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Author: Subject: Chemistry Hackspace: Can it be done?
Zander
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 10:17
Chemistry Hackspace: Can it be done?


Hello folks,

Being a long time fan of both hkparker and Nurdrage on Youtube, it's nice to actually find a forum dedicated to amateur chemistry. I've an idea knocking around in my head for a while and basically wanted to sanity check it with other folks who would be interested in it.

The fundamental idea is of a community supported laboratory, modeled after hackerspaces which have been springing up across the world You pay a monthly fee, you get open access to the lab for equipment use, chemical storage, and disposal.

This would bring a lot of benefits to the participants. No more having to hide your equipment out of fear of being mistaken for a meth lab. Availability of equipment that is priced out of range for most home chemists due to collective bargaining power. Having a physical meeting space to collaborate with other folks with your interests, not to mention having other people around in the lab in case things go sour.

The reason why I'm posting this in the legal forum is mainly to ask this question: What do you think would be required , legally speaking, to make this idea fly in the US?
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 10:20


Most of the people here live quite far from each other (except for a few lucky ones), so I guess this idea isn't very practical...
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Zander
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 10:25


Well, I know everyone here is a bit far flung, but I imagine there are a number of people in large enough city that could support such a lab. There aren't all that many people with interests in 3d fabrication, high energy physics, and etching their own circuit-boards, but there's enough to support, to my knowledge, four different hacker spaces in the greater Seattle area.
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 10:35


I think how spread out we are would be the major set back. I'm not sure about the legality of it but I don't see a problem if its in the right zone. I know I would use it for more complex instrumentation and disposal, but the cost that would go into building a center like that is massive, and I don't think any area has enough home chemists to use it. I have heard of people going to the local universities and getting help using larger instrumentation though.

Also, welcome to the forum :), I'm glad you've enjoyed my videos.




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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 10:35


That sounds like a great idea to me. I would love to take part in something like that. Finding the right location could be challenging though.



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Zander
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 11:05


I've been trying to find resources on how to start small biotech labs, which I imagine on paper is what this idea would most resemble, but I'm not finding anything useful on exactly what sort of zone it'd need to be in, or any of the practical guidelines one would need to follow involving any of the alphabet soup agencies requirements.
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 11:20


In regards to the alphabet soup, locating it outside of the city, with no people directly adjacent to it would simplify things.



A word to the wise: NEUROFEEDBACK

http://citizenworks.org/corp/dg/s2r1.pdf
http://www.newscientist.com/mobile/article/mg21228354.500-re...
http://www.shadowstats.com/article/no-414-hyperinflation-spe...

"To expose a 15 Trillion dollar ripoff of the American people by the stockholders of the 1000 largest corporations over the last 100 years will be a tall order of business."
Buckminster Fuller

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."
Albert Einstein
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 12:11


I had heard one was going to pop up around BFIT here in Boston... I dont know if it ever bore fruit, though.
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 13:12


I don't think the one in Boston ever got off the ground. The only thing I've found kinda like it is the Brussels Hackspace.
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[*] posted on 7-10-2011 at 14:54


I know Make Magazine has a few "tech shops" that have all sorts of shop machines you would ever want, and they do very well, though theres a large need for that kind of facility.



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Zander
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[*] posted on 10-10-2011 at 09:09


Really at this point I'm wondering what sort of person I'd need to talk to that would know how one goes about starting a professional laboratory. I imagine there is some discipline of lawyer that'd be good for this, but I have no idea what they'd be called or how to find one.
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[*] posted on 10-10-2011 at 14:48



A bit off topic but a believe you could rent a 'bomb' in a shop called 'Lawrence Corner Boffin Shop' (in London). It least there was a sign on it saying so!

Dann2
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[*] posted on 10-10-2011 at 17:41


Quote: Originally posted by Zander  
Really at this point I'm wondering what sort of person I'd need to talk to that would know how one goes about starting a professional laboratory. I imagine there is some discipline of lawyer that'd be good for this, but I have no idea what they'd be called or how to find one.


I imagine the biggest problem in the US with this idea would be the liability, and you would need a lawyer that deals with commercial liability. You would also need a good administrative law person to help deal with the EPA, OSHA, DOT, Homeland Security, and everybody else that wants to poke around anything chemical, on a city, state, and federal level.
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[*] posted on 12-10-2011 at 06:08


Quote: Originally posted by fledarmus  
I imagine the biggest problem in the US with this idea would be the liability, and you would need a lawyer that deals with commercial liability.
This is total overkill. You buy an insurance policy for general commercial liability. You read the fine print to make sure that chemistry isn't specifically excluded. It'll be much less expensive per year than rent.
Quote:
You would also need a good administrative law person to help deal with the EPA, OSHA, DOT, Homeland Security, and everybody else that wants to poke around anything chemical, on a city, state, and federal level.
You run your lab like a responsible, professional lab. You want the life and fire safety features anyway. You worry about unwanted attention when it arrives. It would be foolish to avoid starting a group like this for cowering fear in the face of threats that haven't materialized.
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[*] posted on 15-10-2011 at 06:57


You could start with a simple (yet comprehensive) poll of areas where people live who would want to participate. That MIGHT give you some idea of where you would draw from. I've met a few folks from this forum however, I would always have to drive a ways as I live in a rural area & most people are likely to live in urban (or suburban) population centers.



