University of Connecticut student Spencer Matonis recently launched a start-up company called Coalesce, which provides a database of university research laboratories with the purpose of connecting the global scientific community, Matonis said.
A fourth-semester honors student majoring in both material science and engineering, Matonis currently works in the International Water Resources Laboratory at UConn.
“As a prospective graduate student you could search for your field, or what your interests are, and get a list of a hundred labs of what you’re doing,” Matonis said.
According to Coalesce’s website, professors can display significant features within their labs, while students can search the database in order to find the lab best suited for them. Many students within the scientific community need to find research in labs, but there is currently no real or efficient process, Matonis said.
Fourth-semester mechanical engineering student, Andrew Caratenuto, who has been working in the Computational Thermal Fluids lab for a few months, found his lab position without the help of a resource like Coalesce. Like Matonis, Caratenuto described the process of finding the lab as lacking any real organization.
“I looked up the information on my own and had to sift through lots of different professors' websites,” Caratenuto said. In the end, it worked out and I'm super happy with the lab I've been working in, but the process of finding and pursuing labs was not as straightforward as it could have been.”
Coalesce offers both students and professors “beautiful and intuitive lab pages organized into an efficient manner.” Whereas, currently, lab pages are often very dated and difficult to navigate, Matonis said.
“I definitely feel like the website would help,” Caratenuto said. “The organization is key, and if it gives information on what types of students the labs are looking to hire and open research positions that would be super helpful to students.”
“Part of this project is making it a tool, not a chore, for the professors,” Matonis said.
Since the project is new, the database currently only works in the United States. However, Matonis said he hopes to expand it globally. There is currently nothing else like this database, nor is there any efficient or uniform template of labs, Matonis said.
Matonis is currently working with a freelancer who is assisting him in the coding of the website, as well as his sister, a designer, in order to ensure the website’s efficiency. He is also working with material science professor and department head, Dr. Pamir Alpay. They have met multiple times to discuss the project, as well as worked out an agreement to launch within the material science department, according to Matonis.
"Spencer (Matonis) was in my introductory materials science and engineering class last semester. He mentioned his concept during the course of the semester and we started talking. This was a great idea and an excellent example of entrepreneurship. I am very excited to support Spencer’s initiative,” Dr. Alpay said.
After students choose and receive acceptance into a lab, they are part of a digital lab workspace. This significantly opens up lines of communication through people within the same field, Matonis said.
“The first page, for example, is like a message board, or announcements, and this is all the peers within that lab,” Matonis said. “You’re communicating with your peers and the professor within a shared files folder.”
The digital lab serves as a less intimidating and easier to navigate workspace where students can communicate and share results with other students, as well as professors. The lab pages take minimal information and compact it into a brief summary in order to provide efficiency, Matonis said. He hopes this easier process will help younger students become more involved in research.
“The idea to create an easier way to get research in labs is really great. Thus far, trying to get research has been a bit of a pain for me, since professors often don't email you back and it's frustrating to never even get a response from them. Also, it’s hard to see what labs have free spots in them, and it would be nice to know in advance if it’s even worth emailing a professor,” fourth-semester biomedical engineering major, Katya Morozov, said.
In the future, Matonis hopes the database can work its way into funding and eventually receive grants.
Emma DeGrandi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.