ICampus Application for OWW

From OpenWetWare
Jump to navigationJump to search

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. The application is submitted, see the link below. Thanks for everybody's help on this to get it through.

Initial Application -- Submitted version (non-wikified)
Initial Application -- Submitted version (wikified)

We've been updating and posting ideas relative to OWW goals and planning (even after the proposal was submitted) on this page, but it probably makes more sense to start a more dedicated page. So you may be interested in editing the OpenWetWare steering committee page instead.

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 the 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 Information resources are often incomplete, difficult to search, and out of date. This problem is exemplified 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 researchers' ongoing work (prior to publication), and an absence 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 the problems highlighted above. For example, by providing a means for researchers to contribute to a commons of biological information, "lore" can 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. 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 with Prof. Kuldell to integrate student contributions to the protocol collection into the biological engineering project lab (BE.109). We believe 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 currently benefiting from collaborative development on OpenWetWare include: equipment, strains, vectors, safety, 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 collaboration between researchers. One example of how disparate groups can use OpenWetWare to improve information flow is that of the Synthetic Biology Working Group. This group comprises students from several labs 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 community members. OpenWetWare allows members to communicate efficiently over a wide 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.

Community Benchmarks

  • 30 academic labs
  • 750 users
  • 3000 uniques visitors/day

(Each of these is ~3X the number currently on the site)

  • Send representatives to 2 conferences (ASCB & ?)

Content Benchmarks

  • An automatic method for to convert wiki->static webpage directly hosted on openwetware
  • Templates for protocols, equipment, materials, biologicals; Also, better organization scheme to encourage use and standardization of the shared information.
  • Integration with the BE.109 curriculum; Active Student Participation
  • 1400 content pages (2X current amount)

Goals for the one-year project

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

  1. Integrate with 1-2 lab classes at MIT.
  2. Implement software tools for conversion of other document formats into wiki markup language.
  3. Integrate with DSpace via document discussion and review pages.
  4. Develop institution-specific information hubs.


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 conversion of Excel/Word/LaTeX documents into wiki markup language).
  2. Tools to map 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. Tools to integrate 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 information of OpenWetWare will scale with the amount of content generated. However, there has been little work to examine how collaborative tools can best be used to develop information resources, such as the OpenWetWare protocol collection. We believe the project would benefit dramatically from the active establishment of community standards for organizing content in OpenWetWare. We will establish a UROP position to evaluate and implement templates and other methods for organizing information in OpenWetWare.



  • $6000 for a UROP dedicated to software tools development
  • $6000 for a UROP dedicated to data management
  • $2000 for advertising materials
    • OpenWetWare gathering in Boston
    • poster and business card printings
    • poster mailing
  • $5000 for travel funds to conferences
    • conference registration
    • travel expense
    • Additionally, students traveling to conferences to present research will also be able to spread information about OWW without requiring direct support.
    • Planned conferences to attend:
      • ASCB (Dec 10-14, 2005)
      • ICSB (October 9-13, 2006)
      • SB2.0 (May 20-22, 2006)
      • IBE (March 10-12, 2006, Tucson, Arizona)
  • $1000 to hold Boston-area OpenWetWare tutorial sessions
    • travel to and from session
    • refreshments
  • $10000 for sponsorship of monthly meetings hosted by OpenWetWare on "Open Science"
    • 10 speaker average of $1000 per speaker for travel/hotel stay (series would start early March)
  • Total: $30000

Tentative timeline

The tasks of greatest initial importance lie in building the usage infrastructure of OpenWetWare; i.e., quantifying the current usage and developing the tools and guidelines that will be needed to continue its growth. This timeline is written with this initial output in mind. It is expected that many of the up-front analysis and development tasks will morph into more curative duties as the year progresses. Some tasks will be better suited to a time when more of the infrastructure is in place. For example, we might wait until the summer to begin merging OpenWetWare with fall class curricula.

Regular committments include monthly committee meetings.


  • Advertise for two UROP positions: software development and usage statistics & analysis
  • Compile initial observations of wiki usage, desired software improvements, and specific tasks for UROP positions
  • Make initial advertising materials (business cards, advertising & lab invitation emails)


  • Review findings of Usage/Data Management UROP
  • Formulate usage guidelines and develop their implementation
  • First recruitment/introductory tutorial luncheon


  • Review protocol templates, conversion tools, links to static webpages
  • Implement usable tools with current users
  • Second recruitment/introductory tutorial luncheon


  • Design set of advertising materials (posters, mailings, etc) and have printed
  • Develop outreach strategy: identify relevant conferences & meetings, etc.
  • Third recruitment/introductory tutorial luncheon
  • Recruit at Bioengineering Department Retreat
  • First OpenWetWare seminar on open science


  • Fourth recruitment/introductory tutorial luncheon
  • Second OpenWetWare seminar on open science (will continue for as long as we have funding)


  • Develop tutorials for integration with BE.109 and 7.02
  • Hold large-scale 'brush-up' tutorial for all current users
  • Usage/Data Management UROP develops strategy for integration with DSpace
  • Attend Wikimedia conference: Wikimania


  • Develop institution-specific information hubs
  • Fifth recruitment/introductory tutorial luncheon


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 who 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 investment 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

Steering Committee

It seems like a good idea to start a steering committee, with the idea being to help organize people who want to take a more direct role in encouraging OWW's growth in particular areas. The iCampus proposal is a good mapping for what these goals are, but I think we should encourage anyone (those on this proposal, or especially those not) who is interested to sign up.

OpenWetWare steering committee