Crowdfunding… for science! Some thoughts in media res.

This is a guest post by Rachel Aronson, who’s project Climate Refugees: Don’t let their culture melt away” is currently featured on Petridish.

When my advisor, Kiki Jenkins, asked me two months ago if I could pull together a crowdfunding proposal for Petridish in one weekend, I wasn’t thinking about what it all meant. I was too busy writing, editing, and conning my good friend Dave into making the video (and my boyfriend into being the boom operator).

Once the video, photos and my project summary had been mailed off, I had the chance, somewhat belatedly, to do a little thinking about what the real implications of crowdfunding a science research project are.

At the beginning, the worst part of crowdfunding my thesis research on climate refugees was that I had to face my own fears about showing people what I want to do before I have any research to back it up, and being afraid that the world was going to laugh in my face. The best part has been finding out that if an idea is powerful enough, people are willing to back you first and then give you the chance to go out and learn something new.

Then there were practical questions. How can I tweet my project in a way that people want to read? When will my Facebook friends start thinking that I’ve gone overboard with updates? I think I’ve been walking that tightrope by sharing content about climate (and not just my own, but other people’s work that I find interesting). No one has defriended me… yet.

Crowdfunding has been a great personal adventure. Seeing that so many people also want to know how place-based cultures can survive climate change has been a huge confidence booster. I’ve been interviewed by an Australian journalist. One classmate told me that my video made her cry. People whose work I really admire have backed the project, and people who I’m meeting online for the first time have donated too.

Currently, I personally know just one out of every six backers on my project. That’s five out of every six backers who are total strangers, just people who agree that it’s important that we put a human face on climate change.

As the next two weeks close, I’m excited to see who else I can connect with through this project. As I start making concrete plans to go to Alaska and meet the people who I want to write about, it’s exciting to know that it’s not just me, I have a whole crew cheering me on.

An interview with Maria Wojakowski

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring posts from researchers who’ve posted projects on Petridish, highlighting their backgrounds, research interests and experience with the funding process.  Our next interview is with Maria Wojakowski, a doctoral candidate in biology at Stanford. View her project, called “Tracing the route of the green sea turtle in Peru.”

Q: Tell us a little bit about your research interests.

Highly migratory marine animals have always been fascinating to me because we see so little of their travels.  Sea turtles are a particularly good example.  Scientists monitor female sea turtles that come onto beaches to nest and watch the hatchlings emerge and run off into the ocean.  At that point, though, the life of a turtle becomes a mystery.  We currently lack the technology to follow a hatchling from the time it leaves the beach to the time it reaches a foraging area as a juvenile, and we are just starting to learn about the movements of juveniles.  Research that focuses on learning about sea turtle migrations and movements is absolutely necessary to ensure their survival.  Since most sea turtle species are in danger of extinction, I am very interested in learning as much as possible about their movements so we can protect them.

Q: What inspired you to become a scientist?

I always loved animals, but I grew up in Brooklyn in New York City, where wildlife is not very common.  When I was around eight years old, we started to see people selling hatchling turtles on the street.  I was awestruck when I saw the little buckets filled with hatchlings swimming in a frenzy.  When my mom finally let me bring one home, I started doing some research.  I found out that these turtles were invasive and that they should never have been in New York City.  I became interested in the way humans and animals interact, and why human activity leads to the decline of animal populations so often.  I think this was my first inspiration for pursuing conservation biology.

Q: Why did you decide to post your project on Petridish?  

I was fortunate to have spent time working with ProCaguama, an organization that works with fishing communities in Baja, Mexico to decrease sea turtle bycatch, or incidental capture in fishing gear.  The experience revolutionized the way I thought about science and conservation.  Often scientists are pictured as solitarily working in their “ivory tower.”  In ProCaguama, scientists work hand in hand with fishermen and the whole community to save sea turtles.  Everyone could help, from the smallest child to the eldest fishermen, and it was inspiring to see how much more could be accomplished with the help of the community.  After all, this is our world we are trying to save.  It only makes sense that we involve all of its citizens.  This is why I posted my project on Petridish, to stay true to that philosophy and provide the opportunity for the greater global community to get involved in conservation.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found in your
research so far?

