ScienceFair: new desktop app with eLife Lens helps research and discovery continue offline

ScienceFair allows users to access and consume science from their desktop using peer-to-peer technology.
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A new app called ScienceFair has been launched that brings the eLife Lens reader to the desktop, allowing readers to access and view research easily while on the go.

ScienceFair's home screen.

eLife Lens uses the online environment to present research in a way that makes it much easier to read and understand article text, figures and data. By making it possible for users to explore this content without losing their place in the article text, Lens helps solve the problem of only being able to see a small part of an article at any one moment – a key reason why many people print off the content to read it. The software has been adopted by other publishers and welcomed by users as it improves and speeds up image-intensive reading.

Such is the benefit of eLife Lens for viewing online manuscripts, that some of its users have been calling for a version that gives them the ability to read articles in the Lens format when offline, such as on an airplane or where a reliable internet connection is difficult to obtain.

To address that need, eLife has worked with Richard Smith-Unna, Cambridge University alum and former Mozilla Fellow for Science, to develop ScienceFair, a cross-platform desktop application built around the powerful eLife Lens manuscript viewer.

eLife Lens reader view inside ScienceFair.

​​​​​ScienceFair will enable desktop users to search, discover and collect up-to-date, open-access manuscripts from eLife, and view them in Lens even when offline. Users of the application will also be able to add new data sources such as PubMed Central. The user-friendly software requires only a simple keyword search to return relevant articles from a number of key sources, which can then be stored and displayed locally via the Lens viewer. The simple user interface pairs each search result with an abstract, along with all metadata, license information and tags related to the full article, to help users more easily determine the relevance of discovered content.

Users of ScienceFair can also organise locally stored papers with a set of customisable tags, enabling flexible management of locally stored manuscript collections. In the near future, users will also be able to share updateable collections of open-access papers with their colleagues via ScienceFair’s powerful peer-to-peer networking, creating new opportunities for collaborative research. ScienceFair allows peers in its user network to locate each other more easily in order to find data stored somewhere in the network. This means it could give users access to some manuscripts even when the original server is down or unreachable, due to state firewall blocks or networking availability issues, for example.

Giuliano Maciocci, eLife’s Head of Product, says: “Supporting ScienceFair provided us with a great opportunity to improve the discovery and use of eLife’s research content, while at the same time helping to bootstrap a community-led project that will benefit the open-access research community as a whole. By working closely with Richard, we were able to ensure that ScienceFair delivers the most value to our users, while overcoming the challenges of packaging a whole new way of discovering research content into a user-friendly, intuitive form.

“The eLife Lens manuscript-viewing format provides numerous advantages over the more traditional PDF format, but up until now Lens was online only. With ScienceFair, we bring some of the PDF’s offline portability to the Lens format while adding a brand new search, discovery and management model to the task of manuscript discovery. This application has a very real shot at replacing the browser as the primary tool for finding, viewing, collecting and sharing relevant research.”

Smith-Unna adds: “ScienceFair grew out of the Code For Science open-source community. We wanted to create a modern tool for discovering and reading science that gives users control over their experience. We knew that eLife’s Lens reader was leading the field in modern reading technology, and connected with eLife to explore collaboration. It’s been great working with eLife to provide readers with the article search and reading experiences they really want and need. The fact that ScienceFair allows users to share and access content, even at times when an internet connection is poor or unavailable, is a fantastic feature that we hope will benefit many, be they authors, editors, reviewers or other interested audiences.

“We now plan to continue working closely with eLife to keep updating ScienceFair’s features and ensure the software is as simple and effective for users as possible.”

Smith-Unna was recommended directly by the Substance Consortium, a group that emerged after the introduction of eLife Lens to provide a JavaScript library for online content editing.

He developed ScienceFair with the Code For Science community. The project was supported by the new eLife Innovation Initiative, a program introduced to provide dedicated, strategic guidance to the organisation’s ongoing efforts in developing new products and technologies in support of its open-access mission. In 2015, 22% of eLife’s £3.9m annual expenditure was devoted to technology and innovation, including the creation of eLife Continuum.

To download ScienceFair, please visit

You can read more about the app at:

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eLife aims to make the communication of results more beneficial for the scientific community as a whole, by operating a platform for presenting research that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science. While eLife has made its name largely through its consultative approach to peer review and the papers it has published, the organisation seeks to improve all aspects of research communication in support of excellent science – from technology and infrastructure to the ways individuals receive recognition. eLife is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust. Learn more at

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