At Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, California, pipettes, microscopes, and petri dishes cover lab tables, while the lab’s latest, crowdfunded acquisition sits nearby: an ultra-cold freezer for storing enzymes and DNA. The lab provides a place for open science, where anyone can do research and research results are free, says Maureen Muldavin, a board member of the nonprofit public biology lab. Established in 2013, the lab hosts projects that range from making “bioart” inspired by colorful bacteria to reverse-engineering insulin. “We’re trying to do the research to make it easier for someone to produce a generic version [of insulin], so it’s not available through just a few pharmaceutical companies,” says Muldavin.
The equipment is professional, but the lab’s participants don’t have to be. Participants include people without science backgrounds as well as those with Ph.D.s. Crowdsourcing buys the equipment, and peer-to-peer education teaches people the skills to use it. Some are looking to learn skills for a new career, others to conduct research outside their home institution. Many are just curious about science. “Usually, it’s scientists who decide what to research,” says Muldavin. “Here, everyone can be a scientist.”