There have been a number of more scientific surprises, but I think the most shocking discovery in the process of getting this research started is how incredibly powerful sea turtles are in the water.  We always see turtles portrayed as “slow and steady” but this is certainly not the case!  We need to handle and often catch the turtles to take samples and tag them, and you find out very quickly that you need to be a pretty good athlete to keep up with these guys in the water!

Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you in the
field?

Catching more turtles than expected!  There is nothing like having a boat full of turtles crawling around creating chaos.  No matter how hard or fast you try to work, they step all over papers and knock things over, like having a bunch of kids running around your living room.  There is nothing to do but sit back and laugh!

To read more about Maria’s research, ask questions or back her work, view the project page:

Tracing the route of the green sea turtle in Peru

Sea turtles are the ancient mariners of our oceans.  After hatching on a beach, they cross thousands of miles of ocean to reach areas with food. Yet, little is known about where these green sea turtles go and how they migrate.

 

New projects on Petridish.org: 4/9/2012

A new group of exciting science projects has launched on Petridish.org, offering opportunities for backers to help make important discoveries and receive fun rewards!  Now, anybody can be a part of science history by backing a worthy project.

With our latest batch of projects you can receive a:

  • A cast replica of a fossil
  • An invitation to join an excavation
  • A personally tagged shark, tracked online for you
  • A handmade drum from Africa
  • Postcards, T-shirts, prints and much more!

The new projects are:

Saving fossil whales in Virginia

By: Alton Dooley (Virginia Museum of Natural History)

The sediments at Virginia’s Carmel Church Quarry have yielded over 50 fossil species, including whales, sharks, turtles, crocodiles, sea cows, and land animals. We are trying to save these remains before they’re lost to erosion.

 

The language of wild bonobos

By: Isaac Schamberg (University of Pennsylvania)

Bonobos are our closet living relatives, but we know almost nothing about how they communicate. The research here aims to decode their vocalizations in order begin to unravel the mystery of the evolution of human language.

 

The Quail Diaries: Seeking The Origin of Callipepla

By: Jennifer Calkins (Evergreen State College)

When the environment changes, why do some species survive and others vanish? We seek answers to this question in the past and present traces left by the four closely related members of the charismatic Callipepla quail.

 

 

Saving sharks with Satellites 

By: Neil Hammerschlag (University of Miami)

Sharks are one of the most feared, yet imperiled creatures on our planet. We plan to tag and track sharks with satellite tags to identify their ‘hot spots’ for mating, feeding, and pupping, and to protect them at these sites.

 

Fawns and their hiding spots

By: Todd Steury (Auburn University)

We plan to use bomb-detection dogs, trained to find new-born deer fawns, to determine how prey hide their scent from predators.

 

 

Understanding and saving poison frogs

By: Justin Yeager (Tulane University)

The purpose of this study is to integrate hot research topics in evolutionary biology, with the goal of better conserving a beautiful species of poison frog.

Check out one of our exciting new projects and become a backer today!

About Petridish

Petridish.org was founded to help researchers raise money for important and interesting research projects.  In the current environment, funding for science and research is increasingly hard to come by; yet, basic discovery, research and innovation are more important than ever to society.

On Petridish, researchers post materials about themselves and their research, and the public can discover projects that are exciting to them.  In exchange for contributing to the project, backers receive insider updates on the research, naming rights to new discoveries, and other exciting souvenirs from the work.   Now anybody can be a part of science history and contribute to a new discovery.

You can learn more about us, and back or post a project at http://www.petridish.org

An Interview with Geoff Gallice

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring posts from researchers who’ve posted projects on Petridish, highlighting their backgrounds, research interests and experience with the funding process.  Our next interview is with Geoff Gallice, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida. View his project, called “Understanding rarity in butterflies of Peru

Q: Tell us a little bit about your research interests.

I’m interested mainly in ‘big picture’ ecology, for example continental-scale patterns in species abundance and distribution – that is, how common and widespread species are. There’s an ecological ‘rule’ that claims that species that are more common locally also tend to be more widespread geographically. However, very few studies have looked at this in tropical insects, even though they comprise the majority of terrestrial animal species.

Q: What inspired you to become a scientist?

The wonder of the natural world is really what inspired me. Since my earliest days I was utterly enamored of the natural world, and nature as I knew it growi was tiny patches of scrubby forest and fields in the suburbs of Baltimore. When I visited a tropical rainforest for the first time, there wasn’t an iota of doubt that I would spend the rest of my life studying it.

