Online platform enables scientists worldwide to collaborate on COVID-19 projects


Representation of global collaboration online

Alumni inspired by the scientific response to the SARS outbreak are developing a platform to help researchers collaborate on global challenges.

Imperial-founded startup SynSapien is developing an open innovation platform to bring together scientists, researchers and innovators from around the world to share data and collaboratively solve global challenges.  

International and interdisciplinary

Using the platform, dispersed groups of scientists can strengthen their research impact through international, interdisciplinary collaboration. Upon logging in, innovators can choose to either launch their own challenge or join any of the active projects submitted by others. Once inside the collaboration space, they can propose ideas, provide feedback on the ideas of others, and rate proposals.

The back-end algorithm propels top ideas and responses and helps the group make decisions. All user interactions are measured, allowing the group to identify key contributors.  

Emergency ventilators 

Representation of a hospital ventilator
Representation of a hospital ventilator

The platform currently has several live projects being worked on by an interdisciplinary community of over 500 scientists, researchers, and students across the world, representing universities such as Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Birmingham, University College London, Georgetown University, and Sorbonne University. This includes a project to design a  low-cost emergency ventilator to help lower income communities respond to COVID-19.   

According to the World Economic Forum, ventilators cost around $30,000 each, making them unaffordable to many healthcare systems in low income countries. SynSapien is inviting scientists and innovators worldwide to design a low-cost ventilator that can be locally produced at a value of less than $99.  

Collaborative innovation  

Compared to other crowdsourcing platforms which run on a competitive model, SynSapien’s system is a collaborative tool that enables large groups of users to innovate together to solve global problems quickly.   

Co-founders of SynSapien, Manolya Adan and Basil Mahfouz, both graduated from Imperial’s MSc in Environmental Technology.   

Manolya Adan and Basil Mahfouz, co-founders of SynSapien
Manolya Adan and Basil Mahfouz, co-founders of SynSapien

The inspiration for their platform came from the response of the scientific community to the SARS epidemic in 2003. 84 scientists from 13 labs across 11 countries collaborated to respond to the epidemic, achieving in one month what each lab would have needed over a year to do.   

As well as healthcare challenges, the platform also supports users to collaborate on solutions for challenges in other fields. A team of scientists are using the platform to collaborate and design a vertical farming system that could thrive in desert conditions, using up to 97% less water than traditional agriculture and helping to tackle the shortage of freshwater resources in arid and semiarid environments.  

A vertical farm
An example of vertical farming

Optimise collaboration 

The SynSapien logo

With researchers working in increasingly larger and more dispersed groups, SynSapien say that they seek to offer an opportunity to optimise collaboration and bring together collective intelligence. This is particularly key for challenges that are time sensitive, such as climate change.   

The team is supported by the Enterprise Lab, which works to support enterprising activity across the College by providing access to state of the art facilities, training, mentoring and a range of programmes to help Imperial’s student innovators develop new business ideas, hone their pitching skills and raise their entrepreneurial aspirations.  

Main image credit: TZIDO SUN /
Ventilator image: Vadym Stock /


Joanna Wilson

Joanna Wilson
Communications Division

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 3970

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Enterprise, Coronavirus, Comms-strategy-Entrepreneurial-ecosystem, Entrepreneurship, COVIDWEF, Alumni, 4IR
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