New Philanthropic Venture Provides Free Open Access Software

New philanthropic venture provides free open access software to help university scientist remain on the cutting edge of research

A new 40-million-dollar philanthropic initiative named “Virtual institute for Scientific Software” was created by Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO) and Wendy Schmidt, hoping to bridge the gap between academic institutions and the lack of software needed to remain on the cutting edge of research. The initiative will provide funding for the next 5 years to potentially solve this problem.

Data is the lifeblood of science. As time moves forward, the data sets are becoming significantly larger to the point where you need specialized software to extract meaning and trends from these datasets. Unfortunately, many universities run on shoestring budgets and therefore require students, post-docs, and PIs to write homemade patched together software programs to analyze these datasets on shifting platforms with no continuity from computer to computer.

The institute will help to provide to academic scientists more robust, sophisticated, modifiable, and scalable “open-source” software needed to accomplish such tasks. The flagship institutes that will participate in the program’s inaugural beginnings include Georgia Institute of Technology, John Hopkins University, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Washington.

The new virtual institute will provide 2 million a year to each university to hire a dedicated team of professional software engineers to meet each university’s needs and provide software services to all departments of the university. This team of software engineers is essential in the success of this initiative due to many highly skilled software engineers finding jobs within the government or private sector because their chance of promotion and long-term career development is greater than in an academic position.

However, each center will pay slightly below what the private sector for the same service, with the reward being instead of constant optimization of currently written software, the engineers will be able to write, produce, and support software used to unravel and analyze the fabric of the universe or help to map the mysteries of the mind.

One may also envision large government funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or National Science Foundation (NSF) jumping on board with the current initiative and accelerating its progress and sustainability.