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[*] posted on 18-10-2011 at 01:27


Hi,

I'm new here. I'm a member of the metalab in Vienna, a hackerspace that's been open for what, 5 years now? I saw this topic by accident, and I'd like to weigh in with a few thoughts.

  • Don't fall into the trap of believing there is nobody else/not enough people. If you live in an urban area, there are, almost certainly. There are pidgeon-breeder clubs for gods sake. There are enough co-conspirators. You *will* make it.
  • Don't let yourself waste time by looking for the 50 people you need to pay rent right away. Look for those 5-10 people that really are devoted to the idea, and have the power and resolve to work on it for the better part of a year. Don't waste your time looking for professionals. While the subject requires at least one pro who knows how to handle chemicals, follow regulations etc, you won't need him/her deeply involved for the first phase. If he's one of the devoted people, that's great. But devoted people you need, not titles.
  • Always work on some problem. Don't give up. See it through. This will show the non-go-getters, who'd join your club, but as of yet are like "Well, I don't know if this would work...", that you mean business and that there is enough momentum behind it that they can actually safely commit/donate some money.
  • Work on the housing problem from the start. Always (everybody) be on the lookout for a potential laboratory, this will be the biggest obstacle. From the moment you have your own laboratory, material, machinery and everything else a laboratory needs will come on it's own, I promise. You'll suddenly have volunteers building tables, water, power, ..., chemists bringing in their glassware from their basement, someone will find and refurbish a fume hood etc. Just make sure the place is sufficient in it's substance, i.e. large enough, good traffic connections (*very* important!), has the possibility of ventilation etc.
  • On the same subject, don't get yourself dependent on anyone but your group for the space you're renting. Colleges/companies are a *bad* idea for setting up shop.
  • Collect non-binding declarations of intent from potential members. "If a place is found, I will give xxxUSD for deposit, and xxUSD/month for rent." Collect a lot of these. The more you have, the more you can convince the doubters - and you do need the doubters too, just not for starting out.
  • Always work on the "other" things, like website (wiki!), mailing list, communication. Do not let the information stream dry up, ever.
  • Make sure your landlord is ok with your project. Have all the concept plans on how you'd do it, how it will be safe etc ready - don't start on them the day before viewing a potential club house. Have those declarations of intent, show them that rent will be paid. Bonus: a landlord that supports your goals.
  • You should *strongly* consider all the existing hacker spaces in your town first. Go to them, ask them if they were interested in a chemlab. You will not believe the amount of support you can receive from those people. Don't be afraid that they are "not in your field" or something. We at the metalab would *love* a chemists group at our hackerspace, we even have a small "lab" for wetworks, but it never grew beyond that because chemists are shy of us or did not yet realize how awesome a hackerspace would be.
  • The problem for a hackerspace usually is, that one is not a service institution, but a self-service collaboration. So, if you create a chemlab, someone with interest in it needs to continously maintain it - you'll hear that question a lot: "So who's gonna take care of that?". Keep in mind that those things generally work out anyway as soon as facts are real, but it's good to have a general idea of the day-to-day operation.
  • On a related note, don't overindulge in planning. Don't hold yourself up with "what-ifs" of circumstances that might not even be a problem. We had a lot "what if nobody does this", "what if someone sets fire to the place" etc. If we had indulged in those worries, there would not have been a metalab. Play it safe, but only reasonably, non-obstacle safe. Solve problems quickly or postpone them for when they actually occur.
  • Hackerspaces provide other benefits than just already having a space on their own: community, exchange of knowledge (I'm guessing the 3d-printing crowd would collectively prematurely ejaculate in the presence of chemists that have a working knowledge of polymers), exchange of ideas, broader opening times due to a larger (keyed) member base, the opportunity for not-yet chemists to dabble around, and vice versa. The quality of interdisciplinary exchange at a hackerspace will blow your mind. You can only profit from such a cooperation, provided that there is room for you. And even if there isn't, you might receive financial support from those guys, because, as previously mentioned, they generally have a hard-on for science/making that is out of their own field of interest.
  • Don't let egos get into the way. Have your one showman that can create a reality-distortion-field on 2AA batteries, but leave it at that. Get rid of people that need their egos stroked for the first two phases.
  • Don't let money be an issue. Participation >> money. Be open, be prepared to spend a little, have people prepared that can and will take responsibility (i.e. be on the lease), don't let people not participate because they can't afford it. That would be a shame. On a related note, open-door policies are the best. Reduce the accessibility level for "non-professionals" to a bare minimum, if you need it at all.
  • Public support is important. No matter if you want to do your own thing or join a hackerspace - talk to newspapers, post on college blackboards etc to make your group known to the public and receive unexpected support in various forms.
  • Even if you don't want to be part of a hackerspace, hackerspaces are full of like-minded people, and they really do like to help your cause. Expect a lot of support in form of donations (you need to ask for it though) and expect them to show up for your parties/seminars/open-door-days if you so communicate. We here in central europe have made it a fun sport to travel to opening-events of new hackerspaces (which usually cost an entry fee) to spend money and give support.
  • Oh, and visit the appropriate websites, sign up to their mailing lists, and make your intention known. Only good can come from that. Also, I just noticed that there are a lot of great write-ups and hints on there, such as http://hackerspaces.org/wiki/Design_Patterns - look through this website, it's a great resource for your project.


