OurSci Reflectometer: a tool to empower scientists and communities to better understand the land

OurSci Reflectometer: a tool to empower scientists and communities to better understand the land

Marie Zedler on February 5, 2023

To answer questions about the real world using the tools of science, OurSci is a small team supporting the development of research capacity for community-driven science.

We asked OurSci ‘Why is your work important?’

“Up till now, most problems that were addressed in science are the ones which are concrete and relatively simple – those where you can apply hypothesis testing to get the answers. However, in the future, those are not the questions left to answer. Instead, questions that we want to answer require information from many people and locations – you need context. You cannot do this in a lab with two people. The science of 100 years ago is not the science of 100 years in the future.”Greg Austic, co-founder of Our Sci

To be able to find solutions to wicked problems, OurSci develops tools that are for large numbers of communities to use, focusing mainly on software development, but also, to a smaller extent, on low-cost instrumentation. The goal is to create better-designed systems for sharing information among diverse communities, often with non-experts in the field.

The tools developed by OurSci include SurveyStack, SoilStack and the Reflectometer.

SurveyStack is a data collection, management and analysis platform that is intuitive, and allows for flexible data processing and visualisation. It is built to serve the community collecting the data and therefore allows for efficient and transparent data sharing. SurveyStack has already been applied e.g. by  Beneficial Bio, a distributed manufacturer of biological reagents, which uses the surveys to manage their in-lab procedures and quality control.

SoilStack is a user-friendly open source, cross-platform app designed to support smart agricultural and environmental sampling. It balances high results confidence with a low sampling cost and captures in-field patterns of spatial variability to guide the user to ideal sampling points. In addition, SoilStack’s administrative tools can also help project managers keep track of sampling projects.

The Reflectometer is a low-cost, fast and easy-to-use tool that emits ten discrete wavelengths from 365nm to 940nm to measure the spectral reflectance of a sample and makes functional predictions. Applications for the reflectometer include estimating nutrition in food, predicting soil carbon and measuring chlorophyll in leaves. The product is open source and usable in field conditions.

The communities OurSci tends to work with are largely placed in agriculture. Examples of OurSci projects include work with The Bionutrient Institute, a non-profit collaborative empirically assessing nutrient density in crops and its link to soil health, OpenTeam, a farmer-driven collaborative developing tools to improve soil health, as well as the MSU Snapp Lab, which is conducting a large-scale agroecology study in Malawi on precision agriculture.

We live in a world where, thanks to computers, the internet and the democratisation of tools, many people have the potential to collaborate and learn together. OurSci wants to see a world where any community can solve even the hardest problems using their own skills and resources.