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ScienceScape a bonanza for biomedical researchers

Photo of: Amy Molyneux and Sam Molyneux.

Amy Molyneux and Sam Molyneux. Photo: Ralph Sobanski.

Sometimes an invention makes so much sense that the public is amazed it hasn’t been created previously. Such is the case with the scientific research knowledge graph and web platform constructed by ScienceScape, a start-up company founded in 2010 by Sam Molyneux, a University of Toronto PhD student in biomedical physics, and his sister, Amy Molyneux, a web developer and technical project manager.

The idea behind ScienceScape is simple. Sam, Amy and their team have created a database of the thousands of biomedical sciences journal articles being published daily, along with those published in the past, going back two centuries. Each day, the platform organizes and streams the day’s newly published articles, helping researchers to keep tabs on the most recent developments in their fields.

ScienceScape, said Amy, is “like a Twitter for science,” but a Twitter with a difference: articles are also organized according to their impact. Thus, users can determine which are most relevant to their own research, both historically and in terms of recent advances. It also allows them to share papers with networks of their collaborators.

The idea for ScienceScape grew out of Sam’s own research endeavours.

“I was working on bone cancer research and I needed to figure out whom to work with,” said Sam. “I spoke to people over a number of years and concluded that most researchers around the world are unaware of the papers being published every day. It is a crazy problem; nobody knows what is happening in science.”

The siblings realized that there was an online solution and that between them, they could bring it to life. They merged their complementary skills and ScienceScape was born.

The concept is simple, but the execution has been complex. Underpinning the platform are algorithms that “teach themselves to read papers the same way scientists read them.”

“It’s a problem that couldn’t have been solved 10 years ago,” said Amy. “It wouldn’t be possible without cloud computing, advanced data science and machine learning.”

The Molyneux siblings initially funded ScienceScape out of their own pockets, then, in true start-up tradition, turned to family and friends and then to angel investors, from which they have raised over $3 million. In the future, revenue will come from use of the service by corporations, governments and libraries. It is available free of charge to academics.

The start-up has grown to 25 employees, with what Sam calls “a heavy component of data scientists from the best labs at U of T.” The lead data scientist, Aaron Colak, is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science and 50 per cent of their full-time employees are U of T graduates.

Although the platform is up and running, the Molyneux want to enrich the data and improve the user experience based on feedback from current users before they expand to other fields of study.

“The more we understand this platform, the closer we are to using it for other targets,” said Amy.

Added Sam, “It’s our mission to organize and deliver all of the world’s research.”


Learn more about ScienceScape: