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Scientific R&D At Home?

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the check-with-costner dept.

Science 398

An anonymous reader writes "I'm currently on the cusp of getting myself a new hobby and making some investments. There are a few areas that interest me greatly, from playing with EEG/ECG and trying to put together a DIY sleep lab, to astronomy, etc. I'm somewhat hesitant to get into these fields because (despite the potentially short-lived enjoyment factor) I'm not convinced they are areas that would lend themselves to making new discoveries in the home and with home equipment, which is what I'd really like to do. I've also read quite a number of articles on 'bio hacking,' and the subject seems interesting, but it also seems futile without an expensive lab (not to mention years of experience). What R&D hobbies do Slashdotters have that provide them with opportunities to make interesting discoveries and potentially chart new territory in the home? Do such hobbies exist?"

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Signal Processing, M'boy (1)

gjyoung (320540) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315236)

See to it, Frank, see to it...

sesli sohbet (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315268)

thanks.. Sesli Sohbet []

I'm doing research into longevity and celibacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315270)

My theory is that many, man cancers and other diseases have infectious components and, even may be sexually transmitted. At this rate, I'm going to flipping live forever.

Re:I'm doing research into longevity and celibacy (2, Funny)

daveime (1253762) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315620)

William, Shatner, is that, you ?

Re:I'm doing research into longevity and celibacy (1)

ma1wrbu5tr (1066262) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315634)

somehow, I don't think your research would be unique to the average ./er.

Do what you enjoy... (1, Informative)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315272)

Do what you enjoy first, and the money will come. (For example, it may just be marketing cheaper ways to do an expensive hobby) If you chase the money first, you can forget the enjoyment. Also, you may want to read []

Re:Do what you enjoy... (4, Informative) (463190) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315448)

You didn't answer his question at all, which I thought was a good one. He said nothing of earning a living but rather to "make interesting discoveries and potentially chart new territory in the home". Well, he did say "make an investment" but I read that as "in myself / my hobby".

I don't know the answer. The areas of science that I could imagine practicing at home are well trodden. That's not going to stop me from making electromechanical things for fun, but I don't expect to change the the world with it.

Re:Do what you enjoy... (1)

sillybilly (668960) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315768)

Problem is there are too many investors who are dying to make it big on your piggy back. I personally would like to grow algae, for biofuels, since I read somewhere that they are the fastest growing organism on the planet. Some forms are responsible for most of the nitrogen cycle binding of atmospheric nitrogen, for fertilizers. Some are grown for food, not very tasty. But the word is they are the fastest growing organism, fastest carbon absorption from the atmosphere. That means I haven't personally seen it, or the issues with associated with it, I only read about it. And since the Clinton administration gave up on the whole thing, I might go through the same steps they went through, and realize, aha, that that and that is the reason why it's really not worth it, some ergonomics, or killer efficiency issue. I'm also not a biologist, and don't even want to be, but as a hobby, watching things grow, I might slowly learn some details. Because maybe there is a way to have a really efficient biofuel industry. If not algae, something else? I don't know. I simply don't know.

I'd do it as a play, as a hobby, any of these things, because I'm curious, because I know if if does work it's very important, but sure as hell not gonna jump into debt over it, promising quick wealth left and right, trying to convince some investors that this is the next big thing, and then have them screaming down my back looking for some quarterly profits. And me having to tell them hold on, patience, I'm not even sure it works in the first place, or I don't have an answer yet, may not have one for a decade. If you have money to throw away, you can give it to me, but I can't promise anything, until I'm convinced of anything, or I find anything. You simply can't talk like this as a professional, as an entrepreneur, you're almost obligated to stretch the truth. And then lies turn into greater lies, and you start to believe your own lies, and get totally stressed. The fun is gone. Blind profit mongering, wishful thinking that there were anything there in the first place when there really isn't, when you really really want something, that clouds your vision and objective judgment. Above all one has to be realistic.

Sometimes, if there is a will, there still isn't a way, and recognizing that is important, for the big picture, or each individual steps, and know when to give up, and when to pursue, efficiently. That's efficient home research, based on play, curiosity, that you can't find inside a corporation, where every project has to be funded with a clear expectation of profit $=%margin expected x %chance of success > some threshold, has to be "sold" to upper management in terms of statistical profit probability, with MS Powerpoint presentations that stretch the truth, and leave out important details, (by assuming you know all the relevant details at the outset which is obviously not the case, otherwise it would not be called research,) setting a plan to follow, a project timeline, things to check, a plan that puts blindfolds on you along the way to not notice something, or chase something based on simply your curiosity to understand, because that subbrach has no funds allocated to it, and petitioning for it is too much bother, all the funds are allocated based on the master plan approved by corporate signature, and do you want to restart the whole approval process, possibly screwing yourself out of the funds you already have by putting doubt on what you initially claimed to be so certain of, do you want to shed a light of incompetence on yourself, instead of shutting the hell up and being happy you got funded, that you have a secure job til the project funds run out, and simply stick to the plan and do your job as you're supposed to, instead of wondering off track left and right, and not meeting any deadlines. Are you crazy? Inside corporations we're serious about making money, and we don't just show up to play around, for our mere personal entertainment, or to satisfy our own curiosity, and waste years with playing without ever coming up with anything.

That kind of stuff you have to do at home. Especially when you're not the top expert in a field, and have to walk the same steps that others before you walked, to see for yourself. Repeat basic science, basic things that are technology of the 1750's, or even 1950's. No corporation or reasonable investor is gonna spend money on your personal entertainment to learn such things, and in fact you may be held liable for fraud. But you can spend your own money, and time, for your own personal entertainment. Things like EEG. You have to do it at home, because at work, time is money. At home, you can watch tv, or play in your man-cave/woodshop/garage/lab. At home time is not money, and nothing is urgent, therefore you can relax and enjoy yourself.

Re:Do what you enjoy... (1)

Wiarumas (919682) | more than 3 years ago | (#32316072)

And thus, mmo gold farming was born.

Help start the revolution! (5, Insightful)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315274)

Robotics is always interesting. Servo motors are pretty easy to control, once you learn a little microcontroller programming. All you need is a basic understanding of algebra; write a few timing loops and angle-to-pulse-width conversion routines and you're there. (I've been using PIC16 microcontrollers, which do this sort of thing nicely.)

Besides, that way, you'd have a good chance of being among the first to officially welcome our new robotic overlords!

Re:Help start the revolution! (3, Informative)

vanderbosch (1715598) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315350)

Robots is interesting with a bit of AI thrown in too.

