The idea is simple but extremely useful and promising: a platform that compiles academic papers from various areas where anyone can add comments and notes. The creators of this idea were, of course, Técnico alumni! “A scientific paper is a text that tends to have a greater density of vocabulary and concepts and sometimes it’s difficult to read and analyse. We decided to create an online platform that allows to add comments and notes in order to facilitate their understanding”, explains Luís Batalha, a Técnico alumnus (Physics) and one of the creators of this project. The rest of the team is composed of Micael Oliveira, also a Técnico alumnus (Physics), João Batalha (Luís Batalha’s brother) and Tymor (colleague and friend of João Batalha at MIT in Boston).
Initially, the idea of Fermat’s Library was to share articles read and discussed by the team members: “the first one was the original Bitcoin paper, which is still one of the most read papers” recalls the alumnus. The website continued to grow, so they decided to expand it, allowing anyone to upload and share their own papers. “More recently, we’ve launched a Chrome Extension called Librarian that allows anyone to add comments in any arXiv paper”, shared one of the team members.
Most articles cover topics on Physics, Economics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Biology. If we talk about numbers, and considering that it is possible to add a comment on all arXiv papers through Librarian, the total number of comments is around 1.3 Million. About 4 million people access the platform monthly. Besides the original paper by Satoshi Nakamoto on Bitcoin, there are other articles that have triggered the interest of Fermat’s Library users, such as the article on Ethereum or the shortest paper ever published in a math magazine, written by John Conway and Alexander Soifer. “This paper is even harder to understand without the help of comments,” says the engineering physics alumnus.
The main goal of this project is to make papers more open and accessible and to disseminate scientific knowledge. We believe that 10 years from now there will be much more collaboration and online discussion around scientific articles and we want to witness this”, says Luís Batalha. “There are several demonstrations that show the importance of open and public discussion of scientific papers. A recent example is Terrence Tao’s answer to the Erdős discrepancy problem in 2016, which was strongly influenced for a comment on his blog”, says the alumnus.