Last year I started Science Exchange to address a major challenge in the way science is conducted. During my postdoc it became clear to me that the system of scientific collaboration is entirely broken. I started Science Exchange because I wanted to create a new way to foster scientific collaboration that will break down existing silos, democratize access to scientific expertise and accelerate the speed of scientific discovery.
I became interested in scientific collaboration and outsourcing as a direct result of my postdoctoral research. More specifically, it was because of a particular challenge I encountered. During 2010 my research hit a roadblock when I needed to conduct certain immunology experiments that were completely out of my field of expertise. After exhausting my personal network of collaborators, I began to look externally to find someone to provide these experiments for me. What followed was an entirely frustrating process of googling keywords to try to find scientific service providers with the right expertise; emailing or calling dozens of labs to understand the outsourcing process, their pricing and turnaround time; attempting to compare and evaluate different providers with a complete absence of user feedback and reviews. And even when I found a provider I wanted to work with, I had to pay on my personal credit card because the provider was not a vendor in my university’s purchasing system.
In going through this process it became clear to me that the current system of scientific collaboration and outsourcing is extremely inefficient. It’s hard to find people with expertise, time consuming to communicate with them and hard to evaluate them. In most cases, researchers use a system of ‘barter’ where they trade future favors or middle authorship in future publications to get people to collaborate with them. Or, if they pay for access to expertise, they have no efficient way to pay experiment service providers outside their institution. I believe a more effective system of scientific collaboration and outsourcing has the potential to revolutionize scientific research, in much the same way that outsourcing revolutionized the IT industry in the 1990s and 2000s. Other industries have solved many of the problems seen in science by creating a marketplace. After researching the space and discovering that a marketplace for scientific experiments didn’t exist, I took the leap and created one: Science Exchange.
Since our launch in mid-August 2011, over 4,000 scientists have signed up and created a profile on Science Exchange, and our network of providers recently passed 1,000 facilities. We plan to continue improving and growing the marketplace and services for researchers in perpetuity, and this process is accelerating as we grow.
More effective scientific collaboration and efficient utilization of scientific expertise has the potential to dramatically impact the course of science (and society). I believe that Science Exchange can transform the way in which scientific research is conducted, allowing access to global collaborations and partnerships that will accelerate discovery at an unprecedented rate. I’m excited to work towards making this vision a reality.
About the author
Elizabeth Iorns is Co-Founder & CEO of Science Exchange. Elizabeth conceived the idea for Science Exchange while an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami and as CEO she drives the company’s vision, strategy and growth. She is passionate about creating a new way to foster scientific collaboration that will break down existing silos, democratize access to scientific expertise and accelerate the speed of scientific discovery. Elizabeth has a B.S. in Biomedical Science from the University of Auckland, a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and conducted postdoctoral research in Cancer Biology from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine where her research focused on identifying mechanisms of breast cancer development and progression.