Sciwiki: A Public Space for Scientists

Brian Heligman
May 23 · 3 min read

Why did I make Sciwiki?

I recently spun up Sciwiki.io, something I’m hoping can be a public space for scientists to aggregate practical scientific know-how. My motivation for this stems from my recent experience venturing into solid-state chemistry. Like any scientist exploring a new field, I’ve made tons of mistakes, but the frustrating part was I knew I’m wasn’t the first person to make those exact mistakes. I’m lucky in that I’m part of a big research group; when something doesn’t work, I just ask a postdoc. That method of troubleshooting science does not work for small labs, especially ones at new institutions. It excludes a ton of people and wastes everyone’s time.

This experience with solid state chemistry lies in stark contrast with my experience in metallurgy, where the American Society for Metals have published an exhaustive bible of everything you would ever need to know. Their handbooks are full of all kinds of practical information that would never be published in a journal; how to actually cast aluminum alloys, how to get clear images of the microstructure of tin, etc. There is no reason this type of information should be limited to a single subfield of materials science.

Why a wiki?

Honestly, I made a wiki because it felt like something I could sucessfully make. My sister Kathryn Heligman helped me spin up the platform, and I’ve worked on structuring it and generating some content. Multiple people have suggested building a stack-exchange style forum. While I think that is a great idea, I have no idea how to aggregate a critical mass of scientists into a community. But give me a few months, and even as one person working part time, I know that I create decently detailed pages for ICP, pelletization, coin cell manufacture, and anything else that I know about. I’m hoping at minimum that adds a bit of value to the community, and if I can pull in just a few scientists from other fields, we can build from there. However, given how idiosyncratic research is, I think bolting on a forum is the clear next step.

Proposed Structure

This website is a bit of a spiritual successor to wikitravel.org, a website I used all the time when I was traveling. On wikitravel, every city or sight has a page with consistent categories (Understand, Get in, Get around, See, Eat, Sleep, Get Out). Not all pages are equally mature, but even a random Indonesian village would have a helpful hint or two thrown in there by some random traveler. I’m hoping this can be similar; a public space for scientists to leave useful information.

Home page of Sciwiki at launch

I’ve currently split up Sciwiki up into the 4 types of pages that would work my field (Synthesis Techniques, Characterization Techniques, Tools, and Chemicals). I think we should design a template for each category, and then start building out content.

Call to Action

Right now, the most important thing is to get this idea to go critical. In this early stage, anyone who is willing to share this idea, or more importantly, contribute, disproportionately increases its chance of survival.

The single most valuable contribution would be identifying 2–3 scientists that can match my initial superficial coverage in their own sub-discpline. It’s particularly important to find contributors to generate articles outside of the field of battery research. This would give us a few strong anchors, and let us see if we can come up with a universally applicable structure. Feedback on the organizational structure is highly valued at this early stage. But pulling in your colleagues, or simply sharing this idea with anyone interested in open-science could help really this to survive.

I really have no idea what I am doing here, so if anyone has any feedback, contact me @briantheligman on twitter or at briantheligman@gmail.com.

Or just start contributing!

Brian Heligman

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PhD Candidate at UT Austin