Written by Seamus Kelleher.
The scientific method, used to explore human observations and challenge assumptions in science, has been the driving force behind research and discovery since the 1600s. It’s served as the roadmap for the discovery of gravity, the development of the polio vaccine and man’s first steps on the moon. However, our guide to scientific advancement has barely evolved itself since its inception hundreds of years ago. Liquid in Cincinnati, Ohio, has developed the first cloud-based software platform tailored to simplifying and spurring greater participation and collaboration in the scientific process.
“Research is still a pen-and-paper process. It’s the same process it was hundreds of years ago. Besides just being tedious to record results manually, it keeps your data personal and hidden away,” said Jacob Shidler, co-founder and CEO of Liquid. “So much of science is trapped in scientific journals, and who besides academics or career scientists are going to read those? Collaboration and accessibility make for better science and we built Liquid with that in mind.”
Liquid allows users to create custom forms tailored to their research and then collect data from the field, either manually or automatically, using connected devices. They can then upload that information, with or without an internet connection, from their laptop, tablet or mobile device anywhere in the world. The data is saved and, once connected to the internet, is automatically synced to the platform where it’s accessible to fellow collaborators in real time.
Shidler initially developed a custom software hack from existing software in order to reduce his dependence on paper and ease his graduate research. Now he’s built the concept into a full software simplifying the scientific process for others and, hopefully, making a difference in the world. He sees tremendous value in promoting increased participation in the scientific process.
“We encourage citizen science, where anybody can add value through participation in research. Science should be made accessible to everyone. The more people involved in collecting good data, the better the results will be,” said Shidler. “People observing, asking questions, and searching for answers—it moves us closer to understanding the world around us. Increased understanding—like how water sources become contaminated and why that makes people sick—only improves the quality of life for everyone.”
Liquid was able to build out their software, supported on desktop, Android and iPhone, with early funding from Queen City Angels (QCA), a southwest Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. Shidler also credits their network of professionals with helping land the company key contracts. Liquid is now used by organizations and institutions such as The Wetlands Conservancy, Adventurers & Scientists for Conservation, Cincinnati Civic Garden Center and USC Sea Grant, among others.
Shidler plans to pitch the streamlined scientific method software to more major institutions this year, thanks in large part to the positive reviews from current Liquid clients.
“I never intended to start a business, and honestly, I was reluctant to. I wanted to be in the field researching,” said Shidler. “It just so happened that professors and colleagues were interested in my procedure, so we developed it further. With the support of QCA and adoption by some great Ohio organizations, we’re now playing a role in boosting active scientific participation. That’s really what this is all about.”