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Science School : Open education by and for students

Among the many student clubs hosted by the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) in Paris, is the Open Science School. Currently run full-time by Juanma García Arcos and Alexey Zaytsev, two students of the Interdisciplinary Approaches in Life Sciences (AIV) Master, along with other collaborators, it aims to bring science to students in an innovative and collaborative way.

What is today an association started almost one year ago as an idea of the Paris Bettencourt team for the 2014 iGEM competition. This synthetic biology challenge gathers each year students from all over the world who carry and develop their own synthetic biology project. “It is very complicated for high schoolers to build a team for the competition”  Juanma explains,  “so we started to create an online lecture to show them how to do so”. It evolved in a massive open online course (MOOC) containing resources about biology, and today it is not even only about iGEM anymore. “Now we call it Open Science Square : it is an online platform where each researcher can publish about his work” Juanma adds. Since the founders of the association are biology-oriented, the content is mainly related to this field of Science. The young Spanish student is far from being close-minded though, and if you ask him if chemists or physicists can post on it, he will answer “anyone who is able to talk about a research project or a scientific principle in a two to three minutes long video is welcome to contribute”.

Open Science School is a legal association since January 2015.
Open Science School is a legal association since January 2015.

In parallel, the club is also working on the development of a small, cheap spectrophotometer since last fall. Alexey explains it is a simple device with three cavities to insert samples, each one enlighten by a specific wavelength LED and placed in front of a sensor. “You can do optical density or green fluorescent protein measures, you can change LEDs to modify the wavelength… There are many applications” Alexey says. Most of all, the device is in open source, shared on Github, which means it can benefit everyone, and especially teachers and students, primary targets of this spectrophotometer. In an ideal world, every student in biology would have one of this tool, called DIλ (λ being a reversed Y, making both reference to the DIY movement and to the representative letter of wavelength). “You can use it to teach biology, chemistry, but also electronics if you build it yourself” enlightens Juanma. In order to acquire solid results with the device, which could lead to greater partnerships, the spectrophotometer will be presented to English iGEM teams during a workshop in June. For a development cost around 15 to 20 €, this tool could be really attractive for STEM education actors.

Open Science School at the Maker Faire in Paris (2015).
Open Science School at the Maker Faire in Paris (2015).

The Open Science School truly became an association with a juridical status in January 2015. Since then, new ideas emerged, like developing other cheap and open source scientific devices. But to fulfil those new challenges, they need more resources. “The main problem currently is that we lack time and people: we are only two full time students working in the association, with a little help of friends” explain the two students. But in spite of this major obstacle, the Open Science School has already build a network around it with international partners such as BuiBuilder, a foundation born from the Massachusset’s Institute of Technology (MIT), and universities in Spain et in the United Kingdom. A proof of the seriousness of the project and the potential of the association ? Without a doubt.

Written by Benjamin Vignard

I graduated in molecular physical chemistry from the Université Paris Sud. In 2014, I started a cursus in scientific journalism and communication at the Université Paris Diderot. I am very interested in connections between sciences and society.

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