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The Super Mind:
Tackling problems in life science with creativity, collaboration and community By Bill Hamilton

What does it take to create and cultivate new ecosystems for global science? How do we break down some of the barriers that obstruct the engagement of diverse communities of scientists and citizens?

Collaboration is a critical component of solving the toughest problems in life science. But statistics show that the current industry landscape limits access to and education in the fields of life science and biotechnology. UNESCO notes a "steady decline of enrollment of young people in science" and their Science Report Towards 2030 found that reported numbers of researchers lack representation from low-income countries.

Across the industry, scientists must constantly seek out ways to break down barriers that obstruct meaningful connection and conversation for increased progress.

One growing strategy is to diversify community engagement with science, increasing accessibility so participation in the scientific community is less limited by cost and narrow views of qualification. Pursuing that goal, the expanding life science industry has played an active role in the emergence of community bio labs. These grass-roots spaces empower and engage a population of scientists from richly diverse backgrounds, creating a community of strong advocates for the value of "technical marginality."

If you're trying to solve a problem in the life sciences, the person that is most likely to come up with the most disruptive and innovative idea is going to be somebody as far from the life sciences as you can think of.

— Dr. David Sun Kong

Supported by social science research, the concept of technical marginality correlates increased problem-solving success with the inclusion of diverse participants. Leveraging broad perspectives brings new angles to complex problems, increasing the opportunity for innovative solutions. The notion aims to move regimented industries beyond traditional and technical boundaries to embrace collaborative innovation.

Dr. David Sun Kong, director of MIT Media Lab's Community Biotechnology Initiative, calls it "innovation at the edges."

"If you're trying to solve a problem in the life sciences, the person that is most likely to come up with the most disruptive and innovative idea is going to be somebody as far from the life sciences as you can think of," he said.

So, who can participate in science? This dynamic perspective expands the answer: "the super mind."

Kong uses the term to refer to the power of collective intelligence, referencing Thomas W. Malone's Superminds: The Surprising Power of People and Computers Thinking Together. The super mind embraces how community-based participation enhances science — and vice versa. It highlights the importance of diverse perspectives rooted in shared needs, vision and ethics as the keystones to scientific innovation.

Dr. David Sun Kong talks about the value of diversified collaboration.

In Kong's world, these shared values anchor a growing network of more than 1,600 Fab Labs worldwide. These spaces empower young entrepreneurs with no formal life science backgrounds to actively embed themselves in current, innovative and impactful science. Their projects tackle everything from solar houses to wireless internet, from digital fabrication to self-sufficient cities. With the same inspiration, Kong founded the Global Community Bio Summit — a major step toward increased equity and engagement with life science for all, that drew over 350 attendees at 2019's Summit 3.0.

Kong's approaches toward enhancing the access and affordability of life science materials also touch on the whimsical. Through collaborations with colleagues, Kong's teams have hacked electric flyswatters to engineer $10 DNA electroporators. Another of his projects engaged in high-throughput microbiome sampling by translating the human microbiome to music. The work stands as proof of concrete results from innovative creativity and the boundless potential of thinking outside-the-box.

A growing movement continues, committed to providing a space for the global community of DIY biologists, community biologists, biohackers, biomakers and members of independent and community laboratories. This builds upon the plethora of research already reported that diversity and collaboration hold the keys to transformational breakthroughs in science.

Harnessing the power of "the super mind," the industry can convene, plan and build fellowship in pursuit of fundamentally transforming the life sciences and democratizing biotechnology.