Featured Project: Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair

Jai Ranganathan


Today’s featured #SciFund Challenge project is Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair by Marisa Tellez.

smiling alligator

Why is this american alligator smiling? Because he's got #SciFund power!

Let’s cut to the chase. Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair is all about american alligators, which is a thousand kinds of awesome right there. But there’s even more awesome in this project, as it combines really interesting natural history, an important conservation message, and… alligator parasites.

First off, who knew that alligators had parasites? It turns out that parasites in general – not just alligator parasites – are  essential players in maintaining the health of ecosystems. Did you know that roughly 75% of the connections between organisms in nature involve parasites? And we basically know nothing about them. But there clearly must be something important going on there.

Case in point: the american alligator. Alligator parasites may actually be helping alligators, by somehow improving the ability of their immune systems to fend off alligator diseases. And these parasites have evolved with alligators over millions of years, forming a unique bond that isn’t easily replaced.

And here where’s the cool conservation part of the story comes in.  It turns out that these alligator parasites are really vulnerable to water pollution. If the parasites wink out due to pollution, the alligators may also disappear due to suddenly-crippled immune systems.

human parasite

A terrifying-looking human parasite. Good thing this hookworm is not actually this big.

That’s where Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair comes in. Marisa is studying precisely how pollutants are affecting the alligator-parasite bond and alligator immune systems generally. It is fascinating work that might have a lot of importance for understanding the connection between humans and our many parasites.

So, why don’t you head over to Mysteries of a Prehistoric Affair and help fund Marisa’s research? She is approaching 50% of her financial target and you could be the one to get her over the hump. Check it out!


Secrets of running a successful crowdfunding campaign

Jai Ranganathan

What’s the secret to raising money for your science by crowdfunding? The secret is that there is no secret.

These #SciFund sea turtles know a thing or two about crowdfunding.

Just ask Lindsey Peavey. She’s a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara and she is taking part in the #SciFund Challenge. Her project, Turtles in the Deep, is doing wonderfully well. As of this writing, nine days after #SciFund projects went live, she has reached 80% of her $2,500 target. How did she do it? I spoke with her yesterday and this is what I learned.

Lindsey’s research and her #SciFund project focus on the fate of the threatened olive ridley sea turtle in the Pacific Ocean. From the beginning, she designed her project so that it would connect with a general audience. And she could put very specific faces on part of that audience: her family in Maine, far from the Pacific and the olive ridley. Could she connect her family (and lots of people like them) to a place they might never go and to a species they might never see?  If you check out Lindsey’s project, you’ll see that she more than succeeded in crafting a message that is personal, easy to understand, and extremely relatable, regardless of where you are.

[Read more...]


Your Mid-Week Dose of Jai!

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Well, it’s Hump-Day. Is your week moving along slowly? A little tired? Listless. Need something to pep you up? Then check out this video of Jai presenting the #SciFund Challenge at the Open Science Summit from FORA.tv!


#SciFund: The David Hasselhoff of Science Funding

The Hoff sings the praises of crowdfunding science.

It’s been a huge two days for #SciFund in Western Europe. We seem to have caught the imagination of a few papers – both Spektrum der Wissenschaft (sort of Germany’s Scientific American) and the NRC Handelsblad [pdf], sort of like the WSJ or NYT of the Netherlands! So, to anyone from Germany or the Netherlands visiting us for the first time, welcome! Go check out our projects at RocketHub and help us #SciFund research!


Featured Project: Force of Duck: Measuring explosive erection

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU4TtO2mUbk&w=560&h=315]

Today’s featured project is a crowd favorite – Force of Duck by Diane Kelly and Patty Brennan.

Before we continue, go watch the video. Just, yeah, watch it.

Did you brain explode? Mine did.

In 2007, the internet was ablaze with duck genitals. Brennan’s paper, Coevolution of Male and Female Genital Morphology in Waterfowl in the open access PLoS One set off a firestorm that made it all the way to the New York Times.

Then, again, in 2009, Duck penises hit the internet like a Mack truck with the publication of Patty’s paper, Explosive eversion and functional morphology of the duck penis supports sexual conflict in waterfowl genitalia, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. All of which leading one commentator to opine recently “Not interested in duck sex? You’re a rarity on the Internet…”

So can I tell you that Jai and I laughed like giddy schoolchildren and jumped for joy when we saw that the next stage of duck penis research was going to be part of the #SciFund Challenge! Of course, this was after watching the video and repeatedly saying “OH! Oh no! Oh! Wow….”

