ANALYSIS & OPINION

An emerging giant

Blockchain is adding fuel to the fire of innovation, writes Assaf Anderson

Science as a whole is made up of millions and millions of measurements, observations and analyses. These are then compiled and looked at from a myriad of different angles to finally achieve an understanding. This understanding is then questioned, and it’s the 'what if…' that can lead to innovation.

'What if' we could get energy from the sun, just like plants?

'What if' we could build wings that could make us fly?

'What if' we could talk to someone on the other side of the world? 

This process has seen many different variants. The scientific revolution saw scientists and researchers copying sections from books to cross reference and inform their own experiments. This method now looks primitive when compared to the vast amount of technology the human race has created. The copy and paste has trumped the quill and inkwell, and scientific research has come leaps and bounds, hasn’t it?

Well, the thing is, as science became a prominent industry, competition forced laboratories to build taller walls around themselves and the scientific community became disconnected. Secretive. For a laboratory or a particular researcher to get funding, they must have proven success in their field. For the most part, that success is quantified by the amount of quality publications they have appeared in, and what discoveries or observations they have their names to.

In a lot of cases in today’s world, the article, journal or paper outlining their discovery will be the first time the rest of the scientific community would have heard about it. Even then, the information will be accessible to those who can afford costly subscription fees.

This published data makes up only five per cent of the total amount.

The rest of it is on local laboratory networks, big ring bind folders, or simply lost on a USB stick at the back of someone’s desk drawer.

Although people outside of science are under the illusion that scientists and researchers around the world are working together in a collaborative march toward discovery, it is not the case at all. Even researchers that work for the same organisation have been known to keep data or discovery for themselves in the fear that their intellectual property will be stolen by and the credit taken away from them. Sharing data just isn’t an option for so many researchers – thus the other 95 per cent of data remains locked away and unseen by the world.

Blockchain technology could just have the answer. It’s still an emerging technology, but tech giants such as google are already scratching their heads wondering how best to utilise its benefits.

By its very nature, it is immutable, un-hackable and every transaction that happens on it is timestamped. Research that was traded or shared on here would be safe from prying hands looking to steal their next discovery.

MaterialsZone, is a blockchain-based repository for intellectual property that allows researchers to monetise and share their data – all whilst protecting the user’s intellectual property. 

In this way, the blockchain provides a space for researchers to quickly and cheaply share, or sell their data.  To start with, 'quick' and 'cheap' are not words that those in the research world are familiar with. Even to openly share your data for free can prove to be a very convoluted process even after compiling the data and formatting it in a readable fashion.

The blockchain helps realise the true value of all data and rewards the researcher for conducting the measurements and sharing them. And all data, means all data. There is a huge need for failed result data. If many laboratories were striving toward a similar goal but did not communicate, the chances are they may come across the same hurdles. Packaging up and sharing (or selling) failed result data could save other researchers valuable money and time they would otherwise have been spent on a pointless endeavour.

Giving scientists incentive to share their data, will go some lengths to push that five per cent of available data to 100 per cent. In turn, this may  add much more fuel to the fires of innovation.

Assaf Anderson is co-founder and CEO of MaterialsZone

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