Scientists as cyborgs

Video @ the bench
[Vie Free Genes]

I saw the movie I Am Legend this weekend, and although it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of synthetic biology (re-engineering measles is a bad idea, apparently) Will Smith’s character did have a slick lab in his basement. Good to see a little Garage Biotech in action.One component of the lab they made heavy use of was a video lab notebook. I assume this was done since Will Smith scribbling in a paper lab notebook wouldn’t have had quite the same cinematic effect. However, getting video into the lab will be important for democratizing biological engineering. A lot of the barriers to would be bio-hackers lay in the difficulty of learning biological protocols from texts. New graduate students benefit enormously from hands-on learning with a mentor in their early days in lab, and without this visual teaching getting booted up in the lab is extremely frustrating.

will.JPGNew science video sites like Jove and suffer because labs aren’t really equipped to capture video. So at best you’ll be able to disseminate talks, but video protocols are going to be very hard to pull off. I’ve been thinking about video lab notebooks / protocols since Tom Knight brought up some clever ways you might set your bench up to accommodate video capture (cameras in various spots, foot-petal control, and smart ways to handle the data). A more nerdy looking way to do this (no offense to Will Bosworth who used to work around the Endy Lab) is the head-mounted video camera described by Saul Griffith in Make magazine.

There are also some wireless web-cameras that might make your setup cheaper. If anyone is doing a good job of taking video at the bench, please let me know about your setup.

Video use in social media will be explosive when the tools get more mature. Will they be a major way that research is communicated? Maybe not always but I visited the Seattle Science Foundation last week and saw what medical theaters can do when hi-def video is built into the infrastructure. Almost everything can be transmitted/archived on video. How will things change when we really can archive everything?

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