But also have a look at [] for some biology related projects

Re:Help start the revolution! (3, Informative)

zero0ne (1309517) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315484)

Phidgets [] If you would like a bit of an easier ride.

Version 2.0 of their Phidgets SBC is going to be really slick, but don't expect it anytime soon.

Re:Help start the revolution! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315542)

I can't say for certain that this is applicable to robotics, but I've found in my personal projects as a software engineer that escaping the naive approach is what has brought my work into the realm of possible importance (academically and technologically). For me that meant reading a shitload of math books (and engineering books that are just slightly-more-rambling math books.) I suspect that it's the same for most fields, even ones heavy in hardware experimentation and field research -- going into it with an "all you need to know is X" approach certainly gets you doing fun stuff quickly, but probably lowers the odds of doing anything truly significant.

Re:Help start the revolution! (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315992)

That sounds boring and tedious. Masochism. Looking into my crystal ball, I see lots of 16-hour workdays with ball-gags and cuckoldry in your bedroom.

Re:Help start the revolution! (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315612)

Skynet will protect you if you're on its side.

Re:Help start the revolution! (1)

imag0 (605684) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315646)

I started hacking away with an Arduino a few weeks ago and have loved it. Sensors, motors, potentiometer's, MUX/DEMUX, programming, soldering, it's all there.

You don't even have to be particularly interested in robotics. For example, my first project is a analog drum machine that fires off MIDI messages to my DAW. Lots of pots, wires, understanding low-level MIDI interfacing, it's a blast. So anyway, yeah. I can't recommend electronics hacking / robotics enough.


Re:Help start the revolution! (1)

ma1wrbu5tr (1066262) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315678)

And supplies for robotics are DIRT CHEAP! Dead VCRs, DVD players, stereos and other gadgets are often in the "free" pile at rummage sales. (Old dot matrix/pin printers are especially handy) Many a'project of mine was built entirely from scrap minus some breadboard and some IC chips.
Many vendors will even send free samples of their chips. It's in their best interest to do so, even to home brewers. Some of the most revolutionary tech of the 20th century came out of some guys garage or basement. They know that.

Whoa there Dr. Octopus (0, Troll)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315280)

Just stick with until you can wire up a 555 timer from radioshack before you think your going to be the next Herbert J. Farnsworth.

Re:Whoa there Dr. Octopus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315670)

That is Hubert J. Farnsworth, you stupid meatbag.

- Bender

Re:Whoa there Dr. Octopus (1)

Beezlebub33 (1220368) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315722)

Well, I think in his case we should be considering him compared to Philo T. Farnsworth, creator of the Fusor, along with a bunch of other cool stuff.

Absolutely (4, Insightful)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315296)

The prime frontier is in software. New concepts and applications based upon scientific discoveries are all over the world of software.

Re:Absolutely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315464)

Until you get sued for patent infringement.

Astronomy! (4, Insightful)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315306)

Only a few hundred planets outside the solar system have been discovered. Some of those were found from backyards by amateurs.

Check out The Sky is Your Laboratory by Robert Buckheim. It's a ~$30 book that will show you how you can participate in meaningful astro research with no equipment beyond a stopwatch for the simplest stuff. Later chapters get increasingly complex and show you how to do things that be pretty big contributions to the field.

Re:Astronomy! (-1, Offtopic)

suvarim (1817838) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315416)

thanks Sesli Sohbet []

Re:Astronomy! (4, Informative)

Random Walk (252043) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315498)

In all fairness, if you want to make a contribution that is worth co-authorship of a paper, you might need at least a good amateur telescope (maybe on the order of 10 inch aperture) and a CCD camera.

With such equipment, and clear skies, you can do photometric monitoring of stars (e.g. for outbursts, or planet transits). Asronomers always have the problem that big observatories focus on big telescopes, and it's difficult to do things that require small telescopes, but long-term monitoring.

One example would be monitoring of the transits of extrasolar planets, to detect timing anomalies (which could be caused by undetected additional planets). Or monitoring stars with planets detected by radial velocity variations, to discover eventual transits. Or monitoring of ongoing gravitational lens events... there are quite a few oportunities for amateurs.

Re:Astronomy! (1)

MadMorf (118601) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315510)

Seconded...This is a great book and convinced me to get back into astonomy after a 25 year break...

Last thing I did before this was photograph Halley's Comet back in '85/'86, with my 6" reflector and Minolta 35mm SLR...

Now, I've got a 150mm Mak-Cass and a Canon 20Da...Gonna do me some Variable Star Asronomy...

sesli sohbet (-1, Troll)

suvarim (1817838) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315328)

thanks... Sesli Sohbet [] Sesli Chat []

Homemade science (2, Interesting)

thms (1339227) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315332)

Now that I think about it, doing "real science" at home would be quite an interesting, nay, awesome hobby. A hobby community doing (anonymous) peer review and mutual reproduction of results. Maybe putting a few urban myths to rest.

And you could include schools in that, there is probably a lot of stuff out to discover which requires keep observation, measurement and then perhaps the help of a statistician to help sort the data. Counting number of animals and species in different kinds of gardens (all kept clean, lot of exotic plants, with a fish(less) pond etc.), dental caries vs. preferred school meal/drink, oh, and repeating the rats on drug experiment Rat Park [] - providing free heroin to rats has a remarkably unintuitive outcome. And schools collaborating nationwide and thus getting a large enough sample size could probably dig up something really remarkable. To say nothing of the large term effects wrt. science literacy.

Re:Homemade science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315938)

Unfortunately we don't live in the pre-FDA, pre drug-czars, pre-animal cruelty laws days. If you tried a lot of those experiments you would quickly find yourself in serious legal trouble. Don't even think about experimenting on animals without a university and an authorized lab to back you up. chemistry is ok right? - wrong, in Texas so much as buying an erlenmeyer flask without registering your intent could theoretically land you in jail as a felon, lots of other states have similar, though less ridiculous laws limiting chemistry, cuz ZOMG METHLAB. NRC regs assure that you won't get any radioactive stuff you need, even if it's completely harmless, like small amounts of tritium. We're lucky they still let us use our computers and our brains (for now). Honestly wrt actual work that can be done legally at home, the EEG, software, astronomy, and robotics ideas were probably on the right track. The situation angers me because not that long ago a lot of major breakthroughs were made by what would now be considered hackers. By essentially making it illegal/impractical to do real science without a big corporation or a university we are forcing research to move at a snails pace.

Einstein had no lab (2, Insightful)

ThreeGigs (239452) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315336)

Einstein didn't have a lab. His lab was his brain, and his "thought experiments" were obviously productive.

