ICampus Application for OWW

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The MIT-Microsoft Alliance has provided funds for the development of tools to help research in technology education. This page will be used to collaboratively develop an application for funds to push OWW to be a more useful tool. Please put your input below. This is still in the early draft stages, so please put ideas down.

We've been doing a lot of editing--deleting comments etc--working towards a final draft.

Please edit for grammar, spelling, and small stylistic issues. The Goals section is need of better content and editing. Other than that, we hope not to make large-scale changes to the structure. But please, feel free to suggest stuff.

Preliminary Student Proposal Questions

Title for this proposal

Give a short, descriptive title for this project

OpenWetWare: A collaborative information tool for the biological research community

Name and email address of proposer

Project description

Please provide a brief (a few paragraphs at most) description of the proposed project.

OpenWetWare ( http://openwetware.org ) is a collaborative environment designed to foster the sharing of expertise, information, and ideas among researchers in biological science and engineering. Inspired both by Wikipedia and MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenWetWare is a wiki where content related to research laboratories can be generated and disseminated quickly and efficiently by any individual. We propose to expand the user community, develop tools to encourage contribution, and integrate content development with educational programs in hope of creating a critical mass of users that will lead to a self-sustaining resource for the biological community.


Describe, as succinctly and as compellingly as you can, why you think this project is significant - from an educational perspective, a technical perspective, or other.

We designed OpenWetWare to address two problems that we, as students entering the field of biology, have had to struggle with:

  1. Information resources are inaccessible, not easily searchable, and frequently out of date. This problem is often magnified by the absence of experimental details that are typically only communicated as "lore" passed between members in individual research labs.
  2. Barriers to collaboration exist due to infrequent opportunities for communication, little knowledge about other researcher’s ongoing work (prior to publication), and a lack of a common “intellectual space” to share ideas and hold informal discussions.

OpenWetWare allows all members to freely create, organize, and edit webpage contents, and is an attempt to alleviate these problems. For example, by providing a means for researchers to contribute to a commons of biological information, "lore" could be disseminated to the community, evaluated, and stored electronically. In addition, opportunities for collaboration that currently take place on rare occasions will be dramatically increased by sharing an online space.

Improving Information Resources

By serving as an information repository, OpenWetWare can improve educational and research experiences in a variety of ways, both educational and technical. One example is information concerning biological protocols, such as the OpenWetWare entry on DNA ligation (http://openwetware.mit.edu/wiki/DNA_Ligation), which includes an explanation of the relevant biology, a general procedure, lab specific protocols, and notes with experimental nuances. A discussion section accompanying the entry enables researchers to pose questions and troubleshoot their approach. Additionally, by enabling cross-linking between protocols and background information we expect the protocols themselves to become learning tools. Towards that goal, we will be working to integrate student contributions to the protocol collection into the biological engineering project lab. We feel this will encourage students to gain a deeper understanding of the biology underlying each step in a protocol, as well as encourage a mindset of collaboration and contribution. However, protocols are just one example. Other information resources benefiting from collaborative development include: equipment, strains, vectors, safety, useful facts, FAQs, and computing. Specifically, wiki pages for equipment have proven to be very useful technical resources housing maintenance logs, usage notes, and results from control experiments.

Reducing barriers to collaboration

OpenWetWare has great potential to enhance collaborative experience between researchers. One example of how disparate groups can use OpenWetWare to enhance collaboration and information flow is by looking at the Synthetic Biology Working Group. This group compromises students from several labs and individuals at three schools. Looking at their wiki page ( http://openwetware.org/wiki/Synthetic_Biology ), you can find:

  1. Listing of news in the field (e.g., recent talks and lectures in the field)
  2. Collaborative discussions (e.g., Abstraction hierarchy and a synthetic biology ontology)
  3. Listings of resources available (e.g., Press articles, conferences, and online tools)
  4. Collaborative initiatives (e.g., The BioBricks Foundation and the Synthetic Genomics Study)
  5. Projects currently in progress (e.g., Biological Barcodes and Rebuilding T7)
  6. Outreach Programs (e.g., courses and competitions)

All of this information is updated continuously by all members of the community. OpenWetWare allows members to communicate efficiently over a vast range of projects, and perhaps more importantly, gives others real-time information about what ideas and research the group is currently pursuing.

