Code for Science and Society

To develop software for open, reproducible, version-controlled, and testable spreadsheets

  • Amount $394,000
  • City Portland, OR
  • Investigator Nokome Bentley
  • Year 2017
  • Program Digital Technology
  • Sub-program Data & Computational Research

A whole lot of science takes place in spreadsheets. Many researchers still bring their data into Excel as a convenient environment for exploration and analysis. Unfortunately, Excel has none of the attributes of a modern platform for reproducible computational research: it is not easily extensible to interoperate with data repositories; does not easily allow for version control; and cannot take advantage of substantial investments in open source scientific software packages. Nokome Bentley, a New Zealand-based fisheries scientist and software developer, has been developing a project called Stencila Sheets, an authoring tool that offers users familiar Google Docs–style interfaces, but is something quite different under the hood. His vision is a spreadsheet where each cell can hold data or code written in R, Python, Julia, or several other computing languages, with the output of a given cell addressable by any other cell in the sheet. The proximate goal is not to develop a direct competitor to Excel, but rather to offer spreadsheet users an easy bridge into the open-source ecosystem of reproducible computational science. Funds from this grant will allow further development of the Stencila platform over the next year, including increased integration with the Jupyter computing ecosystem, the development of a standalone desktop client, and the addition of features like real-time collaboration and import/export from other platforms.

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