Finding the funding for science research can be harrowing. Scientists face long waits, grueling proposal requirements, and an acceptance rate that tops out at about 20% for funding from the National Science Foundation, among the most prestigious funding agencies.
This leaves plenty of potentially valuable science with nowhere to go. That’s the need targeted by Petridish, a for-profit organization dedicated to crowdfunding the worthy experiments that are not getting sufficient dollars from the powers controlling the purse strings of science funding.
The online funding platform allows scientists to post their projects online and solicit funding from backers anywhere on the Internet. It’s a Kickstarter for the geek set. So far, Petridish is attracting everyone from graduate students to Nobel Prize winners. Its portfolio is expanding every day: a few dozen projects have been listed and several have been funded such as the expedition to discover ant species in Madagascar and a project to document cultures threatened by climate change.
That, says Matt Salzberg, the CEO and founder of Petridish, is just the beginning. "Our hope is that we’re fundamentally democratizing the way science is done by allowing people to choose what research they want to be done rather than a review board somewhere," he says. "I personally think it can be bigger than Kickstarter."
The projects that fare best so far tend to have an active community of enthusiasts, and a good story to tell: anthropology, biology, ecology, and astronomy are all proving to be crowd pleasers. Although most are funded for about $20,000, one of the most popular was the search for exo-moons, stony satellites of planets outside our own solar system. David Kipping of Harvard University raised more than $12,000 to secure a super-computer that will crunch the Kepler telescope data holding the secrets to moons in distant solar systems. If he finds anything, there will be a lot of people to thank.