How Open Source Technology is Improving Scientific Research

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Open source software has gained a mass following all over the world due to its collaborative nature. It sparks innovation and a commonality around using software for the greater good. Of all the industries that are benefiting from open source software, the areas of engineering and science appear to be leading the charge due to the common goal of scientists to further their research efforts together.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced its commitment to innovation, and as a result will be releasing its source code for many of its projects. This is a big win for the open source community as it shows that even large, secretive, government based organisations are seeing the benefits of a transparent and collaborative approach to science and technology.

Operating systems

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), based in Switzerland, is another organisation that is open about its use of open source software. This is a big deal as CERN is one of the most revered and respected scientific organisations in the world, with a great level of authority amongst the world’s science professionals.

CERN scientists, physicists, and researchers have been working on dissecting the composition of our universe, using a number of sophisticated methods to study matter and particle interaction. Famous for its particle accelerators and large global network of physicists and researchers committed to the cause, CERN placed a great deal of importance on its collaborative tools and processes.

The open source operating system Linux features heavily in CERN’s set up, as they developed Scientific Linux in conjunction with other labs and educational institutions throughout the world. This gave researchers a common base when it came to research and software installations, which in turn increased the smoothness of collaboration and efficiency of data logging.

Cloud storage

It’s not only operating systems that have benefited CERN and its counterparts, however. Cloud storage is a very large and important component in their research and collaboration activities. The open source Ceph system has benefited greatly from CERN’s involvement, and scientists have in turn benefited from this as data efficiencies and algorithms are improved and continue to do so. In a field where data and research are paramount and central to its activity, improved efficiencies of data sharing have profound effects.


The open source movement is most commonly associated with software development as it is commonly used by software entrepreneurs and developers. However, CERN also set up a hardware based open source community by the name of Open Hardware Repository (OHR). This was released in 2011 and this project aims to increase collaboration in the electronics space. At the time of its initial launch, this was an innovative yet logical development in the scheme of open source development. Software and hardware are linked in many ways after all, and in this age where interaction between the two is becoming more important and widespread, it makes sense for there to be an equivalent open source platform.

With so much collaboration and a true leadership role being played by the world’s greatest scientific research organisations, the future of open source software in the realm of science is looking bright. The benefits of open collaboration and a shared vision for research and data analysis can only help the progression of science.

As the fundamental values of entrepreneurship spread to other sectors, more open source projects will likely emerge and make sense. While there is a commercial compromise when it comes to open source software, the innovation component and rate of progress is insurmountable. Science is a great benefactor of this movement, and as more efficiencies emerge, we’re likely to see even greater leaps in research.

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