The brilliance of Patty and Diane’s work is that it has taken an incredibly important question in evolutionary biology – sexual selection and the evolution of reproductive strategies – and put it into a context that people can’t help but take notice. It blends solid basic science with public appeal from the get-go. Hence, it is tailor made for something like #SciFund. And, tailor made for publicity about #SciFund – this is the other reason Jai and I were so happy. And indeed, the project has gotten #SciFund publicity as planned.

So not only is this project awesome for science in its own right, but it’s been helping to pull eyeballs in to #SciFund as a whole!

It helps that the project is clear, compelling, and has fantastic rewards for #ScuFunders (seriously – “Duck Force” mugs? Homemade cookies? Duck dinner? I wish I lived in Western Mass!). I also love that their video is tremendously understated. It both heightens the viewer’s investment in key moments of the storytelling, and keeps the project incredibly grounded. Overall, this project is a fantastic fusion of public outreach and science that provides some important lessons for future science crowdfunding.

So go and make yourself part of the Duck Force! For Science!


Featured Project: C-Cilia in Motion!!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzGOZ7gA5X8&w=420&h=315]

Today’s featured #SciFund project is Aditya Rao’s C-Cilia in Motion!!

I love the video for this project. LOVE it. It’s one of my favorite videos of the bunch. Why? Because quite simply, I am quite often bored stiff by cellular and molecular biology. The litany of proteins, the endless cycles of metabolic processes, etc. etc. etc. And yes, I realize the grand irony of not connecting to this when I’ve ended up studying the complexity of ecosystems. (In fact much of my reading these days is about metabolic networks).

Aditya’s video changed this for me. It’s full of passion, excitement, and humor. I got REALLY excited about flagella. His love of his organism, the problem he’s studying, and the clarity of his explanation opened up something for me. Not only was the delivery and scripting pitch-perfect, but the style of the video also makes it a stand-out for me. The video opens with wonderful old-timey edited footage of the study organism in question. Throughout the video, it cuts to short images that at times make analogies and other times counterpoint the research being discussed.

It’s a fantastic example of creative storytelling about science. The viewer is left feeling not only interested in the nerdy science of the project, but has a clear vision that this is a project with huge implications.

Chlamydomonas uses its flagella to swim towards vast pools of #SciFund donations.

It’s not all video – there’s also the fantastic text of the proposal itself. From the intro

Look around you! See the world. Smell it! Hear it! Touch it! What’re you doing?

You are sensing the world you live in. And to do this, you are using special equipment like hands, eyes, tongues etc.

Now imagine that you are a tiny little cell in your body. To survive, you need to be able to sense the environment you are in. You need to find food, you need to sense danger and you need to communicate with other cells! What equipment will you use??

We know the answer to that one. The answer is a tiny whip like structure called the Cilium.

Exciting dynamic language and a clear connection to the reader. Fantastic!

All in all, it makes me wish I lived in Syracuse so that I could kick in $250 for a curry dinner and hear more about cilia! But maybe you do! Heck, even if you don’t go check out C-Cilia in Motion!! and help to #SciFund it!


And We’re Off!!

from Matthew Leslie – check out his #SciFund project Why is this dolphin’s fin on backwards?!

Whether your #SciFund project is prize pony or bumbling burro, just keep running the race - and keep talking up your science!

The first week of the #SciFund Challengehas been nothing if not exciting… I’m finding myself hitting the browser refresh button as if I was watching the close of a tight college basketball games on ESPN GameTracker (pardon the first of several sports references).

As Jai’s post from day two exclaims, some projects have “raced off and pulled in more than a thousand dollars each”, while others are stammering a little in the starting gates (…looks like my Backward Fins do create some drag indeed).

So far the Secretariat approach of  “just letting her run” isn’t going so well for me. It has been painfully apparent from the beginning that, although I know my project is a winner, it isn’t going to run like a winner without some skilled riding.

The #SciFund Challenge is certainly that – a challenge. It isn’t enough to have good research ideas, sell those ideas in a cool video (playing all the parts of production from writer-director to key grip), come up with creative rewards, navigate administrative hurdles and develop a sufficient yet attainable goal.

No, No… now we also have to promote the BEJESUS out of our projects for the wheels to grab!

All of this takes time.

