists. This material posting includes all the available characterization of the sample such as microscopy images, optical spectra, etc. We cover two situations:
- the material is no longer needed and the lab is willing to give it away to other researchers (the receiving party covers the shipping costs, and has to acknowledge the researcher providing the material in any resulting publications);
- the material is typically available in the lab (additional batches can be easily made) and can be offered for a collaborative project implying that both parties will be coauthors on any resulting publications.
This can open the door for new interdisciplinary collaborations between researchers from different fields that do not usually overlap at conferences or read each others’ papers. Of course, the posters have a right to refuse to transfer materials to the requesting party if they choose to.
Given that enough scientists take a few minutes to post information about nanomaterials available in their labs, nanosupply will grow into a very valuable resource that will help not only to foster collaboration and save researcher’s time, but also will help reduce research originated waste. This requires reaching a critical mass of users that are willing to share this information and transfer the materials once requested. To stimulate that, we started a blog (http://blog.nanosupply.co/) about collaborative research, open science, and green research practices, where we address typical concerns scientists have (legal and shipping requirements, intellectual property questions, establishing collaborations with unacquainted peers, etc). We also use the blog to provide information to change their mindset and persuade them to consider this option because unfortunately, it’s simply easier to dump stuff into a waste bottle and don’t bother.
In addition to peer sharing of nanomaterials,we are planning to introduce the following two options. First, we would like to encourage donation of nanomaterial samples for educational purposes such as demonstrations and lab use. We are looking for interested science educators, and also are working on developing the guidelines for this type of sharing. Second, we received a lot of feedback regarding the complexity of searching for high quality commercial nanomaterials. Even though our primary focus is to freely recirculate nanomaterials within the research community, we are considering to add an option for searching through multiple commercial vendors as well. This will allow us to provide our users with the information about where they can get what they are looking for even if no one has posted it for sharing, and will help us to cover our operational costs as we intend to keep the sharing platform free and open.
Help us to spread the word about this initiative, and drop us a line if you have any feedback or suggestions!
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