Q: Why did you decide to post your project on Petridish?

Of course, I hope to have my project funded, but I also think that Petridish is a brilliant way of sharing my discoveries. Just as I always took my day’s catch home to show my mom (or whomever was at the house) when I was a kid, I still love to share my passion for the natural world. What good is making a discovery if you can’t share it?

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found in your research so far?

Most people studying macroecology (i.e. large-scale ecology) find a relationship between abundance and distribution. That is to say, species that are common tend also to be widespread. I didn’t find this for butterflies in eastern Ecuador, and if this pattern is true for tropical insects, it might cause us to have to rethink some pretty well-established ecological patterns. I also found a butterfly at one of my sites with an extremely restricted distribution – it is found only in a relatively small forested area in eastern Ecuador. More shocking still was the discovery by some of my coworkers that this might be true for several hundred butterfly species in South America. We just don’t know for sure yet.

Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you in the field? 

Learning Spanish was a struggle at first. During one of my earliest trips to Costa Rica, I expressed my excitement for being in the forest to a local guy, who appeared quite confused by my revelation. When I was first learning, I often ‘spanish-ized’ English words in the hopes that they would be understood. Well, that often works, but not always. I had explained to this man that I was ‘excitado’, which there means excited, yes… but in a way one ought not to tell strangers. After someone pointed out my mistake, I quickly joked at how ‘embarazado’ I was. Apparently, I was also pregnant. That got a good laugh, at my expense of course. My Spanish is pretty good now, but when it occurs that I’m at a loss for a word, I think twice before inventing one.

To read more about Geoff’s research, ask questions or back his work, view the project page:

Understanding rarity in butterflies of Peru

My research aims to gather data that will be used to understand rarity in Peruvian butterflies, in order to conserve them long into the future.

An interview with Andy Gersick

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring posts from researchers who’ve posted projects on Petridish, highlighting their backgrounds, research interests and experience with the funding process.  Our first interview is with Andy Gersick, a doctoral candidate in ethology (animal behavior) at the University of Pennsylvania. View his project, called “Decoding Hyena Calls in the Maasai Mara.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your research interests.

Basically I want to understand how animals think: what they know about the contents of their own minds and the minds of others. Since I can’t ask them directly, I try to do the next best thing by studying the information that they exchange when they communicate.  People talk (much of the time) because we want to move information from inside our own heads into the minds of other people. There is a brilliant fundamental insight in that kind of communication – the awareness that others have their own minds and experiences, and that they won’t know what we know unless we tell them. Animals may or may not possess some version of that understanding, and I like thinking about.

Q: What inspired you to become a scientist?

Dr. Doolitte, Jane Goodall, David Attenborough. I liked nature as a kid – reading about it, being in it, watching nature shows. As an adult that meant wanting to do something to help preserve the natural world. Being a scientist turns out to be the right way for me to be involved in that effort. When I first got out of college I worked in non-profits that were more about direct action on a number of issues, but after awhile I felt like what I wanted to contribute was not activism or even advocacy, but just to address people’s ability to be fascinated by nature, and therefore to care about it. Animal behaviorists and field biologists and other scientists put the words in the mouths of nature-show hosts and make zoo and museum programs meaningful. So as a scientist I get to satisfy my own curiosity while also, hopefully, feeding the curiosity of others.

Q: Why did you decide to post your project on Petridish?  

The site seems like a very good idea. Like I said, I think many people are just interested in science, and would like to be involved in supporting it. Funding for all sorts of research is thin these days and the idea of getting the public directly involved seems, intuitively, to make sense.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found in your
research so far?

That’s a hard question. Everything about animal behavior is surprising once you start really paying attention to it. Because I think that when I was younger I had an idea that other species were like us, and that a scientist who studied animals really would be a little like Dr. Doolittle –someone who knew the language of the beasts and could  tell what they were saying. And that what they were saying would be some version of what people are saying. But other species aren’t exactly like us, they’re more like aliens. The world for a hyena – the things that she perceives and attends to and how she deals with other individuals – is so different from our own. Which actually makes the work of trying to understand that world much harder, but also more interesting.

Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you in the
field?

