Amateur research is fine and all, but doing research is hard. Research isn’t just about the research – it’s about finding something to experiment on, something to experiment with, and making sure that whatever you find gets known to the wider world.
Unfortunately, today’s research exists in a bubble. Starting from the beginning of an experiment to publishing the results of one’s work, there is a certain way of doing things that presents such a barrier to entry to the layman. Lab equipment requires enormous sums of capital. Chemical suppliers refuse to sell to individuals. Journals won’t consider research from some uncredited institution. How can one even start?
We aim to address that with foundry collective. Research should not just be the domain of big institutions with enough resources. From a network of people to bounce and build ideas off, to a logistics system that keeps you supplied with the things you need to conduct experiments, to building affordable and effective lab systems, we want to ensure that amateur researchers are supported every step of the way.
In the previous post, we mentioned how the amateur researcher is driven by personal interest, divorced from the whims of funding. Of course, just because you’re doing something for a reason other than money does not mean that the need for money goes away. Equipment is still expensive, and reagents are still hard to get. This is where foundry collective comes in: to drive away these barriers.
Of course, there are fields like biodiversity research or electrical engineering which don’t require much in the way of complex lab equipment or have their requirements easily bought off the shelf for a decent price. This isn’t about them. Well not so much, anyway. Our targets are those fields with scarily high starting capital, like biology or synthetic chemistry. The limiting factor for people should be their interest, not their means.
We admit that we have a role model starting this: the Maker Movement. It is much like what we’re trying to do but in the sphere of engineering, making things accessible to more and more people by lowering the cost of entry, as well as encouraging a community of like-minded people to spring up around it. The emergence of the Arduino project and the standardisation of 3D printing firmware from the Maker Movement certainly proves that communities of enthusiastic people can achieve way more than any singular entity can when provided with the right basic tools and building blocks to play with. However, beyond the classical examples of people building robots and automating things, there also are people teaching civil engineering, people making art, and more things that would still be faced with insurmountably high starting costs if they were just given easy microcontrollers to work with. We aim to bring change to these fields and communities.
A successful movement cannot and should never be just centred around one company’s work. We are only human after all, and it would be asking too much for us to cover all grounds. Instead, it should involve a community of people working together to use the things they have to make products that meet their needs. We do not seek only to make tools for people. We want our tools to be extensible, so people can also make tools for themselves. And much like our tools, our community shouldn’t just be orchestrated completely by us. The community needs to be able to grow itself, and we hope that our designs for a decentralized cell-based community can help to start that.
Foundry Collective is about helping people discover things in the same way that the Maker Movement helps people build things. We believe in the potential of people to go out and discover things, just as they have the potential to go out there and make things. With so much to explore in the world, it is about time that we stop limiting the potentials of amateur research arbitrarily with institutional barriers such as funding and level the playing field for everyone interested to embark on this rewarding endeavour.