Opscientia Community Spotlight: Opscientia Open Web Fellowship

The Opscientia Open Web Fellowship is a 12-week program that provides a stipend for talented undergraduates, students, and postdoctoral scholars to work on open-source software development that aligns with Opscientia’s mission.

Achintya Kumar is a junior year undergrad studying Information Technology and works on Open-source in his free time. Achi details his experiences in the Opscientia Open Web Fellowship below.

What is OPSCIENTIA?

Opscientia is not just an organisation but an idea for free and decentralised science. It was founded with the aim of enabling researchers and participants to own, share, and capture the value of personal scientific data with our decentralised digital economy.

OPSCI OPEN WEB FELLOWSHIP

I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Opsci Open Web Fellowship in 2021. This is largely funded by monthly grants from OceanDAO, which aim to nurture the spirit of science and open-source contribution. Similarly, the Opsci Fellowship aims to inspire trainees to participate in open-source development projects. The application period for the spring batch of Fellows starts in early February, with a period of 4-weeks for feedback and refining the proposal with the Opscientia Core Team. Then a final evaluation is performed over a 5-day voting period by the entire Opscientia DAO, with one or more top proposals selected depending on the amount of funding available for the current cycle of applications.

ABOUT ME

I first learnt about the blockchain world (then unaware of Web3) in my freshman year as an undergraduate at the National Institute of Technology Karnataka, India. During the summer before my second year, I looked to learn more and hopefully contribute to open-source organisations. The Google Summer of Code (GSoC) felt like a perfect opportunity for me to start exploring the open-source software world that is responsible for many of the innovations that we see and use today, from Android in mobiles to GPS in cars.

Regardless, there were very few Web3 projects in the large portfolio of organisations supported by GSoC. Although inexperienced in neuroscience and oblivious to research, I came across the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF). Through the umbrella organisation of the INCF, Opscientia was already reaching out to contributors and individuals sharing similar ideas. When I first came across Opscientia, it was just an idea that came together during a hackathon. Soon, ideas of a decentralised science stack had started spreading to all corners of the community and even resulted in the creation of new DAOs! I was one of the first few to reach out to Opscientia DAOand start sharing ideas to build out the community and initial products.

Web3

I’ve been curious about cryptocurrencies for a while, although since crypto trading was previously banned in India, discussion surrounding Web3 and Coins were non-existent until recently with the future still in distress.

I always find it interesting that many people are suspicious of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, although the core structure and algorithms behind it have been used in the tech industry for a long time. The most common example we see today is git and BitTorrent.

I am new to the world of tech research but have quickly recognized the imperative to reform the current ecosystem surrounding researchers and resources. Scientific study data is often siloed in private institutions and withheld from public access, mainly due to the lack of digital infrastructure, privacy, and clear incentives, in addition to the high cost of hosting data outside of such institutions. Opscientia is on a path to address these concerns and provide a platform to encourage open science across the world. Many organisations in the past have used a similar approach to make science accessible but since it is not decentralised, data is stuck bouncing between different centralised databases. The decentralised science stack presents a solution to this problem while prioritising privacy, reputation, and decentralisation.

Fellowship Experience

I am grateful that my journey with Web3 started with Opscientia. Working on a project that can potentially impact thousands of people in the future is an opportunity you don’t come across every day. I have learnt a lot about new technologies, the internal workings of a start-up organisation, and much more. From attending meetings with prominent figures in science and Web3, to working with awesome people that do not care about one’s age, background, or nationality, and treat everyone as equal, it has been an enriching experience for me.

Project Summary

The project I worked on as part of my Opsci Fellowship was initially focused on the identity and front-end for the upcoming Open Science Bay. Later, I also had the opportunity to work on data wallet and storage solutions.

Motivation

Traditional science has always favoured legacy institutions and the rich, whether socially or economically. Researchers and participants meanwhile have long discussed the problem of recognition, privacy, and incentive. Previously, since data was stored in silos and inaccessible to the general public, participants had to be content with whatever institutions used for encryption and traceability while losing rights to any royalties or recognition.

In modern times, there are many methods of authentication on the websites we access every day, but whichever you choose, your credentials will always be held on a centralized server. There has always been a need for a common credential across platforms that do not leave personal information vulnerable or publicized. For self-sovereign identity, which can be defined as a lifetime portable digital identity that does not depend on any centralized authority, we need a new class of identifiers that fulfils all four requirements: persistence, global resolvability, privacy, and decentralization.

To make identity truly decentralized in the Web3 world, Decentralized Identifiers (DID) were introduced. DIDs are globally unique identifiers that can be used to store information and can even hold your other website credentials if needed.

The main idea was to grant ownership privileges to participants over the data used in the research. In simpler terms, Participants can always opt out of the study without revealing their identity and needing permissions.

Implementation

The Open Science Bay aims to use IDX and Ceramic protocol to develop a DID schema for participants and researchers, along with the front-end from the Ocean Market fork. All the users of the platform need to create an OpSci DID when visiting for the first time and sign in using their DID in order to either publish study as a researcher, remove access to their data and participate in quests as a participant. The ownership privileges of participants supersede that of the researcher who has created the study.

All of the data inside IDX and Ceramic is stored on IPFS, making it truly decentralized.

Work Done

Initial work on Identification and schema is completed, with researcher and participant workflow in the works. Opscientia has created a prototype for the DIDs and authentication and it shall be plugged into the platform as soon as other parts of the application are completed.

Most of my time with the team went into creating the Opsci data wallet that symbolises our first step towards revolutionizing open science. As we implemented this simple data wallet and gathered more user data, it became clear that storage of scientific data was one of the biggest challenges in science today and in our vision of the larger ecosystem of Decentralised Science (DeSci) tools, the Data Wallet is an integral component.

You can check out the data wallet here:

Future Directions

There are endless possibilities of how DIDs can be used for open science. Reputation,

Composability, pseudonymity, and data migration are some of the ideas we are playing with now. I am also working on how researchers can make “Quests” (research objects), crowdsource data collection, access compute resources to run algorithms on data, and publish their results to the community.

DIDs are only the base layer of decentralized identity infrastructure, the next layer is Verifiable Credentials. Verifiable Credentials can represent information found in physical credentials, such as a passport or license, as well as new things that have no physical equivalent, such as ownership. They have numerous advantages over physical credentials, most notably that they’re digitally signed, which makes them tamper-resistant and instantaneously verifiable.

Closing Thoughts

Science is one of mankind’s most important tools. It drives us to learn more, crosses the boundary of imagination, and find new ways to make life easier. Scientists should not have to deal with the technical jargon, inefficiencies, and legal issues when they are spurring civilization to greater heights. We at Opscientia are dedicated to unburdening scientists and innovators by improving information sharing and technological automation, so they can focus on what they do best.

Whether you are a developer or a scientist, newbie or expert. The Web3 community is very welcoming of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Our core team is a diverse mix of traditional scientists and others with no technical experience are inspired by their passion for open science.

If you like what we are doing, join me at OpscientiaDAO and help us free science through your open-source contributions.

After the Fellowship

I am currently in my penultimate year of my bachelors and currently exploring all parts of computer science. I have gained so much experience in addition to tech skills while working with Opscientia. I like how closely knit Web3 communities are and I will continue to be part of the awesome progress being made. Look out for my future writing about the challenges I faced and the awesome Web3 development I will be doing.

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