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From DIY microscopes made from paper and household items, to low-cost and open microprocessors supporting research from cognitive neuroscience to oceanography, to low-cost sensors measuring air quality in communities around the world, the things of science -- that is, the physical tools that generate data or contribute to scientific processes -- are changing the way that science happens.

The nature of tool design is changing, as well as the nature of tool access and use. This may be breaking down our reliance on expensive, proprietary designs traditionally needed to make scientific progress, and building new audiences for tools.

But, questions remain. Will low-cost and/or open tools scale, replacing expensive, proprietary designs? Will the use of these tools fundamentally change how we generate data and knowledge, and apply it to global problems? Will the result be more, and better, science? And if so, what is standing in the way of widespread adoption and use?

Learn more about this project in THING Tank: How are Innovative and Accessible Physical Tools Changing Science?

Funding for the THING tank is provided by the Alfred P.  Sloan Foundation.

About the THING Tank

  • Over two years, we will conduct a series of events and workshops, and produce a range of publications and products, in order to:

    • Understand the current contributions of low-cost tools to accelerating science, strengthening evidence-based decision making, and broadening public participation and access;
    • Acknowledge and understand the different communities, networks, and stakeholders driving and supporting this movement;
    • Assess and share information on key accelerators and barriers, including manufacturing and scale, data quality, standards, assessments, and governance.
  • We aim to understand the current and potential value of low cost hardware for science - including open, proprietary, and mixed solutions - and how these tools are changing science. In particular, we take:

    • A user perspective - with strong ties to citizen science
    • A cross-community approach, with links between emergent and formal public policy communities
    • A US perspective, but with global awareness.

    Our first steps will be learning more about existing efforts and supporting communities. Research and strategic convenings are traditional tools of think tanks, and we hope our activities will complement the work of others working from different and complementary perspectives.

Image Science Stack: Tools Within Reach Interactive Cover

Science Stack: Tools Within Reach

Low-cost and open source tools—the physical tools used to generate data and make new discoveries—are transforming science. Science Stack: Tools within Reach demonstrates the diversity of tools in regards to research topic, cost, openness, and beyond, while highlighting how these tools are changing science and benefitting society.

The Potential for Low-Cost and Open Source Hardware Solutions to Scale

Publication | The Potential for Low-Cost and Open Source Hardware Solutions to Scale

Low-cost and open source tools can accelerate and democratize science, benefiting individual researchers, formal institutions and grassroots communities alike. Realizing the goals of low-cost and open source hardware requires attention to how these tools can scale.

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Impression 3D Fablab

THING Tank: Introducing Converging Communities

In the THING Tank Initiative, we’re working to understand how low-cost and open source hardware are helping change how science happens. Beyond understanding specific tools, we are interested in converging communities--understanding the relevant communities and paradigms these tools exist in and how they are furthering the conversation on open science in the US and around the world.

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Open Hardware: An Opportunity to Build Better Science Cover

Publication | Open Hardware An Opportunity to Build Better Science

Open hardware for science is an alternative approach to the creation and use of scientific instrumentation and tools, and is an opportunity to think differently about science. A national science strategy that prioritizes open hardware can build a foundation to accelerate scientific progress, address global challenges, and further complementary policy priorities. This report addresses the need to build a stronger foundation for science by prioritizing open hardware, describes the unique benefits of open hardware alongside complementary policy priorities, and briefly lays out implementation challenges to overcome.

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Stitching Together a Solution Cover

Publication | Stitching Together a Solution: Lessons from the Open Source Hardware Response to COVID-19

The Open Hardware and COVID-19 Roundtable, convened by the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP) and the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at NYU Law, pulled together representatives directly involved in the response from a wide range of roles- including makers, designers, institutions, and government officials. This report is the culmination of an initial set of roundtable conversations.

Download the Report