GOSH Community Member Profile of Fernando “Nano” Castro: “Showing your cards to play together”

This is the sixth post of a series of profiles on GOSH community members who were featured in the GOSH Community Events Framework. You can access the framework, along with this profile in its original format, on the GOSH website at https://openhardware.science/gosh-community-events-framework/.

By Marcela Basch, independent journalist, Argentina. Twitter: @marbasch

Profile on Fernando “Nano” Castro, who ran into open science hardware while studying for his PhD in atmospheric sciences in Mendoza, Argentina.

“I couldn’t find a way to measure environmental pollution, it was very expensive, I had no way to validate my models. A colleague, a fan of free software, had introduced me to that world, so I told him ‘let’s try something together’. We started working with Arduino, without knowing there was a community. In that search, I ran into GOSH’s website, and I got to be the first Argentinian to sign the Manifesto”, he remembers. “I had published a couple of papers that nobody read, and I wanted to work on more concrete, applied-to-reality things, to generate some kind of change. Through a friend who works with a peasant organisation, I met Fernán Federici, who also wanted to get out of the glass tower. He invited me to the second gathering, in Chile, where the community blew my mind. I thought, ‘these are the people I have to work with’”.

Oriented towards doing

“One of the keys of GOSH is that discussions are always oriented towards doing. Doing is a strong key of the movement. The people who attend GOSH are quite down to earth. They are always thinking about doing hardware in the physical world, for real users, beyond ideas”, emphasised Nano. “The other key idea is the desire to share, everybody wants to share what they have and expects the same from others. In other places, people say ‘I did this by myself, it’s mine’. Here it is ‘look, I did this, tell me how you can contribute’. You are always hoping to be able to build on what the other person has done: we all bring our own little brick, feeling sure that what they are going to find in the other person’s bricks will be useful. People are interested in scientific success, but also in sharing it, so they open up. There is a click: I’m showing you my cards because I’m not playing against you, we are going to play together”.

“In GOSH I learnt the concept of unconference: ‘There is no conference, what do you want to talk about? That unstructured quality also has to do with the openness. It doesn’t have defined edges, it is rough, and in that roughness one can find things that, otherwise, I couldn’t find”, observes Nano. “Another key element of GOSH is the spirit of playfulness. I do things that don’t go anywhere. This playfulness blends with art, helps to avoid looking always for a purpose, and encourages exploration.”

Peer Learning

“Three months before GOSH 2018, I started talking in the GOSH forum about the chromatography workshop I was planning, trying to make sure that it would reach the people who could be interested, as far as possible. So when we arrived in Shenzhen, people already knew about the workshop and we could work together”, he explains. “Fernán and I arrived some days in advance to organise the workshop. We had arranged to meet with Marc Dusseiller, so he called and we started working in the Open FIESTA. A week before the gathering started, I was already there with other people, sharing with other participants who were preparing their stuff. The place was ideal: we had a lab, tables, and computers. That’s how I met several people with whom I was able to share more and do more things together”, he highlights. “Then some people didn’t attend the workshop because they had already got acquainted with the work and had talked to me earlier. It was very collaborative: in the end, I could perform the chromatography measurements because a lot of people helped me and taught me. I think the workshop was more to learn for me than for others, but that’s the fun of workshops like this one: There’s always someone that comes along and says ‘I’m doing it this way, why don’t you give it a try?’ So it was collaborative, open and playful: we had a lot of fun”.

The spirit of GOSH is flexible: “If you go to GOSH with an open mind, ready to do something different from what you had planned for your session, you will be fine. You have to be aware that what you prepared could be demolished because those who went to the workshop might be interested in just a piece of what you were doing, and that’s OK. What happens there is right, you can’t force a community to do something that you want”, he reflects.

Building bridges

Nano started thinking about organising a GOSH event. “It’s important to find a good place where we could work with freedom, in an institution that understands what we are doing, which is aligned with us. I would start spreading the word as soon as possible, trying to reach especially people from outside academia. In Mendoza (Argentina), we work inside the university to solve problems outside. Universities are bridges: if I go directly to a rural community and show them a device, they won’t accept me. So I need to approach them from the university. Also some people are bridges to reach certain communities”, he says.

“To hold an event, I would partner with like-minded people. People who are used to making things happen, who can sit down with the peasants and with the dean, who can solve a problem at the embassy or wash the dishes, going from bureaucratic issues to solving a conflict or simple things like caring about people”, he details. “That involves having the values of the Manifesto built-in: everyone who comes is important, it doesn’t matter if they have published papers. It means being attentive to see how you can help, or how you can make people meet each other, catalysing the encounter. Because in the end, that’s what the gatherings are for: ‘look, you don’t know each other but he’s working on this and maybe you have something in common’. It’s about giving all the conditions for people to meet”.

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