Scientists Ask the Crowds for Cash

Published Feb-27-12

An open innovation experiment that used crowdfunding to secure financial backing for scientific research.

#The SciFund Challenge, United States

The Story:

Scientists Ask the Crowds for Cash In order to carry out research, scientists need funding, and the conventional way to get funding is to apply for a grant from government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or private foundations. However, it can be a long and drawn out process involving a nerve-wracking wait for the thumbs up or down. There are no guarantees that a project will be bankrolled.

Crowdfunding for Science

The #SciFund Challenge was an experiment that introduced a new way of coming up with funding for scientific research – tapping into the purses, wallets and check books of the crowd. The organisers behind the challenge, biologists Dr. Jai Ranganathan and Dr. Jarrett Byrnes had seen how crowdfunding had worked for the arts and for charities, and they wondered if it would be a success with the sciences.

The #SciFund Challenge partnered with crowdfunding site RocketHub to secure funding for a list of unique and worthy projects. The initiative was also a way for scientists who are doing fundamental research to interest the wider community.

“For the first time in human history, science has the ability to be funded by “the people,” as opposed to endowments, wealthy patrons, or the government,” said Brian Meece, CEO and Co-founder of “Even cooler, through the#SciFund Challenge folks get access to the excitement of making science.”

Exciting the Public about Research

Forty-nine scientists in five countries and from a range of disciplines (including ecology and computer science) signed up to crowdfund their research.

Visitors to the #SciFund Challenge website were able to look over a number research projects and then make donations to any that sparked their interest. Each proposal included videos, blogs and descriptions that could be read by the public, unlike the ivory tower language of journals. Some scientists seem to forget that they don’t have to make things simple, just simpler (with thanks to Einstein for that line).

Among the projects hoping for funding were a pilot study of ancient DNA, a long-term study of ancient elephants in the wild, and research into cell division of yeast to help understand cancer.

Many of the scientists said they would stay in touch with their donors throughout the course of the research to keep them apprised of progress.

This experimental crowdfunding initiative was open for six weeks and during that time $76,230 was raised for science, from 1440 contributors.

Funding of the Future?

The project was a success, so does this sort of crowdfunding approach for scientific research have a future?

It is perhaps too soon to tell, but there are those who see it as a viable alternative to the grant system. With university budgets being squeezed, and some foundations not being as generous as they once were, crowdfunding scientific research could well see its value and impact grow during the coming years.

The money raised was very useful to the scientists, but the principle aim of the #SciFund Challenges was to make a connection between science and the general public.

In an interview with Scientific American co-founder Jai Ranganathan said,
"My vision for the future is that every scientist has a public face, where they're updating people about their science and people can directly connect to it."

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