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Richard Smith-Unna


What institution are you based at currently?

University of Cambridge

What is your role at the institution?

Graduate student

What research fields are you in?

Plant biology, agriculture, bioinformatics, computational biology

What is your research focus? 50 words max

Photosynthesis is broken. We are fixing it to greatly increase yield limits in rice and alleviate mass hunger. We study how a highly efficient variant of photosynthesis works at the genetic level, then we rebuild it in rice. My focus is to write software that makes the genetic analysis possible.

(50 words)

Describe to us your current research team. 50 words max

We are fuelled by cake and driven by humanitarianism. We have families and lives that come first. We give more than people expect because we care about what we do. We have assembled from 6 countries and we collaborate with colleagues in many more. We have a lot of fun.

(50 words)

Cover Letter. 250 words max

Dear Mozilla Science Lab,

We belong together.

Like Mozilla, I represent openness in everything I do. Like the Mozilla Science Lab, I have a proven track record of building communities and tools that make science more open and accessible.

Over the last three years I have carefully studied how to shift research practise to be more collaborative, iterative and open. My work on - a sister to Mozilla Science's Collaborate - taught me that non-scientists love science and want to help. On the ContentMine project I've learned to listen to researchers. Hundreds of frustrated scientists told us how they want to mine the scientific literature but are scared of publishers, so we built tools and resources to help them do it efficiently and safely. I've sought every opportunity to develop and deliver training so that I can get better at helping people learn. Within Cambridge and worldwide I have built a network of collaborators who inspire and support me. I have successfully challenged the closed culture of science and changed working practise in my lab and beyond.

The Mozilla Fellowship in Science is a perfect fit for me, and for Cambridge. With our combined experiences, resources and determination we will create dramatic and lasting change in Cambridge and in the global science community.

Yours, Richard Smith-Unna

Upload your resume

Supervisor name

Julian Hibberd

Supervisor title


Supervisor email

Supervisor phone number

Letter of support from your supervisor

Describe to us how open science advances your research. 100 words max

My typical day: Check Twitter. Learn about new preprint that solves a problem I had. Now Github. Sweet, someone has fixed a bug in my code! OK, to work... Trying to analyse some data, but this tool is crashing. No problem. I only use open source software, so fix it and make a pull request. Results look nice - share with lab mates and collaborator (who I met on Twitter). Want to compare to a previous paper. Their data are CC-0, so that's easy. But can I trust their data? The pipeline is open, so: clone, read code, run... confirm!

(100 words)

What work are you currently involved in that's relevant to being an open science leader? Are you leading any projects related to open science? 100 words max.

All my work is open science. I practise open science by pushing the boundaries of working openly in my PhD and leading our lab's open source software development. I advocate open science in public and private, on social media, in publications and in communities on and offline. I enable open science by running training and workshops in the UK, EU and Africa; developing software (in the ContentMine project) that enables reuse of the literature at unprecedented scale; starting the BioJulia project, now a thriving open bioinformatics community; and founding to enable people to contribute their skills to scientific research.

(100 words)

How would this fellowship accelerate your work? 50 words max.

The fellowship will unleash me. Using my spare time and energy I have made contributions in several areas of open science. With Mozilla and the open community in this city, all my energy will be focused on helping Cambridge become the shining example of open science it ought to be.

(50 words)

What do you see as the opportunities for impact around open research at your university? Could you leverage this opportunity in a potential project? 100 words max.

Cambridge is a city of open people and organisations. The energy of its graduate students is incredible. When they care about something, the whole University cares. I will implement a new training program to excite biology graduate students about open science. The program will bring together the local open science community to create and deliver material. It will unite the community to drive political change. I will cultivate support within the university to keep the program sustained in the long term. The curriculum, materials and strategy will be packaged as an open template that can be implemented at other universities.

(100 words)

What do you think needs to change most immediately in the system? 50 words max.

I think the crucial problem is cultural: being closed by default, with the perception of openness as a threat or risk. Those who reject this culture and embrace openness are highly visible on the internet but do not hold the balance of power or opinion in many institutions and communities.

(50 words)

What project in the field do you find most inspiring to further science and the web? 50 words max.

The PeerJ - it changes everything for science publishing by using the modern web effectively. It is a publishing platform with user experience, technical execution, and business model that raise the bar like nothing before. It's open all the way down and shows that publishing can be inexpensive and easy.

(50 words)

Why is the the open web important to you? 100 words max.

Note: this question is a bit ambiguous. The 'open web' could refer to the Open Web Movement and the associated Open Web Platform, which Mozilla is heavily involved in. Or it could refer to the use of the web to further open science, which I suspect is how most applicants will interpret it. The first is much more important, so I'll go with that.

The open web shaped who I am and the society we live in. As a collection of free technologies it supports many of the greatest resources of the modern age. It empowers people to change themselves and the world. As a culture it proves that free sharing and communication work and that open should be the default in all human endeavour. Platforms built on the open web are where I got my education and how I connect with the people and communities I care about.

(85 words)

GitHub or other code repo

Website or portfolio

Links to other relevant work

Publications: Presentations: ContentMine: BioJulia:

Do you speak any languages other than English? If yes, please list them.


How did you hear about the fellowship?