Key participants

Who are the key participants in this project? What year are they at MIT? Will they all still be students through the fall semester 2006?

  • Barry Canton -- 3rd year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Sean Clarke -- 1st-year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Danielle France -- 4th year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Jeff Gritton -- 4th year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Jason Kelly -- 3rd year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Sriram Kosuri -- 5th year graduate student (hopefully will not be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Alex Mallet -- 2nd-year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Reshma Shetty -- 4th year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)
  • Ty Thomson -- 4th-year graduate student (will be a student in Fall 2006)

Other Participants

  • Ilya Sytchev -- 4th year graduate student at Northeastern University, bioinformatics intern at MIT

Goals for the spring

List two or three specific milestones to be achieved in the project by May 2006.

  1. Double number of users
    • Hold X tutorial luncheons on MIT's campus
  2. Mapping of wiki to static webpages software tool
  3. Design of protocol templates?
  4. get 'Jason Kelly' of endy lab fame to achieve #1 google hit for 'Jason Kelly' over punk ass "best little guide to investing" author Jason Kelly.

Goals for the one-year project

List two or three specific milestones to be achieved in the project by December 2006.

  1. Integration with a few lab classes at MIT.
    • BE.109
    • 7.02
  2. Double number of institutions on OpenWetWare.
  3. Double number of protocol pages
  4. Software tools for simplifying data entry into the wiki
  5. Integrating OpenWetWare with Dspace in a forbidden dance
  6. Develop institution-specific information hubs
  7. Investigate possible uses of other Web 2.0 techologies (mashups, AJAX, etc) for scientific collaboration
  8. Integrate with other online research tools/databases


What kinds of things are you requesting funding for (e.g., what equipment, UROP positions, other)?

Software Development

In order to facilitate user interactions with OpenWetWare, we would like to establish UROP positions to work on a variety of software tools:

  1. Tools to simplify data entry into the wiki (e.g., direct import of Excel/Word/Latex documents into the wiki).
  2. Tools for the mapping of wiki pages onto static websites. We have already begun to explore such possibilities ( see http://syntheticbiology.org ), and would be interested in making such tools easier to use and more widely available.
  3. Exploring the relationship between permanent and evolving documents. For example, what is the best interface between MIT's DSpace ( http://dspace.mit.edu ) and OpenWetWare?

Ideally, we hope to coordinate with the MediaWiki open source community on tools that are likely to be of general use to the community (MediaWiki is the open source software that OpenWetWare is based on).

Cultivation of User Base

The success of OpenWetWare depends critically on cultivating and maintaining an active user base. We plan to dedicate funds to enable tutorials, conference visits, advertising, and other mechanisms for recruiting new users to OpenWetWare.

Data management

In the long term, the success of OpenWetWare relies on the assumption that the number of users actively curating the informational resources will scale with the amount of content generated. However, there has been little work in examining how collaborative tools such as OpenWetWare are best used to develop informational resources, such as a protocol collections. We feel the project would benefit dramatically from people actively establishing community norms and standards of practice for organizing content on OpenWetWare. We will consider establishing a UROP position (perhaps an anthropology major) to evaluate and implement different templates or other methods for organizing information on the wiki.


Who is your project advisor?


Any other comments or questions.

OpenWetWare is far more than simply a wiki for scientists. It represents a conscious departure from standard operating procedure in biological science and engineering in that it enables the sharing of methods, ideas and work. OpenWetWare has a strong potential to make inroads into the highly competitive culture of biology for several reasons.

  1. Despite only being six months old, OpenWetWare already has 265 users, 2725 pages and ~1000 visits per day (statistics current as of November 10, 2005).
  2. OpenWetWare already has many undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral scientists and professors that contribute to content. Regular users include people from Biological Engineering, Biology, and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT and the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. Finally, based on the initial successes of OpenWetWare, the BioMicro Center at MIT recently has generously provided hardware and support to host the site.
  3. OpenWetWare is attracting more and more attention from scientists outside MIT. We receive regular requests for accounts from users that happen across the site (often when searching for useful protocols) and want to participate.

Despite this initial success, if OpenWetWare is to reach its full potential, substantial investement of both time and money is needed. An MIT iCampus grant would be a significant step towards that goal.


MIT iCampus Student Awards page

List of Past Student Projects

An initial proposal that recieved an award: DomeView