In fact, my adviser has been very supportive of all of this, but today he did utter these words in a very Gandalfish tone, “… a scientist does have to balance the costs and benefits of any fund-raising effort, be it a grant or other”. I can only assume what he meant by “other”.

As you work out the balance of time for this and other fund-raising efforts, remember that the unmentioned intangible of the $14K raised in the first two days, is that people are engaging directly with scientists!! Forget about the money for a minute. This is the public engaging in the process of discovery! This is point-to-point contact. This is Johnny Lab-Coat and John Q. Public all but swapping bodily fluids!! This is something that NSF, NIH, AAAS, every science-based government agency and even some academics (Gasp!) try to do… and usually with less-than-marginal success (pers. obs.).

So whether you’re feeling like Ron Turcotte on Secretariat or Juan Valdezon his trusty donkey, remember that you are surrounded by fellow riders who want to see everyone finish a winner, AND you can take comfort in the fact that you are teaching people about your noble and often under-appreciated craft as well as showing them the amazing wonders of the world around them.

As my fellow scientifically-inclined “Crowd-Sorcerers”, I encourage you to grip those reins tightly and kick your project horse hard, but don’t forget to enjoy the simple pleasure of talking about your science! In doing so you may just be inspiring a new generation and reinvigorating the old!


Featured Project: Doctor Zen and the Amazon Crayfish!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJuUwWTAyRI&w=420&h=315]

And so, we kick off a new week of the #SciFund Challenge by featuring DOCTOR ZEN AND THE AMAZON CRAYFISH!

I’m just going to say it right now. Doctor Zen is amazing. I mean, really really amazing. Sure, the science behind his project is fantastic – collecting crayfish closely related to an out of control invasive to unfold the mysteries of their biology. If that had been all, it would have been enough.

Sure, he has one of the most in-your-face amusing yet compelling science videos in #SciFund. If that had been all, it would have been enough.

And yes, his rewards are funning and involving, making this a really sweet example of a #SciFund project – and with an easily reached funding target to boot (so go fund him right now!) If that had been all, it would have been enough.

But then! Then – he also has a great followup second video. Check it out below! It’s fantastic! It will make you want to kick him a few more bucks for his work! Now if that had been all, damn, that sure would have been enough!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdDJxCyd2Kk&w=420&h=315]

Is Doctor Zen content to stop there with his awesomeness? I think not. Everyone here participating in #SciFund owes him a HUGE debt. He personally went through every single early #SciFund proposal posted on our private wiki and reviewed them. Every single one. His comments were insightful, interesting, and incredibly useful for all of us. Had THIS been all, that would have been going above and beyond.

But Doctor Zen didn’t stop there. He showed the videos of each proposal to his undergraduates, and asked them a) would you find this project and b) why or why not? He then shared these insights with each of us. Basically, he gave each proposal a test-run with a focus group, as it were.

Frankly, I am overwhelmed with what an amazing contribution Doctor Zen has made to the #SciFund Challenge while simultaneously cooking up his own great project. If you are even remotely interested in the success of this, the first #SciFund challenge, head on over to RocketHub and help to #SciFund DOCTOR ZEN AND THE AMAZON CRAYFISH!

n.b. Yes, I know I’m using #SciFund as a verb now. What of it?


#SciFund on the Radio!

Jai Ranganathan, out evangelizing the #SciFund challenge

Do you want to hear the dulcet tones of Jai describing what is new, interesting, and great about the #SciFund challenge? Check out this fantastic interview by #SciFund participant Holly Menninger for her show Science Cabaret on WICB in Ithaca! They talk about the implications of crowdfunding for science, our secret mission, and all of our awesome projects!


The First #SciFund Fully Funded Featured Project: Support Zombie Research! and a little Q&A

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Today’s we wanted to feature a really great project to close out week one of the #SciFund challen- WAIT A MINUTE?

Hold on.

Checking the website. What?!

Well then!

Today’s featured project is FULLY FUNDED! Oh, no, that’s not the name of the project. The project is Support Zombie Research!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GwjfUFyY6M&w=480&h=360]
The scene in the Weinersmith lab right now

I could yammer on all day about how much I like her work (You got your zombies in my salt marsh fishes! You got your salt marsh fishes in my zombies! Yum!) But, since she’s funded, and we happened to both be on skype as I was pondering what to do about this featured post, I thought I’d do a little Q&A with Kelly about her proposal, it’s success, and crowdfunding for science in general. So read on, and go help us finish fully funding more projects!

