Sunday, March 13, 2011

Academy and industry growing the science pie

Like anyone who has worked in the commercial biotechnology science industry I have also spent time in academic science research in graduate school. There is definitely some rift between the two worlds of science. I find industry often doesn't know what is going on in nearby academic science centers, and academic science centers often don't want them to know because they think industry will steal their ideas just when they start working (There could be some truth to this.). The two science worlds should work closer together to grow the science pie.

The government invests in academic research to improve health, improve the environment, improve lives and stimulate the economy and stimulating the economy is getting top billing now. Government investment is a fixed amount allocated each year. Academic scientists write grants to compete for their share of the pie. When one scientist wins another loses. Industry starts with basic science and applies it to problems (like diseases) to make products and sell them increasing the amount of money coming into science, growing the pie.

Academic scientists can work on basic science questions with a long horizon before commercialization. Industry has to work on questions with a shorter time to market. The two will work on slightly different complimentary projects.

Industry can benefit from academic research opening up new areas for product development. Industry can provide academic researchers more places to pursue a science career when we finish graduate school. If every graduate stayed in academic research, grant competition would get even more fierce than it already is (and it is fierce). Industry could fund projects as they get closer to having commercial potential. I think companies will benefit most in the long run by not burning their bridges with academic research centers. Industry can provide funding (or licensing fees) to projects of interest and by being involved in academic research will know what new basic science is coming and start thinking about how to commercialize it. With the current and most likely increasing cumulative government budget deficit scientists may not always be able to rely on even the current level of government funding making it important for all scientists to get academy and industry to work together to grow their own science pie.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Medical imaging genomic disease subtypes

The genomics revolution is happening introducing personalized medicine but slower than most of us involved had hoped. One issue is that a disease have multiple genetic causes making traditional methods difficult. Medical imaging has the potential to separate subtypes of a disease based on what is seen in the medical image. Hopefully there are fewer genes involved in the medical image subtype making the genetic causes easier to identify. This explains why I have moved from genomic research to medical image processing. And I love creating these images.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Contribute back; even for your own sanity

Open source software allows you to modify the code for your own uses. I use so many different open source tools that I haven't become a regular contributor to any one project. The regular contributors are amazing, I don't know where they find the time.

When you fix, modify or improve an open source software project, even if you don't become a regular contributor, send your changes to the project manager. People have been very good at including changes I have sent in.

This will help you in the long run. If you change your code and don't send it back the project will release a new version that doesn't have your changes. If you upgrade to the new version you won't have your changes and will have to make the change over again. Eventually  you will end up with a forked older version and cannot benefit from the improvements in the new versions. For an organization this can turn into a really large problem when they hire new computer programmers that are used to the newer versions of the software. When one piece of software depends on another you may end up not being to upgrade anything or start using new software that uses a newer version of the software you forked.

So send your changes in, even if you only a change an open source project once.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Glass Research Towers instead of Research Parks

Research should be done in Towers not Parks to increase collaborations.

Let's call them Glass Research Towers instead of Ivory Towers which have such an uncollaborative reputation.

Buildings for research and technology venture companies should foster collaboration, Glass Towers can do this, Research Parks cannot. The typical Research Park is a large piece of land outside of town and one relatively low building is made for each institute or company. Companies or Institutes sign long term leases for the Park to make them a building. If an organization wants to expand it involves another long term lease and a long time to make a new low lying building. A small organization just getting started doesn't have the resources to sign a long term lease for an entire building. Small companies end up somewhere else in some kind of incubator.

The Park employees drive their cars into their Institute, work, eat in the company or drive out of park (through a few limited access road so there is lots of traffic) to lunch, work again and then drive home. They will probably never meet anyone from another building, not any fostering collaborations.After hours Parks are almost empty of people so few businesses like restaurants, that would provide a place for people for different Institutes to meet set up because their is so little dinner business.

The Parks could be a lot smaller in land area with a few tall Glass Towers. There need to be a few Glass Towers since some Research Organizations have heavy equipment like MRIs that would be hard to put in the higher floors. Smaller land requirements means the Glass Towers could be closer to town. The taller buildings would reduce the rental cost per foot ( For a description of tall building advantages see http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/03/how-skyscrapers-can-save-the-city/8387/). Organizations could still limit access to the their floors with the key swipe cards. Small unstable Organizations could get shorter leases. Growing organizations could lease new floors as needed (and shrinking Organizations could shrink as well and not be stuck a a large empty building they don't need).

Support organizations could provide services to multiple organizations in the Glass Towers when needed.  There could be software development companies, IT hardware support, computer help-desk, cloud computing, human resources, intellectual property and possibly venture capitol on site for the Research Organizations to hire when needed and not have to keep on staff when not needed. This could be a tremendous savings and convenience for smaller Organizations that cannot afford to keep all this in house.

There could be other non research support like restaurants, cafeterias, fitness clubs and day-care. Researchers would meet in these common areas fostering collaboration.  All of the support services would give small organizations most of the luxuries and strengths now only available to the largest organizations while maintaining small organization strengths. If there is any space left over put in a park instead of the the massive amount of parking lots needed by people driving between all of the spread out buildings.

Internet leads to in person collaborations

Collaborations have led to my best research results. Since my research involves developing software to analyze data I am always in need of useful data. I have received very interesting data from multiple sources. My collaborators and I will have publications out soon.

The Internet, web-sites and e-mails are useful for finding and conducting collaborations. Interestingly the best collaborations always get going after we meet in person. The e-connections actually help us meet in  person other researchers we normally never would have met. Being able to transfer and share data through the Internet makes continuing work possible but it also means meeting more researchers in person.