Re:Einstein had no lab (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315728)

Einstein didn't have a lab. His lab was his brain, and his "thought experiments" were obviously productive.

Yes, by all means, let's encourage the development of another crank, sitting alone at his/her desk thinking s/he is going to be the next Einstein.

Seriously, do something where you can easily share your work with a community. Getting some constructive criticism is especially important. Unless you have a Ph.D.-level knowledge of physics, so that you can drop in on the seminars at your local university without sticking out like a sore thumb, theory is not the way to go.

Re:Einstein had no lab (3, Informative)

sillybilly (668960) | more than 3 years ago | (#32316086)

Einstein's lab was a remote lab across the Atlantic from Switzerland, at Case Western Reserve University, more specifically the Michelson-Morley experiment on a pool of liquid mercury, coming up with the interferometry experimental measurement/conclusion that the Earth is not moving through the aether. Therefore the concept of aether was a superfluous one as far as science and Occam's razor was concerned and was abandoned. Theoretical researchers still ultimately rely on experiment. Michelson Morley did not come up with the theory of relativity, but they did a wonderful job as objective experimental scientists, trying to measure our planet's speed through aether, and "failing" so wonderfully at it. What a waste of money on setting up the whole rig? All that liquid mercury? Not really. Sometimes a failure to obtain a measurement result is the greatest success, and they published their "failure" objectively, without fear. Most of the great scientific advances are in the perplexing details of unexpected, "erroneous" results.

However their result was not totally unexpected, as the Maxwell equations themselves already predicted such a thing, paradoxically, by containing a velocity term c. In the Newton/Galileo worldview, x and dx/dt, position and speed are undetectable, relative (even though Newton did talk about moving through "absolute space" when spinning a bucket of water, but Galileo did not, when telling about the flies not gathering aft in a ship, or his measurements of dropping feathers in a vacuum, or from the leaning tower of Pisa, countering Aristotle's claim that motion, dx/dt is consumed, and correctly ascribing that to friction, to external forces.) Only d2x/dt2, acceleration is revealed by the Universe, as a (inertial) force. Newtons mechanics, his laws, is all about forces, about d2x/dt2. All Einstein did was incorporate the Maxwell equations with this previous idea of Galileo about the relativity of inertial reference frames, that still did check out through the Michelson experiment, force a system where even with c present there is still inertial relativity and only acceleration manifests itself, and show that the classical Newton/Galileo system was a special limiting case of the old one. It's all really simple if you're willing to give up your prior convictions based on new experimental facts, even if those convictions were related to the most basic of basic things in your image of the world around you, to x and t.

Well, it would seem to me... (5, Insightful)

taoboy (118003) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315344)

...that you're more interested in the recognition than the achievement. Most folks I know who make real breakthroughs in a discipline are genuinely interested in the discipline.

I occasionally teach and mentor in a doctorate program, and my essential observation is that those who are interested in the topic have a higher probability of finishing than those who are "chasing the paper". Even those of the latter category who finish the program eventually find such a perspective catches up with them in the workplace or in academia.

I don't mean to sound trollish here, but you need to search your motivations and go for the thing that really interests you. That'll render reward far past achieving 'just something, anything' And that motivation will overcome obstacles such as home-based, etc. You'll find a way, if it interests you...

Re:Well, it would seem to me... (3, Insightful)

Z8 (1602647) | more than 3 years ago | (#32316050)

you're more interested in the recognition than the achievement.

You're being uncharitable. All the OP asked was for an "to make interesting discoveries and potentially chart new territory"; he never mentioned wanting fame and fortune.

As you mentioned, some people love just love research for its own sake, and they may enjoy spending the rest of their life putzing around in their home even if they just "discover" something everyone in the field has known for years. But others want to make a positive contribution to society—they want to further humanity's knowledge, not just their own.

I think that's what the OP meant by "the potentially short-lived enjoyment factor". Hobbies can be interesting, but to many they become empty if you can't share them with the rest of the world.

You totally picked the wrong optical hobby, dude (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315372)

... lab, to astronomy, etc....

You totally picked the wrong optical hobby dude. Unless you live in some sort of paradise, its either going to be too cold, too hot, too rainy, too buggy, too cloudy, too windy for lightweight mounts, or bad temp inversions, about 99% of the time. Now, a microscope, on the other hand, maybe with a cam attachment hooked up to a PC, with some image analysis software, that could be big fun under any weather condition. And they both cost about the same, less than a car payment for junk, about a single monthly mortgage payment for the good stuff, and about one decent used car for used pro-grade hardware.

Also, we all look at the same sky. That means intense competition. But we all have different dirt and ponds. Yet another vote for microscope.

I'm not convinced they are areas that would lend themselves to making new discoveries in the home and with home equipment, which is what I'd really like to do.

Yeah well you're about to learn the hard part is not deciding what to buy, or even whipping out a credit card, the hard part is figuring out how you'll determine its something new. Pretty easy if you want to discover something new to you, look, an algae species I've never photographed before. Pretty hard if you want to darn near prove a negative, prove no human being has ever photographed that particular species of algae before.

Something New is not necessarily discovering a new individual thing. Something New might be using yer computer and some homemade software that emulates a red blood cell counter to chart the population of algae per sample vs ... something, to make interesting predictions, or discover a new effect. Or turning your computer-microscope into the worlds weirdest spectrophotometer, to measure ... something.

What R&D hobbies do Slashdotters have that provide them with opportunities to make interesting discoveries and potentially chart new territory in the home? Do such hobbies exist?

On the other hand, one good thing about the astronomy hobby is the AAVSO, American Association of Variable Star Observers. You'd never guess that their URL happens to be: []

I've often pondered... (4, Interesting)

skids (119237) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315376)

...building a "museum" of silly "perpetual motion" machines from designs on the web.

As far as serious "science" might I suggest this -- while groundbreaking research is mostly hi-tech requiring expensive equipment, one thing that doesn't get done much anymore is well within reach: verifying or debunking claims about various products. This can range from, say, taking time lapse photos of -- oh, I don't know, the progress of competing wart removers -- to basic qualitative chemical analysis of product ingredients (is that fish oil actually mercury-free).

Another idea might be designing coffee table doodads that show off scientific phenomena or engineering tricks.

Re:I've often pondered... (3, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315702)

I don't know, the progress of competing wart removers

I really like your idea, but I want to make a comment on the difficulty of this one. I had three warts that I wanted to remove, but I wasn't sure how well the salicylic acid would work, so I only tried it on one of them. Weird thing is, as soon as it worked on one, the other two warts disappeared on their own, without anything. So to be sure, you would want to apply the treatments on different people. Maybe you could do an internet request to find people who have warts, want to get rid of them, and are willing to go along with the experiment.

