Blockchain for online worldwide experimentation

I want to share my vision on how blockchains may be applied to the idea of sharing (science/engineering) labs for both education and research.

If someone would be interested in working with me and a PhD. student I have in this, please let me know and I’ll share more details with you, as I and Tadashi already have defined a first draft for the smart contract specification. Even if you don’t, comments and suggestions are most welcome.

I have been working on Online Labs (OLs) for more than 10 years. Even though they have some advantages over traditional labs (for example: safety -for dangerous experiments-, 24/7 availability, they can be used in case of pandemic, universities can offer other institutions’ labs they might not have on their own, etc.), they haven’t seen much adoption yet. I am not talking about adopting OLs as a replacement to traditional labs, of course, but as a complement. You can use them as a preparatory lab session before the traditional lab session, or afterwards, to repeat experiments that you may have done incorrectly for a variety of reasons (calibration problems, a wrong procedure, lack of time in the lab, etc.). Also, you could use them when the university you (as a student or as a researcher) belong to doesn’t have the lab equipment/facilities required to perform that particular experiment.

For those who need it, here is a rather old, but still valid, short introduction to online or remote labs:

The main reasons why OLs haven’t seen much adoption is that they are sometimes difficult to develop and mantain and so, universities need to make the most of them so it is really worth the additional effort, time and money that turning a traditional lab into an OL requires. Now, for that, the OL has to be extensively used, of course. And in the vast majority of cases, a certain lab equipment is only used for a few hours during a whole semester. So this takes us to the idea of sharing the OL with other institutions with the objective of increasing the number of hours a lab is used during its lifetime. When you think about sharing OLs, there are two main problems to be tackled:

  1. how do you implement a technical solution that allows someone from any other institution to find/discover your lab and to book it so that they would have access to it in the booked date/hours
  2. how do you monetize that, in case the owner of the OL wants to take some profit that covers the mantainance of the lab. (editado)

And here is where I think blockchain technologies provide the ideal solution!

For 1), a smart contract deployed in a blockchain would offer a decentralized back-end a web application could connect to in order to get the list of all OLs registered worldwide in the blockchain. Their availability, already booked dates/hours, its metadata (whether it is an educational or a research lab, its topic or field of knowledge, the type of equipment ir offers, etc.) would be always there, accessible, for anyone to look at for an easy discovery. It would allow building a worldwide catalogue/library of OLs, and having an open and immutable register indicating who accessed what everytime, which is good to proof/track who obtained some results or did something (either good or bad) with the lab equipment they accessed.

For 2), of course, we could create a new token that would allow lab owners to earn when sharing their labs to others and lab users to pay with this token. This, in turns, creates a sustainable economy that would encourage more and more universities and research centers to share their lab facilities and would help students and researchers from less rich countries to access and use them. Now, there are, of course, problems that need to be solved. For example, the smart contract would have to consider things like compensating the users when they pay for accessing a lab and the lab is not operative, and this means we need to define and implement a reliable mechanism to check whether the lab is operative or not.

A couple of proposals that are somehow similar in some aspects:
EIP-1753 (EIP-1753: Smart Contract Interface for Licences)
MeetETH (ERC809/1201: Tokenizing Non-fungible Access | by Forest Fang | Coinmonks | Medium)


Here is a short PowerPoint presentation that gives more details on the proposal. Use the “Presenter View” mode to see things correctly.