Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Open Discovery Institute (ODIN)

Most of my Non-DIY Science friends don’t know this about me but about a year ago I started an online store that sells molecular biology supplies to anyone who wants to buy them. I also sell them at very inexpensive prices because I buy them in bulk from manufacturers or other suppliers. It is called The Open Discovery Institute (ODIN). I don’t remember how exactly that name took shape, all I remember is that James Crooks and I were thinking of starting a Hackerspace on the South-Side of Chicago (Which we eventually did not but he eventually did!). I really believe in the strength of the masses. I think that people with access to Science supplies and equipment should be able to do Science well. For me it all starts with access.

During graduate school I would sometimes do experiments at home and when I wanted to buy supplies there was no place I could go to find all the things I needed at reasonable prices. It would take me hours just to find a good price for two chemicals and then there was multiple shipping costs and such. When I arrived at NASA and had a little extra money I figured I would invest in people. A single person doesn't have much power. A single person can die, disappear, give up. Many people can contribute to something and do something much greater than what a single person can do. 

One of my favorite hypotheticals is "What if the population of Scientists in the world doubled or tripled?" It would be exciting, it would speed the rates of discoveries! Life would be prolonged from a better understanding of diseases and more discoveries could be made and we would have a little extra time to see and create beautiful things.

I invested in The ODIN as an experiment for me, 1) To see what kind of demand there was out there for providing these supplies to DIY Science peeps, & 2) To see what it is like to run a business.

What I have figured out is that I really suck at running a business. At least a business where I am the sole employee. I am great at inspiring people and motivating people and I have alot of knowledge and skills to share. I just am awful at the businessy things. I mess up orders, I give away lots of free stuff. I don’t charge as much as I should. I don’t keep track of the finances.

That's the bad or I guess maybe it is good I learned that.

However, the most positive thing about The ODIN is that people actually need this service. I have sold and shipped ~50 orders over the past 10ish months to the US, Russia, Canada, Taiwan, France, Netherlands, & many others. People are actually doing Science in their homes, at Hackerspaces, in High Schools.That is pretty exciting. 

The reason I never told most people I know about The ODIN was because it was an experiment. I wanted to see who would use it organically. I have told people on DIY Bio mailing lists and people who use Biocurious, the Silicon Valley Biohackerspace and have had a number of repeat customers. 

I want to tell people about it now because the experiment was a success. Many academics I know think that people outside of labs don't want to do Science or have no way to contribute. It is untrue. There are people who have a passion for Science who were not formally trained who are actually attempting to contribute. 

I think it is pretty obvious now that with such easy and inexpensive access to knowledge people are using it to do things on their own. They might be called “Makers” or “DIYers” or even “Citizen Scientists” but whoever they are, cool shit is being built and created.

Create Something Beautiful.