Incidentally, compound-w freeze off actually made my warts bigger. Stay away from that stuff. (YMMV)

Re:I've often pondered... (2, Funny)

skids (119237) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315734)

Oh, right -- talk about picking a bad example! Hah!

What are the chances? (5, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315380)

The probability of you making a significant discovery at home is close to zero. That is not meant to disencourage you. I spent enough time in professional labs myself to know that you can work for years on end on a scientific topic professionally without making any significant discoveries. However, home science is fun, so, by all means, go ahead with it! Just don't choose your field on the vague possibility of discovering something of greater meaning, just pick something that is actually FUN to you.

Re:What are the chances? (1)

BioStatMatt (1602139) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315468)

The probability of you making a significant discovery at home is close to zero.

Tell that to Edison, Tesla, Franklin, (R.A.) Fisher, Mendel, ...

Re:What are the chances? (4, Informative)

Councilor Hart (673770) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315532)

Sample bias.

For every Edison, Tesla and others, there are thousands and thousands of unknown people.

Re:What are the chances? (1)

grizdog (1224414) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315712)

They didn't work at home. Well, I guess Mendel did in the sense that the monastary was his home, but he did most of his work when he was the abbot. Edison's "home" was a huge lab/factory, with his house on the grounds, but he had a huge machine shop and all sorts of other resources available to him.

Re:What are the chances? (3, Informative)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315476)

The probability of a scientists making a significant discovery in his lab isn't much better than zero. The Flemming "Gee this moldy stuff might kill germs" is not even a once-in-a-career moment for the vast majority of scientists. Scientists work in a community, and the majority of them advance that community by applying tiny deltas to the scientific consensus.

I think if you want to be an amateur scientist, you might find it most rewarding to choose a branch of science with an enthusiastic amateur community, such as comet hunting or meteorology.


Higaran (835598) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315382)

Just get a telescope, and there are alot of websites with people posting that could get you into it. I'm not sure where you live tho, becucase there could be a lot of light polution in your area. If your not too close to a big city, that that would be the easiest thing to get started with, hell you could just start off with a $20 pair of binoculars and then go up from there. Just remember if you discover something new, then you can name it after yourself or what ever you want. Only like 15% of the the total sky is surveyed, so it's not that hard to find something new.


Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315522)

Depends on your latitude. Where I live (Helsinki) the sun may be up until 22 or 23 and it rises very early during summer. During winter, on the other hand, you may go stargazing at about 18:30, if you don't mind the snow.

community colleges (2, Insightful)

Takichi (1053302) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315394)

I suggest signing up for a course or two at a local community college. Even if you already know most of the stuff they'll teach, you'll get access to all their equipment and labs. You'll also meet some people that are interested in similar things as you. I've known people that take the same course for years for this exact reason.

Sounds like you need a collaborator (2, Interesting)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315406)

I would suggest you check with your local university or public research institution to see who is involved in fields that interest you. You may be able to catch a talk where they say something like "I have found XYZ but I don't have a way to monitor or experiment on BCD", where you may be able to find an angle that you can assist with.

If you read into the history of Medtronic (and the pacemaker itself) you'll find that their beginnings weren't too far from what I just described - an inventor with an interest working with a physician researcher with a need.

Days of Garage Inventor long gone(if ever existed) (3, Interesting)

Faizdog (243703) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315414)

It's great that you'd like to tinker around and play with stuff at home. You may learn some things, and it will definitely present with some interesting engineering problems. But true scientific R&D, where you discover something new, forget about it for the most part.

The only domains where a lone tinkerer can still make an impact and "discover" something new is in pure math, or algorithmic research. And even there, it's a rare thing.

The days of the lone researcher are long since past, if they ever really existed in modern history. Sure during the Renaissance and through the 1800s and early 1900s a lone researcher could discover/invent something new. However, even during the latter part of the aforementioned time period, the individuals in questions (Maxwell, Faraday, Watt, Bell, etc) often had years/decades of experience and/or education in the fields they made discoveries in. And the myth of the lone inventor during this latter part wasn't really true, for example Edison had a large lab full of employees for his research.

In the contemporary time period, it's HIGHLY unlikely (I'm just reluctant to say impossible). All the low level hanging fruit in most fields has been mined. There's a reason that PhDs take a long time, there's a lot to learn and catch up on. Also, most discoveries, especially in basic science ( Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy) require lots of expensive capital equipment and labs to do. And often, it's not just one scientist, but an entire team of collaborators working on a problem from many different angles.

Now, there may be some interesting inventions/engineering solutions a lone inventor can PERHAPS come up with, but they wouldn't be new scientific discoveries. Also, as another refinement of my point, there are some things an individual can still do, like say perhaps discover a new species, but not in their backyard (unless you live in Brazil). Even then, you need a commitment of resources and time to explore the still hidden parts of the world, in the rainforest, or deep under the sea.

So, while the concept of the lone scientist is romantic, exciting and inspiring, in the modern era it's unrealistic in my opinion.

Re:Days of Garage Inventor long gone(if ever exist (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315820)

That's only partially true. Your chances of doing something interesting in physics are probably ~0, unless you have an untapped well of mathematical genius that you've failed to notice. On the other hand, biology and astronomy are fields that suffer from having truly enormous research targets. There are plenty of expensive astronomy devices pointed at objects suspected of being particularly interesting; but astronomy as a field could really use a full-sky, all-night, all-year, survey in the "dedicated amateur" range of hardware quality. You aren't going to score a nobel for elucidating the physics of novel ultradistant pulsars; but being the only person with a 10-inch reflector focused on that bit of the sky is totally doable. Whether that bit of the sky does anything useful, of course, is a matter of luck.

In Bio, you can probably discover a dozen novel microorganisms is just about any pool of slimy water large enough to drown in. You'll have to do a lot of slogging to learn enough about it to publish(if there were a faster way, grad students would be graduating faster), and you probably won't be lucky enough to find one that does anything wildly cool; but simply finding one should be doable enough. Even larger stuff like insects is pretty under-cataloged in many locations. Again, your odds of finding a particularly notable bug aren't huge; but enough slogging will almost certainly yield pictures and specimens of something that nobody has ever come up with a latinate name for. Whether this motivates you is another question; but the sample set is just so enormous that, as long as you have a decent microscope/camera, and perhaps a budget for ordering genetic sequences of stuff, a novel organism should just be a matter of effort.