I hope I could help clear things up a little. Now I'll be back to what I came here for: looking for beginners tutorials ;)

last edit: god I feel like an asshole. Sorry, I didn't notice that your actual question wasn't "How do I setup a chemlab" but

> The reason why I'm posting this in the legal forum is mainly to ask this question: What do you think would be required , legally speaking, to make this idea fly in the US?

I have only one answer to that: go and find a friendly company that operates a lab and get help from the person that's responsible for running it. My whole advice will now reduce to: use the hackerspace communication channels to find such a friendly company or such a person. The probability is high that someone will know someone, and the likelihood of helpful people showing up will increase. The hackerspace (or uni prof, or what have you trusted connections) route will ensure that people won't think you're about to open a methlab cover op, a presumption which, from what I hear from the US, will be the biggest hinderance to your endeavour.

Sorry for not reading...

one last (really) edit: Consider just doing it. Don't hang the project on the idea that something awful must happen if you don't please the ghosts of three letter agencies with ritual sacrifice of bureaucracy and sanity. If somebody shows up, explain what you do. But cover your ass by making sure drugs are a no-no. As http://hackerspaces.org/wiki/The_Grace_Hopper_Pattern says: when in doubt, do it.

[Edited on 18-10-2011 by elpollodiablo]
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elpollodiablo
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[*] posted on 18-10-2011 at 02:11


Quote: Originally posted by watson.fawkes  
Quote: Originally posted by fledarmus  
I imagine the biggest problem in the US with this idea would be the liability, and you would need a lawyer that deals with commercial liability.
This is total overkill. You buy an insurance policy for general commercial liability. You read the fine print to make sure that chemistry isn't specifically excluded. It'll be much less expensive per year than rent.
Quote:
You would also need a good administrative law person to help deal with the EPA, OSHA, DOT, Homeland Security, and everybody else that wants to poke around anything chemical, on a city, state, and federal level.
You run your lab like a responsible, professional lab. You want the life and fire safety features anyway. You worry about unwanted attention when it arrives. It would be foolish to avoid starting a group like this for cowering fear in the face of threats that haven't materialized.


What he said. Squared. Don't overindulge in the what-ifs, just get all information you need and cover your bases. People are a lot more responsible and well meaning that usually credit is given for. We might be blessed in europe for our not-so-litigous culture, but we also tend to do dangerous things in our hackerspaces, and as of yet, nobody got hurt. Just don't be negligent with the important things.
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[*] posted on 18-10-2011 at 06:44


Quote: Originally posted by elpollodiablo  
I'm a member of the metalab in Vienna, a hackerspace that's been open for what, 5 years now? I saw this topic by accident, and I'd like to weigh in with a few thoughts.
At risk of starting a mutual back-scratching society, I will heartily recommend the above-referenced post. While I've not been involved in a hackerspace as such, I have with similar kinds of things, and every item in the referenced post rings true.

-----

As to the overall topic, there's a practical way to get started. Announce a meeting. See who shows up. If no one shows up, the downside is that you have spent an hour in a public place reading and the transportation time back and forth. If you can't tolerate that minuscule amount of downside, you're really not the right person to try to get something like this started. On the upside, people show up and you get started.

If no one shows up, announce a second meeting three months later. See who shows up. There are plenty of people who will come to a second meeting who won't bother with the first. Now, repeat as necessary. Eventually you will find interest. You're random sampling at first, but also creating a nexus for people to hang memory and conversations on. Friends of people that are interested are more likely to recommend an unknown if it has a shred of solidity to it (the repetition) than some random appearance.