Almost everything funny that happens to me in the field is of the “funny after the fact” variety – getting our truck catastrophically stuck in a muddy rut, getting mock-charged by elephants, etc. I left my tent for a drink of water the other night and walked all the way to the water station in the middle of our camp before a lion started roaring in the dark about 20 feet to my right. I started backtracking very, very slowly, but then another lion roared about 20 feet to my left. So I just crouched down and drank my water. The two lions seemed to be occupied roaring back and forth at each other, so I sort of crab-walked back to my tent and tried to slide in without making too much zipper noise. Is that funny? Maybe you had to be there. I think I probably looked funny to the lions.

To read more about Andy’s research, ask questions or back his work, view the project page:

Decoding Hyena Calls in the Maasai Mara

The hyena’s whoop is one of the eeriest, most distinctive sounds of the African bush. What do whoops mean, and how do hyenas use them to survive and thrive?

We did it! First two projects have reached their goals!

We did it!  As of yesterday, our second project has reached its funding goal– and it was a big one!  David Kipping’s “Help us find the first exomoon” passed $10,000 and still has time to go to raise more before the deadline in 12 days.  David’s team is searching for the first ever moon outside of the solar system, using data from Kepler.  If he raises additional funds past the $10,000, he’ll be able to get more computing capacity to speed up the search. Help David keep spreading the word and congratulations to all 199 backers so far!

And in case you haven’t already seen it, Kevin Miklasz’s project “The mystery of tiny algal spores” also recently reached it’s goal!  Kevin is exploring how environmental factors like waves impact the size of algal spores, and will use the funds to continue his PhD research on the subject.  Aside from the interesting research topic, he is also creating framed pressings of the algae species used in his research for his backers.  You can still back him before the deadline and get one for yourself.

New crowdfunded science projects on Petridish.org!

Today, a new group of exciting science projects has launched on Petridish.org, offering opportunities for backers to help make important discoveries and receive fun rewards!  Now, anybody can be a part of science history by backing a worthy project.

With this week’s batch of projects you can receive a:

  • DNA analysis of your dog by researchers
  • Live puppy shipped to you from an African village (we’re not kidding!)
  • Wall map of Antarctica
  • Masai blanket or beadwork
  • And much more!

The new projects are:

Redrawing an ancient supercontinent 

By: John Goodge (University of Minnesota) 

Rock samples that our Antarctic expedition collected are one of the few ways we can build a better picture of the continent hidden beneath the polar ice cap, and redraw the conventional map of Rodinia.

 

Decoding Hyena Calls in the Maasai Mara 

By: Andy Gersick (University of Pennsylvania)

The hyena’s whoop is one of the eeriest, most distinctive sounds of the African bush. What function do whoops serve, and how do these carnivores use vocal communication?

 

Finding and Saving Nicaragua’s Last Population of Jaguars

By: Kim Williams-Guillén (Paso Pacífico)

Jaguars are among the most charismatic and important large carnivores in Latin America. However, they have lost much of their range to human activities like logging, ranching, and hunting.

 

Are there estrogens in your backyard?

By: David Skelly, Geoff Giller, & Max Lambert  (Yale University)

We used to think that estrogen pollution was mainly an issue in agricultural areas. But it is becoming clear that there may be significant contamination right in our backyards.

 

Tracking ancient dog populations in Africa 

By: Adam Boyko (Cornell University) & Ryan Boyko (Yale University)

We’ll gather DNA from village dogs in remote parts of Africa, uncovering ancient genes that have disappeared from bred dogs. These genes will help study dog and human genetic diseases and unravel the history of dog domestication

Check out one of our exciting new projects and become a backer today!

About Petridish

Petridish.org was founded to help researchers raise money for important and interesting research projects.  In the current environment, funding for science and research is increasingly hard to come by; yet, basic discovery, research and innovation are more important than ever to society.

On Petridish, researchers post materials about themselves and their research, and the public can discover projects that are exciting to them.  In exchange for contributing to the project, backers receive insider updates on the research, naming rights to new discoveries, and other exciting souvenirs from the work.   Now anybody can be a part of science history and contribute to a new discovery.

You can learn more about us, and back or post a project at http://www.petridish.org


Petridish.org launches first group of crowdfunded science projects

Petridish.org is proud to announce that today it has launched its first class of crowdfunded science and research projects.  On Petridish, science-lovers can connect directly with cutting-edge researchers to help them launch new projects and make exciting discoveries.  Now, anybody can be a part of science history by backing a worthy project.

