Connecting researchers with private donors, the newly launched PetriDish.org is a crowdfunding platform to help scientists raise money for their projects.
“People are so excited about new discoveries, new ideas, and science, but a person at home has no way to feel like they’re a part of that, except for reading along,” says founder Matt Salzberg. “We wanted to build a site where people could be part of the story, where you can make a new discovery happen.”
And funding for science is harder and harder to find, he adds. And that’s why their selection criteria are so different compared to the grants from traditional sources – which can be time intensive, restrictive, slow, and often unsuccessful. Salzberg tells Discover Magazine:
We pick projects we think donors will be excited to be a part of, and that could offer fun perks or rewards to backers. But we also pay attention to the quality and affiliations of the researcher or organization behind them. We also screen the projects to make sure that the research is meaningful and that there is no “junk science,” like perpetual-motion machines. Ultimately, however, the beauty of our model is that the funding decisions are in the hands of the public to back the projects they want to see happen.
Here’s the process, Salzberg delineates in a Scientific American guest post:
- Once approved, scientists create a short video appeal and a description of their project, funding goal, and the rewards for each donor tier (like souvenirs from the field or having a discovery named after you).
- The science-loving public can scan through projects, choosing particular ones to back.
- If a project reaches its goal – visualized on the site with test tubes bubbling up with an orange aqueous solution – the funds are pooled and transferred to the scientist.
A key feature is the financial protection built into the all-or-nothing funding model, Wired explains. It’s hard to do science in a piecemeal, day-to-day fashion: you need to know you’ll have the resources to get a full data set before getting started.
(Salzberg was working as a venture capitalist, developing internet businesses, when his lifelong interest in science pushed him in a different direction.)
Successful examples of crowdfunding include Kiva.org, Donorschoose.org, and Kickstarter.com, which recently made headlines when a video game project on their site raised over $2 million from the crowd.
In fact, crowdfunding science might have started with Kickstarter. Discovery Magazine reports:
Two years ago, a pair of scientists put out a shingle on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter: They needed, by hook or by crook, to get to Mexico to study a rare species of quail. 55 people signed up to fund their project to the tune of almost $5,000 dollars, in return for quail T-shirts, books, and the profound thanks of the researchers. The New York Times wrote about it, and ever since, there has been talk of a place on the web just for crowdfunding science.