Persistence pays off.
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[*] posted on 18-10-2011 at 07:03


Quote: Originally posted by watson.fawkes  

Persistence pays off.


Gosh, yes, that's probably the most important point. Persistence/continuity and real life meetings.

scratch
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[*] posted on 19-11-2011 at 23:50


First of all, I'd like to apologize for going quiet here. I had a bit of an accident a few weeks ago involving a hill, ice, and my ankle that has laid me out considerably since then. I'm glad to see some discussion went on in my absence. My current priority is to get a web presence set up, a meeting scheduled once I'm a bit more mobile, and fliers to hand out at the local hackerspaces. We'll see how it goes from there.
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[*] posted on 25-11-2011 at 01:42


If only this were possible. Honestly, I doubt anyone would show up. If anyone DID show up, it probably wouldn't be because they were interested in science/chemistry. I wish you luck with this but, I've become pretty jaded about the number of people who are interested in hands-on, hobbyist science. Even at my school most chemistry majors aren't really that interested in chemistry (at least not to the point of wanting to think about it in their spare time). Maybe this isn't indicative of the rest of the country/world but I fear that it is. Here's hoping...



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[*] posted on 1-2-2012 at 09:27


Quote: Originally posted by Mister Junk Pile  
If only this were possible. Honestly, I doubt anyone would show up. If anyone DID show up, it probably wouldn't be because they were interested in science/chemistry. I wish you luck with this but, I've become pretty jaded about the number of people who are interested in hands-on, hobbyist science. Even at my school most chemistry majors aren't really that interested in chemistry (at least not to the point of wanting to think about it in their spare time). Maybe this isn't indicative of the rest of the country/world but I fear that it is. Here's hoping...


I've met one person in my entire chemistry class that was actually interested in pursueing chemistry on the side. She was into energetics, something that doesn't stimulate me one bit. So she tended to not speak of me. She did tell me she knew of this site, though.
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[*] posted on 1-2-2012 at 10:40


Quote: Originally posted by Mister Junk Pile  
If only this were possible. Honestly, I doubt anyone would show up. If anyone DID show up, it probably wouldn't be because they were interested in science/chemistry. I wish you luck with this but, I've become pretty jaded about the number of people who are interested in hands-on, hobbyist science. Even at my school most chemistry majors aren't really that interested in chemistry (at least not to the point of wanting to think about it in their spare time). Maybe this isn't indicative of the rest of the country/world but I fear that it is. Here's hoping...



i agree , even though i would be thrilled to participate in such an endavour i just dont see much of an interest in my entire city.
other than meth cook ,k3wks, and free energy green conspiracy theroist ...
of course i could be wrong but its been said before we are just too far apart!
i thought of a similar idea in the past and maybe start it out in my home to begin with , put an add on craigslist and after 2 months 2 peoples were interested. one wanted to make hydrogen for a car the other was too far away and disappear after a week.
besides , here in the US the security (someone breaking in to steal stuff, i am in Detroit BTW) and the safety involved (liability) is overwelming.


[Edited on 1-2-2012 by neptunium]




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[*] posted on 1-2-2012 at 16:00


My biggest concern is the legal issues that the legal owner could face. What happens when some new guy decides to make drugs in your lab, not knowing he's been tailed by the police for the last year, and gets the whole place raided? Do the others get charged as accomplices? Simply being present in a house where controlled substances are used and sold will get you charged with a crime. Does the same apply at places where controlled substances are manufactured?

Don't make the mistake thinking you could spot obvious drug cooks, a lot are very interested in chemistry itself and there are more analogs than anyone can commit to memory. I'd make sure you talk with a lawyer first about this and make sure all your bases are covered. The US "justice" system can be cruel and unmerciful.

[Edited on 2-2-2012 by madscientist]




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[*] posted on 4-3-2012 at 09:43


It's a great idea and you're not the only one to come up with it, but I have one comment to make. If people on this forum cannot get along with each other as it is, what makes you think we would all co-operate peacefully if they were all brought together in the same lab?

Think of the rivalries and animosity on this forum as it is ^^
I'm speaking to regular users, Zander might not yet have a sense for who's who.

This could work in urban areas, but it seems -as others have pointed out- that we are very spread apart.

The only way to really know for sure how spread apart we all are, is to compile statistics. We could all anonymously type in our latitude and longitude coordinates and from this we could get a sense as to how spread apart we are. This would only work when everyone is honest, and for everyone to be honest, anonymity would be required (for obvious privacy reasons). Polverone would have to make an announcement so that such an undertaking does not go unnoticed.

Considering we only have about 400 or so regularly active SciMad users, statistics should not be too difficult to compile.

Does anyone think such an undertaking is a good idea for a start? Who knows, we might all be living next door...




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