Science? - Not my cup of tea!
To many, science means that people with a liking of acronyms and white coats do things in sterile labs or with complex formulae; things with an air of importance; potentially groundbreaking things; things, which but a handful of people in the world understand. - And surly these people also share a love of clumsy acronyms, white labcoats and blackboards full of scribbles.
While most labcoats are indeed rather dirty, most of these cliches are somewhat grounded in truth. However, the picture they paint has a key ingredient missing: passion! Whoever does science is haunted; addicted to those moments when they catch a glimpse of the beauty of that which is. - Be it the microscopic world of the cell, where bridges selfassemble and disassemble themselves, while knobbly proteins wobble across at phenomenal speeds; the mysterious quantum world, where thing generally run counter to our intuitions fostered by the “big world”; or cosmic ballets, where celestial bodies are formed from stardust, and bend space and time. For these glimpes take it on with their own ignorance, and pay the price of hitting the proverbial wall over and over again, before they broaden their horizon (a little bit).
Yet, for us all to profit from these singular events of broadening of one’s horizon, in order to better cope with the complex world that surrounds us, science needs to be communicated. Not as an end in itself, but in a manner that’s integrated into the research process. This is where we see our responsibility as scientists towards society, and our mission as science collective. Following this route promises to be fascinating, for the stories we know to tell are breathtaking. With artists at our side, we’re certain to be able to tell them in exciting ways. Yet, we do not intent to focus on telling stories alone, but plan to open our workshop and work process, share our resources, be a source of advice and help, conduct research alongside interested members of the public, and be a partner in all sorts of tinkering projects.
Biotop is an open collective of scientists engaging in the curiosity-driven, cross-disciplinary and collaborative translation of ideas; it is an experiment trying to reinvent the way we do science.
Science and research are endeavours that should be abound with idealism and innovative thinking. Yet many young researchers are becoming increasingly disillusioned by the prospect of pursueing a career in academia. The reasons driving this development are systemic:
The rigid institutional structure of universities and research centres creates a context where linearity of career paths has become a primary selection criterion for success. This quenches innovation, is a source of existential anxiety for young scientists and inhibits interdisciplinarity ( Afonso 2013 blogs.lse.ac.uk , Woolston 2016 Nature ).
The ever-expanding spectrum of scientific disciplines and sub-disciplines creates a real measurement-problem at the heart of science: How do public and private bodies that fund science assess the quality of scientific output of researchers, whose valuable work may only be fully comprehended by a handful of people? The answer is an over-reliance on aggregated metrics such as the number of publications in high impact journals, with the result of a distorted scientific culture that predominantly fosters fashionable and novel research, and lacks incentives to warrant reproducibility of studies and to openly share ideas.
In light of increasing specialisation, the lack of interdisciplinarity and failure to integrate outreach activities in the research process creates a communication problem: Not only does it become increasingly difficult to communicate ones research to scientists within and between fields of scientific inquiry, science is edging away from the broader public. When science fails to communicate the scope and value of the insights it produces, the aforementioned measurement problem becomes aggravated, the very notion of publicly funded research falls under scrutiny, and opportunities for valuable feedback are lost.
As group of early career scientsts, Biotop is our attempt at taking our future in Science - and in part the future of Science - into our own hands. The idea of establishing a research network as an ecosystem that fosters a research culture that truly deserves this name forms the basis for our attempt.
We believe that this cornerstone is only achieveable through an integrative approach, guided by the principles of interdisciplinary, collaborative basic reasearch ( Brown 2015 Nature , Eddy 2005 PLoS Comput. Biol. ), as well as the scientific sibling of the open source movement, open science.
To this end, it is pivotal to create an organisational culture that fosters transdisciplinary collaboration in small teams on an institutional level. In addition, science communication and collaboration with artists shall become cornerstones of the day-to-day work. We aim to actively engage the public in our reserach process in the context of citizen science projects ( Editorial 2015 Nature , Bonney 2014 Science ), and to provide the public with emancipatory tools such as data visualisation platforms to facilitate and encourage access to complex problems.
Another component of our idea of designing our organisational culture from the ground up and with the public in mind, is to form innovation partnerships where we accompany members of the public, who have identified a particular problem in their daily life, and provide them with tools, scientific expertise and design competence to collaboratively work on solutions.
Our research will focus on problems that arise at the interface between biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and applied mathematics, such as research questions concerned with computational genomics, regulation in biological systems, or the development of self-organising materials, as well as the investgation of complex systems in the context of biology, neuroscience and economics.
Moreover, the principle of open science demands that we actively engage in problems of scientific publishing and the development of open source laboratory hardware platforms.
We aim to act both internationally, as well as regionally. On a local level, we plan to establish a site in Villach, Austria, which shall serve as central hub for our activities.
Participate & Support
How can I participate or support biotop?
How can I participate?
Stay informed about our regular programme encompassing talks, evening events and meet-and-greets, by visiting the events section of our site.
Never before has it been easier to playfully engage in research. At the same time, science is primarily a process, most accessible if one engages in the scientific method. Bringing the two together, we plan to offer workshops addressed at a variety of focus groups, such as school kids and interested members of the public, on a regular basis that provide a barrier-free and playful approach to complex and relevant scientific problems.
As soon as we have set up a suitable space, we will announce public workshops in the events section of our site.
Moreover, we would like to offer tailor-made workshops for schools and other organisations. Do get in touch with us via email, should you be interested!
You have an idea, yet you like scientific know-how or a suitable lab-space to bring it to fruition? You’ve identified a problem in your every-day life and would like to talk about strategies to solve it? Do get in touch with us via email, and we will happily support you in the development.
You want to make cutting-edge research accessible to a broader audience, write about miraculous microscopic worlds, or drop a couple of lines about wondrous scientific discoveries and their eccentric uncoverers? - We want to give you a platform to do just that and an instil this website with life!
Our aim is to make our content available in as many languages as possible, to reach a wider audience with our articles, projects and course materials. To do this, we need the help of motivated and competent people, who help us with translations.
Should you be interested in contributing your translational skills or thoughts in the form of online-content, do get in touch with us via email.
We want to keep our website ad-free, yet we believe that you should be able as user of this website to support creators of content directly. Therefore, we support the micropayment system flattr which allows you to send little donations directly to the content-creators. To do so, click on the little icon at the bottom of posts.
We’re currently looking for sponsors and sources of funding to fund research projects and setup a space in Villach/Austria. In this process we intend to draw on public funding opportunities, as well as private sponsors, who share our vision and want to support us out of idealism.
Should you be interested in becoming a sponsor, do get in touch with us via email.
In setting up a reasearch lab, the acquisition of lab-equipment is a major contributor to costs. Since these acquisitions are directly linked to the site in Villach, and enable us to offer workshops and open our lab as a fablab, we want to offer sponsorhips linked to individual pieces of equipment as attractive and transparent funding opportunity, especially for local supporters, who will be acknowledged with a plaque locally, as well as online.
Should you be interested in becoming a sponsor, do get in touch with us via email.