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Spotlight on Garry Cooper: Connecting Scientists across Northwestern and the Greater Chicago Community

Created: March 27, 2017
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Garry Cooper has long been aware of the wasteful practices that inadvertently go on in laboratories across college campuses on a daily basis. He received his PhD in Neuroscience from Northwestern in 2014, and went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship through Feinberg Medical School. It was during this time that he first identified a potential solution to this problem. 

“I was cleaning out one of the large freezers we were working with that was filled with materials belonging to a lab member that was leaving,” Garry explains. “Typically you are forced to throw these materials away due to space constraints, but I knew that some of the items could be reused, so I offered them to another lab manager. I had the idea that we could recapture the value lost in old, unused, or surplus equipment to combat the problem of less funding from the government while acting as a way to connect scientists.”

After completing his postdoctoral fellowship, Garry began to form a plan around his idea while working at a consulting company full-time. He decided on the name “Rheaply” and in late 2015 quit his job to pursue this venture full time. His team began building a platform and conducting market research at Northwestern to further define their product and service.

“We did a market survey at Northwestern with 125 students, postdocs, and faculty in over 8 academic departments on both campuses, asking participants about their use practices with current experiments,” Garry says. “We found that 83% of participants would be interested in donating or trading products, and 95% of people said they were not aware of an existing platform being used to do so in their current labs.”

Garry and his team had proof of the need for a platform at Northwestern (and beyond), so they continued to build it out, using an existing platform at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland called “NIH Free Stuff” as a benchmark. Rheaply officially launched on November 1, 2016, and the platform will be released to Feinberg School of Medicine in early April 2017.

Although he was happy with the development of Rheaply’s platform for handling surplus product recycling, Garry wanted to use this opportunity to tackle other issues of connectivity in the scientific community. He brainstormed ways to make scientific research more effective across departments and within the scientific community at Northwestern.

“Interdisciplinarity plays a big role at Northwestern and most R1-universities,” Garry says. “But, buildings are still buildings, and at some point you will run into structural or departmental silos that prevent you from working effectively. I wanted to create a system that would help students and faculty quickly find other collaborators for their projects.” 

This led to the creation of Rheaply’s other purpose: a platform to trade knowledge and find nearby collaborators. Users can post questions they need answered, current projects, or potential job opportunities.

“This other side of Rheaply makes it easy to find other scientists,” explains Garry. “That can be anything from getting help on your chemistry homework to collaborating on a potential paper. We’ve created a social network among scientists so that they can see all of the potential work or partnerships that are out there.” 

For more information on Rheaply and their launch event, visit their website.