So, you’re funded. Fully funded! How’s that feel? A little like this video?

Exactly like that!….well…maybe even better! I definitely did a little dance when I found out!

What’s your favorite part of your project proposal? (besides your cat, of course)

S*Bert actually got a lot more attention than I had imagined! He seemed to be the lead-in for the PZ Myers post.

Anyway – my favorite part of the proposal has definitely been the chance to interact with people and share my love of parasites! I just sent out my first reward e-mail with parasite facts and people have been responding really well! I can’t believe how awesome it is that I get to share my love of parasites AND get my research funded at the same time!

Have you been getting a lot of parasite love?

I have! Lots of people have been telling me how they feel about parasites, and how they are maybe getting convinced that parasites are really cool, rather than just being totally gross.

Total win! So, what do you think helped you rocket ahead in the funding?

To be honest, I think that the biggest help I had came from the fact that Zach has a huge audience of nerds reading his comic. When he posted about my project on his website I was able to really target an audience that was highly likely to find my research exciting. Zach’s post also generated buzz elsewhere (e.g., I know PZ Myers reads Zach’s comic, and so he likely found out about my SciFund proposal through Zach), which also helped out a lot.

I’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes too to try to generate buzz about the project. I e-mailed Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science blog) about my project because he writes a lot about parasites, and he was nice enough to tweet about my project.

I think my biggest help was from exploiting the pre-existing network that I’ve hooked myself in to over time (SMBC comics, SMBC Theater, etc), and searching out people who already love parasites to help me spread the word. That being said, I have an N of 1, so I don’t really know what works for everyone. Just what might have worked for me.

Do you feel like your social network has expanded due to buzz about your research?

YES! I’ve acquired a LOT more Twitter followers, a lot more YouTube subscribers, and the video about my research has been watched thousands of times. ALSO – Let’s not forget that I have now networked with all the AWESOME SciFund participants! Zen Faulkes and Kristina Killgrove are going to be on my podcast (The Weekly Weinersmith) in upcoming weeks, and I’m totally excited to be getting to know them too!

I’ve met a lot of really awesome people, and hopefully have enhanced my ability to share information about the awesomeness of parasites! I’m really loving interacting with the people who have funded my project. They’re asking great questions and I’m having so much fun with them.

This whole process has been amazing for me as well to uncover the secret exploding world of socially networked scientists. The support and interest has been incredible.

I’ve been really impressed by how many of the #SciFund participants have really awesome science blogs! Yes, the support and interest really has been incredible. I feel extremely lucky, and have been having so much fun.

So, along those lines of fun and group effort – this whole crowdfunding thing is a little different than the other pots of money you’ve applied for in the past. Did you like it more? Less?

This has been at least one hundred times more fun than applying for traditional funding. It’s much more of a group effort, and you get so much amazing input throughout the process.

Putting grants out there can be frustrating because the grant seems to go into a black box and comes back months later. With crowdfunding you can see your grant’s progress and get input about it along the way. It’s a lot more engaging. Perhaps most importantly, you get to reach out to a lot of people who would not know about your research otherwise.

Grants have an extremely low funding rate in general, but if you don’t hit your goal when you crowdfund you’ve at least had the opportunity to share information about your project with the general public. It’s cool, yo!

Would you do it again?

YES!! Absolutely!

That’s great! I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately – if this became a regular part of the science funding ecosystem, how do you think it would change Science?

Great question. I think it would really depend on how the crowdfunding system was set-up. For example, all of the SciFund participants did a lot of behind-the-scenes work together to help each other prepare proposals and videos. I think this was really important, and it would kind of be a shame if this aspect of the process was lost. But then again, there will now be examples of successful proposals out on the internet, so perhaps those could act as templates.

More exciting, though, is that I really feel like this process has connected me to scientists and members of the general public that I would not have been connected with otherwise. I have really been amazed by how much my funders and people considering funding have interacted with me, and so I love the idea that crowdfunding could regularly be putting scientists in touch with the general public. What an awesome way to get people excited about science! So I don’t know how it would change Science per se, but I think it would make a huge difference in the way scientists interact with the public, and perhaps make a huge difference on the public’s perception of Science in general.

I think we’ll wrap up there – thanks to Kelly for her time, and congrats. If you want to further Zombie research even more, feel free to check out her project or completely fund other great #SciFund Projects!