Assuming you have some requisite talent, and enough budget for a decent tinkering shop, you can probably do some novel applied science/engineering(albeit probably not based on novel principles), as long as you stay away from areas of commercial interest. The field of "best approximation, for ~$100, of Thing X that normally starts at ~$20,00" has been a tinker's classic for ages. Your work won't exactly represent an advance(the usual price tag isn't just because the commercial guys are price gouging); but it may well be novel and creative. In certain cases, often being pursued by deeply underfunded NGOs, such work could even be of humanitarian significance(think solar ovens, for instance, the field of solar power is overwhelmingly dominated by semiconductor guys doing stuff with novel quantum-well fabrication in order to eke out that extra .5% theoretical max efficiency, or old school thermodynamics/hardcore plumbing and engineering outfits who know how to integrate thousands of meters of high pressure steam tubes in an efficient and reliable way. However, if you can come up with a better design for something that will cook dinner for under $10 in plywood, paint, and tinfoil, there's about a billion people who could stop burning down their ecosystems for charcoal...).

Re:Days of Garage Inventor long gone(if ever exist (2, Informative)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315826)

All the low level hanging fruit in most fields has been mined.

I find it rude that you think so little of the ability of amateur scientists, but I'll chalk it up to you having a bad day.

The fruits of scientific discovery has never been low, not even when Archimedes took a bath, but what has changed is the size of the scientific community and the entrenchment of traditions. If I discover something that boggles my mind and I'm unable to quantify it to write a formal paper about it, no matter how keen my intuition or observational skills are I'll be marginalized. You find it typical that researchers are only vindicated after death, but you like som many others seem to assume that this doesn't occur today.

A certain recluse matematician comes to mind as a lone researcher, but he was far from unfamiliar with the traditions of his field. You might argue that with trees falling in the forest and listeners being lacking, making a discovery without being able to communicate it equals the abscence of science. I understand the sentiment but I'm of a mind saying that importance lies with identifying an effect as repeatable for specific reasons rather than the ability of naming it after yourself and impressing your peers with mathematical tautology.

Ask A Radio Ham (3, Interesting)

Ganty (1223066) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315426)

I do research into high IP3 HF receiver front ends, other radio hams are working with software defined radios, recovering digital signals from noise, DSP chips and even the way the brain perceives sound.

Ganty HA5RXZ

Plasma Physics (3, Interesting)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315428)

No, seriously, you can do it at home--get a ham radio license and start doing some experiments aimed at better understanding the behavior of the ionosphere (which is a plasma) and it's effects on radio wave propagation. No only could you make a significant contribution to science, you could have some fun in the process.

Here's the first in a series of articles [] on the topic. You might find it interesting.

Re:Plasma Physics (4, Funny)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315550)

Or get a bunch of old microwave ovens and see what you can plasmify at what distance. Electricity is cheap and your utility company will thank you!

Atomic power is a good source for X-rays and all sorts of fun can be had with radiation. Even ultraviolet is enough to increase the mutation rate of bacteria. Mutants! Need I say more? *wink-wink nudge-nudge*

You can also build your own lasers, and tesla coils are always impressive. Don't bother with rockets because the cheapest/best rocket engines are solid explosives that fit nicely in the hands of pros.

When I'm established I'll have a bunch of high-density flywheels built to deliver impulses of power befitting my megalomania. Then, superconductors!

sudo apt-get install girlfriend ? (2, Funny)

Avalon's_Avatar (736690) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315450)

Seriously, they have some great biological modules to investigate ;)

Re:sudo apt-get install girlfriend ? (5, Funny)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315490)

Seriously, they have some great biological modules to investigate ;)

Sounds like fun but I found:

Conflicts: wife (>= 1.0)
Suggests: Whole-bunch-of-money

Also the installation process took too much time.

Re:sudo apt-get install girlfriend ? (1)

sparrowhead (1795632) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315658)

Should try that when i am getting bored with growing fungi in my fridge

Re:sudo apt-get install girlfriend ? (1)

Avalon's_Avatar (736690) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315766)

Should try that when i am getting bored with growing fungi in my fridge

I'm sorry to tell you that I hold the patent on that method of fungal growth my friend.

But in the spirit of open source, please fine yourself £200.

Re:sudo apt-get install girlfriend ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315782)

girlfriends with attached fungi colonies are best avoided

Arrest! (5, Informative)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315452)

Sorry, home science is now an arrestable [] offense [] .

Re:Arrest! (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315858)

Amusingly, Texas is particularly bad. In addition to "controlled substances", they have "controlled glassware". You need the permission of the state to own such sinister items as Erlenmeyer flasks.

Luckily, they can still wave "don't tread on me" flags with impunity, so it's ok...

Re:Arrest! (2, Informative)

WebSorcerer (889656) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315898)

The Texas Department of Public Safety - Narcotics Service requires a form to be filled out before one starts a chemistry lab at home (or anywhere else). []

Re:Arrest! (5, Interesting)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315900)

Even if science isn't illegal by itself, good luck not getting arrested for buying lab glassware, which is illegal in TX (you might make a meth lab), and good luck getting any chemical companies to sell you anything but table salt unless your a big company (sodium sulfite is so dangerous afterall), and good luck not having the BATF break down your door and shoot your children and dog because you violated some obscure bullshit 'manufacturing a weapon/bomb/scary looking thing that we don't know what it is/flyswatter' law.

I have tons of lab glassware, scary sounding chemicals like potassium ferricyanide and benzotriazole, lots of white powder and digital scales to measure them, high powered power supplies, RF and electronics equipment, lasers, casks of gunpowder and stockpiles of lead and bullets, and more stuff that would make for damn fine TV on the evening news--"Potential terrorist killed in struggle with police--an arsenal of weapons, dangerous chemicals that could be used for chemical weapons, bomb making materials, and communications equipment for communicating with terrorists across the globe were siezed....

My hobbies are photography, shooting/reloading, robotics, and radio.

It's a dangerous world for people that do anything interesting or innovative. In complete seriousness, be careful.

Lasers. (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315472)

Plus sharks; there are quite a few rather small species, you can start with those.

interesting discoveries, new territory (1)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315480)

What R&D hobbies do Slashdotters have that provide them with opportunities to make interesting discoveries and potentially chart new territory in the home?

Chatroulette and Remote Web Cam Control are really big right now.

Do it for the brains (1)

DreamOfPeace (873093) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315504)

One of the benefits of a home lab is raising the general level of your science literacy. There's a large gap between the cursory understanding scientific method - science in the consumer sense - and doing science - science from the producers perspective. Don't do it for the fame. Do it for the humility.

