In this episode we are joined by our pal, the inimitable Harry Destecroix. Harry is CEO of Unit DX and Carbometrics, and is former CEO of Ziylo. We chat about why (and how) he managed to have such a mental job title, how Bristol is fast becoming a spinout factory, and how entrepreneurship can be fostered in the sciences with just a little bit more education, and a bit more ecosystem support.
We spoke to Alon Vitenshtein Co-Founder of LabWorm, a newly launched, crowd-sourced platform for scientists in the digital age. LabWorm wants to make research more efficient by taking the stress and randomness out of the search for useful research tools. Whether you're seeking image analysis software, resources for cutting edge proteomics, or even a great podcast that reaches out to the brilliant scientific innovators (...yes we're featured on the site) - LabWorm have got you covered!
This episode features our pals Ali Afshar and Ignacio Willats founders of HackScience, a startup focussed on streamlining research by taking time consuming lab tasks out of hands of the scientists through automation. Their principle product currently is the cell feed exchanger, which replenishes the liquid food required for healthy cells in culture. This process can take hours out the day, and often requires the researcher to come in during weekends. Automating research also allows for science that is reproducible, and it seems that the future of biology is machine readable.
HackScience has its origins as a hackathon, with Ali keen to collide scientists and engineers to solve research problems, and Ignacio being well versed in hackathons, and startup development. The interdisciplinary nature of the hackathon nicely represents the constructive, collaborative nature of the ideal research environment, exposing two often isolated groups with the skillsets, and problem sets of the other.
Rapid prototyping is in the DNA of HackScience. This is characteristic of hackathons, but when combined with Co-Founder Ignacio's drive to always stay on top of the demands of researchers and iterate accordingly, has resulted in HackScience losing sight of the core mission which is to actually help researchers.
One thing that was particularly interesting to hear about was Ali's dual life as a startup founder, and as an active PhD Researcher at Imperial College. We've spoken to researchers that have developed their startups as PhD's in their spare time (Episode 13 - Mark Hahnel), and founders who in order to really make a go of the company felt that leaving academia made the most sense (Episode 46 - Bethan Wolfenden). But Ali is operating under an exceptional set of circumstances. Working three days a week at Imperial developing the science behind printable solar cells and developing HackScience every hour of every other day. The balancing act is impressive, however it seemed Ali would not have it any other way, with the rapidity of startup life as a kind of hectic respite from the slow plod of research.
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This episode we speak to Jose Carranza, a deep learning PhD researcher in Costa Rica who has taken his expertise to an unexpected field, that of the biological classification of plants.
We've spoken to plenty of former researchers who have moved out of the academy and into new ventures. However Jose's career has taken a different path, going from engineering roles at Intel and HP, back into academia to tackle a PhD. We were intrigued by the tough challenge of bringing AI to the field of botanical conservation, an area of research that is still highly qualitative, and the language barriers that must be overcome to make progress. These difficulties in communication are bi-directional, but with that said so are the opportunities for learning.
We also get into the value of herbarium's and classifying species in general, from the ecological consequences of understanding the biodiversity at a deep level, to raising the public's appreciation of the natural world (of which Jose is particular passionate). And whether there is a role for botanists in the future, given that deep learning has had great success finding new ways to classify plants - in short botanists have nothing to fear....phew!
This episode Tim O'Reilly, Founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media joins us in a far reaching conversation spanning the whole science ecosystem. From the communication of science, to liberating knowledge generated by research from the confines of the static PDF, to the mutual learning experience of colliding technologists and academics,
Tim has been regarded as a thought leader in Silicon Valley over the past few decades, popularising the terms open source and web 2.0. So we were interested to see how he believes the rapid technological advancement of late could impact science and academic culture..
O'Reilly Media also operates an awesome conference called SciFoo. The event is a partnership between O'Reilly, Google, Digital Science, and the Nature Publishing Group which brings together an interdisciplinary cohort of scientists, as well as technologists and policy makers, so it was great to hear how Tim feels collaboration can be done in the 21st century.