The Department for Biosystems Engineering of the ETH Zurich is an unlikely place to expect blockchain startups to emerge. Yet in 2016 two former colleagues of mine, a neuroscientist and a biophysicist, did exactly this. It took about six months until I myself also fell into that rabbit hole. It wasn’t because of the ICO hype though.
One day, when I was struggling with data analysis for my research project, it struck me how amazing it could be, if we could not only transact “money,” but also bits of information like “pieces of knowledge.” After all they carry value, yet it seemed until now incredibly difficult to capture that. I felt that blockchain could offer the solution for this. About that time I had also begun to follow the Ethereum Community on their favored social media outlets. It struck this academic scientist with envy to observe how the young leaders in the field were using Twitter, GitHub, and blog posts to communicate and progress at an unprecedented pace with their discoveries, while I, on the other hand, was drafting yet another manuscript for a scientific publisher, not even knowing for sure when it would see the light of the day - and in what distorted form.
How many opportunities had passed? How much time had I wasted? How many academic scientists everyday were struggling, because they can not communicate openly and effectively because the only way they can receive the recognition to pay their salary is THAT paper they need to publish? My manuscript would have zero impact to the advancement of my community for the next months or even years. My world just began to make no more sense, whilst the alternative became more and more appealing.
Then, one night sorting stem cells deep down in the basement of the institute’s facility, as single cells in tiny picoliter droplets were flying into tubes to form nothing other than a small, almost invisible pellet - the result of a whole day’s worth of work - I found myself watching the AKASHA Team's Cancun presentation.
The flow cytometer in action.
Soon after, in January 2017 I posted parts of my laboratory notebook with some routine procedures and descriptions on AKASHA. This was perhaps the first self-sovereign “scientific” publication on the network at the time, and may well still be 😉
One of my science-related posts on AKASHA, here a couple of fluorescently-labelled stem cells.
A couple of days later I found myself in a chat on our Discord group and then on a call with Mihai. That is how my journey with AKASHA began, but it would take more than another year and a half until I finally left academia and, following a brief detour to a friend’s startup, I ended up joining the AKASHA Team.
One of the first calls with Mihai in spring 2018.
This is a very exciting journey. You can judge from the pictures and my story that I am not necessarily joining with a strong background in computer science, cryptography, or economics. No day passes that I am not still learning from my amazing colleagues, each of them extremely talented in their different professional skills they bring to the AKASHA Foundation.
My contribution is focussed predominantly on exploring and critically questioning whether the promises the new technologies at hand bring, and that we are all so excited about, can be indeed translated into applications. I help the team to navigate also through the traditional “innovation” space and create bridges to academia and its traditional ways of operation. This work is useful as we seek to expand our knowledge, adding talent where it is needed in order to realize our mission of “unlocking potential through open systems that expand our collective minds at local, regional, and global scales.”
The extremely talented physicist and colleague of mine Dr. Gotthold Flaeschner at the lounge of ETH Zurich, another one who has fallen into the blockchain rabbit hole.
While this is all super cool, there is one thing I regret: My kids keep telling me that my new job is pretty darn boring: “All day you sit in front of your computer and talk to people.” So, let’s make sure that the we keep working hard and succeed with this, eventually making this planet a way more exciting place! There is so much more to discover. In the meantime, I am prepping my own kitchen-science laboratory at home…
Let's help make AKASHA & blockchain THAT exciting ;-)
If you’re interested in joining us, you can find our job listings here. You can also join the conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Discord, and subscribe to our newsletter to make sure that you’re always kept up-to-date with what we are up to! 🤗