Maths (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315512)

Mathematics. Field is huge, and generally all you need is a pen and paper, and sometimes a computer :). Works for me.

Hobby type research for fun and fun (1, Interesting)

stonewallred (1465497) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315536)

Not really into the money part but the hybridization of cannabis is an enjoyable past-time. And working out new analogues of common drugs is fun too.

Go nuclear, dude! . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315548)

Get your hands on some smoke detectors: []

I'm not a fan of solar energy . . . the sun doesn't always shine . . . and wind? Think tornadoes. Water power? Take a look at Poland right now; that's what water will get you.

Actually, I'm a big fan of the underdog geothermal energy. Just drill down deep enough, and it gets mighty hot there. But I guess geothermal isn't fashionable enough . . . unless you live in Iceland.

Make your sleep lab (5, Informative)

Simonetta (207550) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315556)

In the late 1980s I worked for a biomedical company (BMSI) in Silicon Valley that made EEG equipment. They stored the EEG waveforms on a video tape. The image on the video tape had the EEG waveforms from 16 head sensors on the left of the screen and an image of the patient on the right. Patients would try to get 100% disability checks for life by claiming to be epileptic. They would spend a night in a monitored sleep lab, and then do a little horizontal dance while pretending to be asleep. Our equipment matched the brainwave recording to the image of the patient twitching to verify or disprove nocturnal epilepsy.

    It doesn't really matter that you can or can't do real high-level research at home on DIY equipment. It only matters that you can build calibrated and reliable medical equipment that delivers accurate results at a small fraction of the cost of the equipment used in American hospitals. As we all know, the US medical health care system is collapsing. The recent legal reforms are basically meaningless and consist mostly of administrative and billing changes. If you can do a $1500 sleep apnea test or overnight EEG recording on DIY equipment for $50, then you are a welcome and honored member of the new health care system that is self-generating now underneath the bloated, corrupt, and crumbling official health care system.

  Just be discreet at the present time.

  By the way, instead of digitizing and storing the EEG waveforms directly, do a FFT on 1024 samples. The EEG waveform is basically sinusoidal so it can be recreated mathematically. Determine the formula that will regenerate the recorded waveform sample, and only store the offsets and co-efficients of the sine wave formula that will recreate that segment of the waveform accurately. You will get a 1000-to-1 data compression and be able to get all the circuitry into a hand-held small package.

Connect with People (1)

LionKimbro (200000) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315560)

First: Look up Forest Mims III [] and research his life story and the things he tells people. He is totally encouraging. Don't let his creationist thinking scare you. (I'm not a creationist either, but if you want to learn things in the world, you have to be able to work with difference.)

Second: Unless you're a natural, you're going to need some personal (re-)training, most likely, about how to think about acting, creativity, invention, business, and so on; Be on the lookout for it. Investigate different scenes to find personal contacts, research, and perpetually experiment. You can totally do this, but you'll want someone who can answer your questions and make a personal connection with you, an emotional connection.

Third: Not directly what you're going for, but perhaps something you might want to consider -- forming or joining a society for performing such work? Research Bucketworks [] for an example. There's a group doing DIY/DIWO bio lab research in the LA area. In Seattle, there is Jigsaw Renaissance. There are lots of more special purposed groups as well out there.

CS is an awesome field for this.... (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315570)

CS is an awesome field for this because you don't need expensive equipment, you can run all your experiments on a single computer. Not only that, it's a young field, so you can get to the cutting edge of the field really easily (compared to something like antiquities studies, where you have to go 8 years post-doc before you're likely to come up with something new, they've been working on it for thousands of years, after all).

For example, for me, for the past few years I've been focusing on artificial intelligence, as in, figuring out the algorithm for how the brain works.
Another thing I've wanted to work on is figuring out if P=NP or not.
Another thing is figuring out the best way to teach programming to beginners (I even have my name on a paper in that field, for whatever it's worth)
Another thing that is relatively easy to do, and likely to get you published (which is kind of fun), is a wordprinting program on Shakespeare's works or some other works of disputed authorship.
On the more programming side, there are a number of things to do, for example, build a program to display all the temperatures taken in the world, along with pictures of the thermometers (apparently some guy went around and took pictures of them all). Show visually how the global temperature is taken.

Some of these are obviously really hard, but sometimes it's better to go for something hard that you really want to do. As the quote says, "shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll have landed among the stars." Even if you don't figure it out, you'll have learned something and pushed your limits.

Re:CS is an awesome field for this.... (2, Informative)

greeneggs2000 (739337) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315994)

More generally, mathematics is an excellent field for amateurs, with tons and tons of accessible problems that can be solved with persistence. Check out some of Martin Gardner's books.

Brian Hayes has some similar explorations (

The chance to name something after yourself (2, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315610)

Basically astronomy and biology are your two best bets, if you want your name to live on. Though whether you'd like your name to be associated with a disease is debatable. Sadly astronomy is getting away from the amateur, as the americans have pretty much automated the hell out of asteroid discoveries (at least in the northern hemisphere) with huge automated "discovery factories". You might strike lucky and discover a comet, though.

Biology is more promising, with many opportunities to discover new types of insect in your neighbourhood - or even in your garden. The hours are long, but any discovery has to be earned.

Macro photography (1)

tantrum (261762) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315616)

If you're mainly interested in learning new stuff for fun I would strongly advise you to try macrophotography. It does not have to be that expensive, and it is very fascinating to look or document insects and small things in a way that very few people actually get to experience.

You can get some really nice setups for very little money if you look at some diy projects.

Depending on where you live/travel you might even contribute to scientific discoveries :)

Aerodynamics (1)

Goeland86 (741690) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315648)

Seriously, aerodynamics lends itself well to this. Especially if you're going to do model airplanes. It's not all that expensive to get setup, and you're working with really low reynolds numbers, which is something that'll interest many people because of the search for small flying machines (drones, messenger bots, etc). Couple that with research for an autopilot mechanism and you've got a serious hobby that'll take time and lead to new discoveries without taking all that much money to get new results.

Computing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315654)

Build a working ternary computer, everything ternary.
Balanced Ternary will get you started. Electronics is entirely up to you. (if you even go near it, you can build it in software just as proof-of-concept)
Demo it at some electronics meetings, hope someone is feeling a little happy and bham, hopefully they'd maybe even help fund you.
I'd die to see Ternary Computing come along. Binary, admittedly simpler, is nowhere near as good as a ternary computer could be if done right.
Ternary simplifies a lot of other operations as well, such as error correction.
Let's not forget that it could emulate Binary pretty well too.