The projects range widely across discipline and include submissions from Astronomy, Biology, Climate Science, Geology, and Ecology.  They are:

Unraveling the mystery of gelada monkey melodies

By: Morgan Gustison (University of Michigan)

 

 

Capturing the first sounds of deep sea creatures 

By: Ashlee Lillis (North Carolina State University)

 

 

 

New species of ants in Madagascar 

By: Brian Fisher (California Academy of Sciences)

 

 

Help us find the first exomoon 

By: David Kipping (Harvard University)

 

 

 

The mystery of tiny algal spores 

By: Kevin Miklasz (Stanford University)

 

 

 

Climate refugees: Don’t let their culture melt away 

By: Rachel Aronson (University of Washington)

 

 

Tracing the route of the green sea turtle in Peru 

By: Maria Wojakowski (Stanford University)

 

 

 

Explaining extinction with the butterflies of Peru 

By: Geoff Gallice (University of Florida)

 

The wolves of Isle Royale 

By: John Vucetich (Michigan Technological University)

 

Backers in these projects will receive insider access and updates on the research project over time as new discoveries are made.  They can also receive exciting rewards such as naming rights to new species, acknowledgements in journals, visits to field sites, wall maps, vivid photographs suitable for framing and other fun souvenirs.

Over the course of March, additional projects will launch as part of this first class.  We will also be featuring interviews with the researchers on our blog at blog.petridish.org.

About Petridish

Petridish.org was founded to help researchers raise money for important and interesting research projects.  In the current environment, funding for science and research is increasingly hard to come by; yet, basic discovery, research and innovation are more important than ever to our economic well-being.

On Petridish, researchers post materials about themselves and their research, and the public can discover projects that are exciting to them.  In exchange for contributing to the project, backers receive insider updates on the research, naming rights to new discoveries, and other exciting souvenirs from the work.   Now anybody can be a part of science history and contribute to a new discovery.

You can learn more about us, and back or post a project at http://www.petridish.org

Open Science: Bringing Science to the Public

We are at a crossroads right now:  as we enter a new era of Open Science.  A great article in the NYTimes recently discussed new willingness of scientists to engage the public in research, earlier in the scientific discovery cycle.  Organizations such as the Open Society Foundation Open Science Initiative, are gaining momentum.

Michael Nielson is one champion of the Open Science movement, not to mention a leader in quantum computation.   In his book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science Nielsen talks about how online tools are transforming science today, holding the potential to speed up scientific discovery.    To realize the maximum potential of these online opportunities, he argues in this book, science needs to be OPEN.

Nielson defines Open Science as:

Open Science is the idea that scientific knowledge of all kinds should be openly shared as early as is practical in the discovery process.

Here at Petridish, we are excited about this new era of open science.  Our goal is to change the culture of science by engaging the public in new ideas from the start.  But while science is opening up, at the same time, researchers are constrained by a lack of money.  As the US struggles with budget cuts in the wake of the financial crisis, Science funding is on the chopping block.

In response, Petridish.org offers scientists a critical resource: crowdfunding. Crowdfunding has transformed the way ideas and projects get funded in many areas, but not yet science.  Petridish.org is here to change that.  Now scientists have a dedicated community and platform to promote research, educate and engage the public, and raise money all at once.  Join forces with researchers to make new discoveries happen.

Fund science and explore the world with renowned researchers

We’re excited to announce Petridish.org!  Petridish is a new community through which science-lovers can participate in new discoveries and scientists can raise funding for their projects.

The internet is an amazing force for pooling the small actions of many to make a large impact.  Crowdfunding has transformed the way ideas and projects get funded in many areas, but not yet for science.  We’re here to change that.

Over time, we’ll bring you exciting scientific and academic projects and allow you to join forces with researchers to make new discoveries happen.  In exchange for your contributions, you’ll get insider access to progress on research you are passionate about.  You could also receive rewards like souvenirs from the field, beautiful maps, original photographs, or even acknowledgments in journals and naming rights to new species.

Our goal is to change the culture of science by engaging the public in new ideas from the start.

We’re launching soon, so please join our mailing list, and follow us on facebook & twitter so we can notify you of the latest developments.