Curiosity is a hallmark of science, an essential fuel in the pursuit of discovery. Scientists in academic and other research institutions benefit from access to expensive instruments and equipment to facilitate this drive for new knowledge and practical insights. Yet, curiosity about the natural world is not unique to trained scientists, as anybody who has spent time with a child can attest. Children and adults of all ages are also curious, fascinated with how the world works and eager to explore and discover.
Unlike research scientists, most people do not have access to tools that can make the natural world more accessible for questioning and inquiry.
Making high-quality, low-cost tools accessible for anyone’s curiosity and problem solving plays an important role in how people can engage with science – whether to explore nature, conserve biodiversity and other natural resources, solve a problem in their local geography, or learn about a phenomena of interest. The importance of tools for the advancement of science has a long historical track record, and it is a central tenant of Tool Foundry, a new initiative hosted by Luminary Labs and designed to advance scientific discovery tools that anyone can use in pursuit of their individual or community interests. With support from the Moore Foundation and Schmidt Futures, Tool Foundry’s Accelerator was recently launched. This four-month program is designed to help tool developers create, scale and broadly share their wares. The accelerator is designed to address the challenge of bringing an idea from prototype to broad impact with targeted support for key steps along that path. Inventors can apply to join the first accelerator cohort by submitting ideas by May 30, 2019. In addition to hosting the accelerator, Tool Foundry will also develop, curate and make available useful resources for any interested science tool maker (check out their Toolbox).
“Our greatest untapped resource is scientific curiosity. Accessible tools have the potential to drive exploration and problem solving in communities everywhere.”
Supporting the development of accessible, low-cost science tools is a key element of the science learning and engagement portfolio Dr. Coffey manages. Examples of tools that received early foundation support include Foldscope, a high-powered paper microscope that cost less than a dollar to make and was just named one of ten recent low tech inventions that have changed the world by MIT Technology Review, FieldKit, iNaturalist and Trident (formerly of OpenROV and now part of SoFar), an underwater remote operating drone allowing open exploration of the underwater world. Support of tools and resource development is further reflected in foundation-supported efforts to bring meaningful science to the people and support science learning through efforts to reimage the chemistry set for the 21st century and experience North America’s 2017 total solar eclipse.
“These tools provide greater access to do science for anyone,”
added Coffey. “Our aim is to bring science to people in ways that capture the wonder of nature as well as the excitement that comes from asking questions and figuring things out.”