Biology is certainly an interesting one to work with.
But for the love of god secure that room to hell and back.
And in case you create some sort of insanity / extreme hunger virus (aka real life zombies), make sure you have in place a system that destroys all particles in the air.
Admittedly this will suck hard for you since you will either be a zombie, or suffocate while in the process.
Experiment with genetic engineering, try to make some interesting bacteria that could do something useful. Or generally just try and screw around with them to make interesting bacteria and wage war between several species to see who wins.
Also, see Kurtz []
This one isn't recommended.
If anything, declare you are making a lab so they can come around and inspect to make sure that it is leak-proof.

Generally anything with electronics. Come up with interesting circuits for whatever.
I doubt you'd figure out something new, but you never know.
You could try playing around with radio to figure out more efficient ways of transmission.

You could always play around with some fringe science. There is still a lot of unknowns out there.
But again, just make sure you take some precautions and know exactly what you are doing (doing, fringe, oh the annoyance) because things could go tits up and you might get hurt.
Go, do it in the name of Walter!

This is everyone I associate with (2, Interesting)

bhima (46039) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315656)

Everyone who is a close friend of mine has these sorts of hobbies. My closest friend has built a complete sleep lab in his home, complete with a sensory isolation tank. This is just part of an extended effort on his part to more fully understand and explore his dreaming and other alternate states of mind.

In my opinion the most interesting things going on now are in biology and that's sort of home lab I am building.

Re:This is everyone I associate with (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32316006)

Careful... he might turn into a monkey

Re:This is everyone I associate with (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32316048)

Hello, could you please ask your friend if he knows good blogs and forums?

I'm interested in the same things, but have a bit of a hard time finding proper places.

Some specific suggestions (2, Interesting)

Okian Warrior (537106) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315672)

First of all, everything previous posted about doing what you love is true. Figure out what you love first.

And the way to do that is to put yourself in a situation where you can't do anything for long periods. Take a 2-week vacation somewhere w/o internet access and little interaction with others - camping, for instance. It takes a couple of days for your mind to finish processing your daily routine and calm down, but once that's over your mind will naturally start to think about things you enjoy.

(Note: This is hard. You have to force yourself to not go off to get mental stimulation somewhere.)

Some specific suggesitons:

1) I strongly believe that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in the subject of AI.

2) If you live near mountains, find an isolated ecological niche and catalog the species there. For instance, find a tall vertical rock cliff with niches which have captured trees and plants fallen from the top. Being essentially isolated from the larger ecology, speciation occurs at these places. Catalog the new species.

3) Go into the woods and find some sort of overhanging rock shelter - of the sort that a hunter-gatherer society might take refuge in during a thunderstorm. Do an archaeological excavation at that spot: Divide it up into rectangles using string, dig down an inch at a time and put the dirt through a sieve and see what you can find. Get any fireplace remains carbon dated.

And let me know if you find something (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315694)

Replying to my own post, if you try any of the above and happen to find anything interesting, I'd love to hear about it.

Contact me through my homepage link, on the title of the post.

Re:Some specific suggestions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315812)

2) If you live near mountains, find an isolated ecological niche and catalog the species there. For instance, find a tall vertical rock cliff with niches which have captured trees and plants fallen from the top. Being essentially isolated from the larger ecology, speciation occurs at these places. Catalog the new species.

This one I'd agree with, and you end up with a knowledge base that takes you anywhere you travel or live. Try looking into something simple, like that moss you're walking on. Decent camera, a little time, and there are plenty of small things around you that are not known, and absolutely discoverable!
But, most of all, find the subject that you like, a lot. Don't have one? Google bryophyte, and have fun.

Plant tissue culture lab (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315676)

I have my own plant tissue culture lab. I grow species that range from relatively common to being extinct in the wild. In order to do so, I have to maintain a workspace that is cleaned with a HEPA filter, run a large pressure cooker that serves as an autoclave to prepare containers of nutrient plant medium, prepare all those media, etc. In a few hundred square feet, a few hundred thousand plants are kept, some of which are grown in cultivation nowhere else.

Patents (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315682)

The problem with doing R&D at home isn't that you might not get results, it is then what to do with them. It takes a large team of lawyers to defend discoveries and such. Patents are expensive, etc. Really, you might end up having to put more money and time in it than the actual R&D if you decide to share your results.

There is a reason why R&D projects generally are taken by large businesses: they have time and money to defend them. The days of buying the newest "toy" and making lots of scientific progress is over, even if you do make progress it will take far too much time and money to defend it than you probably want to do.

Look to nature (1)

musicalmicah (1532521) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315710)

There are all sorts of fantastic contributions you can make simply through daily observation. Wherever you live, nature is happening all around you, and if you are so disciplined as to make daily observations about anything over a significant length of time, you WILL contribute. There are so many factors for which there simply isn't enough solid information. Even the freaking TEMPERATURE can vary ridiculously across short distances. If you have a stellar thermometer and the resources to record that regularly, you can contribute to work done by meteorologists in the area. If you know anything about microbiology, you can study your local lake/river water - you may find something with real world implications for future generations or even just the fisherman next year. Are you into time lapse photography? Think of what you could show your community about how plants behave over time. Are you interested in publicly available growing food in your area? Making an online map of accessible food-bearing trees means creating access to a sustainable food source for a slice of your community.

And if you're into "bio-hacking", why not engage in one of the oldest bio-hacking traditions: growing edible plants. Once you have the experience to do it yourself, you can contribute to your community by sharing that experience, and, even better, helping local organizations grow food for your local food bank [] .

No, you won't make it into a textbook, but you definitely can create real change on a tangible level through hobbyist science.

Rent a Scope (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315774)

A few years ago there was something on Nova about a New Mexico company that would rent out telescopes you can robotically control. []

I'm guessing you'll get better observing conditions than where you are.

Maths ! (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315776)

Do maths : Paper, a whiteboard, a computer and there you go. The number of unsolved problems is staggering. The problems in maths are routinely solved by determined indivduals. Good luck.

New cellular automata rules (2, Interesting)

ynotds (318243) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315804)

While Conway's Life has been studied to death for 40 years and some wider categories of simple rules have been studied exhaustively by others, Golly [] enables you to explore much wider rule sets in the quest of some that are significantly more productive that Life.

For the past 18 months I've been using it to study just one of the Generations rules which were initially surveyed, especially by Mirek Wojtowicz [] , around 2000. I'm focused almost entirely on Generations 345/3/6, running it on 3 machines including one added just for that purpose. But I've recently noted [] that 345/2/4 may be even more productive in terms of novel phenomena, although I'm not planning to switch my own research which is nowhere near finished, let alone properly reported.

Beyond that, Golly also supports RuleTable and RuleTree algorithms which allow you to try an unlimited number of new rules, a few more of which are sure to be a lot more interesting than LIfe itself.

Been there, done that, writing the first paper (2, Interesting)

Waveney (301457) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315808)

As part of Galaxy Zoo, I am leading a project looking at Irregular galaxies. There is masses of data available on the net under SDSS, Galex, Hubble and others. All it takes is a methodical approach to finding a data set then analysing it. We have 18,000 irregular galaxies - the biggest study to date looked at 137 of them, we have rather more. The first paper just needs some time to bring the results together. More papers will follow.

what about bioinformatics? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315832)

After spending almost fifteen years in academic biomedical wet research I quit my position last year to work in the industry in a completely different activity. Now, in my free time (which I do have now, not like when I worked in the academia), I am doing very interesting (at least for me) in silico experimentation. I believe that there is a great potential for bioinformatics, and most biologists have no training at all in computer science, alghorithms, maths, etc. For me its great, I can do only what I really like, do not have to waste my time in the very low probability of success grant writing, no distraction in academic bureaucracy, and still produce high quality science. Of course, one of the keys for me is a great relationship with a very close scientist that still has a wet lab and no informatics skills. When we need to confirm some of the in silico findings she has the capacity to do the experiments.

In conclusion, based on my experience, team up with someone that has the capacity to generate experimental data, there a lot of biologists that are eager to work and developed new techniques to extract information from their experimental activities. Of course, for me was easy because I had the collaborators to work with and a lot of experience in the biology of the issues at study.

I am now enjoying the science that I do at home as I had never enjoyed science before, and although my discoveries are probably more limited than what you can do working at a university, they are still interesting, useful, and good contributions to the scientific knowledge.

Speaking from my Personal Interests... (1)

Mr Pleco (1160587) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315838)

Do what your personal interests are.

In my case it would be one of two things.

1) Breeding fish varieties for either food or profit.

I don't know if you're familiar with aquaculture, but a hardy fish that's easy to raise AND tastes good would have massive profit potential. On the fun side of things, think of the value of a guppy that looks the same as your normal guppy, but has much greater disease resistance or faster growth or more reliable color breeding or whatever. If you can tell ANY business owner that you can increase their profits substantially then you'll perk ears.

2) Computer science/programming.

Especially with artificial intelligence or studying swarm behaviors you can go a long way with just your home computer. For a low cost you can also set up your own cluster for larger scale computing.

Then there's always computer security research...

Get Ahead! (2, Funny)

rueger (210566) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315902)

Try self-trepanning [] and see what's on your mind!

Do what you find interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32315906)

Doing any of these things you mention is possible, even at low cost. The key is to find something that you will find interesting on a persistent basis. Otherwise you will just collect a pile of clutter. I have a telescope and a CCD camera, but I don't use them.. why? Because I'm not wild about driving out somewhere it's dark and spending all night in the cold, to get really nice images. You need to find something that will get you up off the couch or chair (and off Slashdot) and doing it.. It's also nice if the activity can start slow and simple.. setting out to build your own scanning electron microscope is probably not the best plan. Building big Tesla coils is can start by building small ones at reasonable cost, and decide if you really want to devote your garage to it. Likewise rocketry.. you can start small and work up.

If you have a bent for signal processing, then your EEG/EKG thing might be interesting. So would building a radio camera to image things. So would sonar or radio processing (gnuradio, perhaps)?

What about robotics? glorified RC cars aren't all that interesting after the initial thrill, but things that swim or fly or wiggle or walk are much more interesting in the long run.

What about remote observation.. kite cameras etc?

go into art... (1)

pi865 (1434123) | more than 3 years ago | (#32315962)

Visual art has seen a shift in the last 40 or 50 years towards scientifically oriented work (from Op Art's exploration of visual phenomena to Earthwork art). In the last 20 to 30 years it has seen a turn towards project and research based work (eco art, direct action, social sculpture with an environmental bent, art that observes the cosmos), which, read in the context of the art/life blurring of boundaries, are understood as art helping to 'do the work of' science. The thing is, most art people essentially understand science as cargo cult; therefore, given some luck, panache, and interesting presentation, a moderately capable science person could 'frame' their work as an art project, and would be much more likely to receive accolades from the art world, and have their work subjected to serious (if scientifically hopeless) art criticism and discourse, than they would actually getting any of their work into a peer-reviewed journal, much less making a serious contribution to a scientific discipline.

Domotica for self-study (1)

jrest (539296) | more than 3 years ago | (#32316038)

Study yourself, your spouse and/or children. Seriously. Get some domotica installed, and monitor your activities as you lead your life. Formulate hypotheses and vary the circumstances. Besides the challenges involved in getting good readings, you will learn stuff about your family and yourselve that will otherwise always go unnoticed. And if you apply scientific rigor and creativity you might even get some real scientific results.

Alternative energy (2, Interesting)

Smoke2Joints (915787) | more than 3 years ago | (#32316044)

The alternative energy movement was started at the grass roots, and continues to be led by backyard intentors. See youtube for micro hydro, solar concentrators, stirling engines, tesla turbines, and more. Fascinating area of science.

life extension @home (1)

RebelWithoutAClue (578771) | more than 3 years ago | (#32316056)

You could test the effects of certain substances on lifespan of C. Elegans, fruitflies, mice, etc. There's way too little interest from the big guys testing whether substances extend lifespan. [] []

Home science is not a joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32316060)

I disagree with "The probability of you making a significant discovery at home is close to zero."

I don't think the OP is looking for fame or anything. He probably just wants to tinker in his basement in a way that will result in something new and interesting.

You can contribute to the body of scientific knowledge in a myriad of ways: there are probably bugs in your backyard that have little or no scientific study done on them...but may affect the ecosystem in important ways. The aforementioned astronomical studies are another example.

I know of one California fire fighter who studies meteors quite extensively (not meteorites, but rather makes film and radio records of meteors entering the atmosphere).

It will mostly be grunt work- stuff that professional labs are not interested in doing because its not sexy, or big money, or whatever. But it DOES contribute to the body of human scientific knowledge, so is just as valid.

I also think you can set up a pretty rocking home lab for not a huge investment. Between Ebay, government surplus auctions, university auctions, and old fashioned scrounging, you can come up with amazing stuff- electron microscopes, DNA analyzers, ECG/EEG machines, most for a few thousand dollars.

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