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Science gains funding through social media

Science gains funding through social media

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on May 29, 2012
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03/20/2013

Science gains funding through social media

Tuesday, 29 May, 2012

A University of Auckland microbiologist has successfully harnessed the power of social media and the internet to raise money for her scientific research. Dr Siouxsie Wiles from the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology at The University of Auckland has raised more than $4,500 so far - for her research on how bacteria evolve - through the SciFund Challenge, held this year throughout the month of May. The SciFund Challenge is based on a system called crowdfunding that has become popular with writers, artists and musicians. "Crowdfunding is everywhere in the arts and entertainment these days," says Dr Wiles, "with people raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for music albums, games or books. So why not science?" The principle is that rather than relying on one wealthy benefactor for full funding, people seek small donations from a lot of people in return for "rewards". For a musician this might be a copy of a finished album or an acknowledgement on the album sleeve. For Dr Wiles, who conducts her research using luminescent bacteria, the reward is a photo with the name or logo of the donor written in glowing bacteria - or even the naming rights to a newly-evolved bacterium.

SciFund was born late last year when two ecologists from California, Dr Jai Ranganathan and Dr Jarrett Byrnes, decided to exploit a crowdfunding website called RocketHub to see if scientists could spend a month engaging with the public, in a similar way to artists and musicians, to help fund their research. Nearly 50 projects were offered up, covering topics as diverse as parasitic plants, flying foxes, Amazonian crabs, domesticating algae, duck erections, Roman slaves and undersea kelp forests. And it worked. Scientists raised over US$76,000. The 75 scientists who are taking part in this year's SciFund Challenge raised more than US$70,000 in the first three weeks, while Dr Wiles reached her own personal target of US$3,000 in 15 days. "In these difficult times, money is hard to come by," says Dr Wiles. "Rates of success for science proposals in New Zealand stand at around ten percent. This doesn't mean that only one in ten proposals are considered good enough to fund. It means the funding bodies can't afford to support many excellent projects. Just think of all the innovations we may be missing out on." However, SciFund is about more than money, as she explains. Most of all, it's about raising people's awareness of science. "I want everyone to know how important infectious diseases are: why it's important not to visit a new baby if you are feeling under the weather or kiss them if you have a cold sore; why people shouldn't expect a bottle of antibiotics every time they visit the doctor; why they should get vaccinated and vaccinate their children. I want people to know why it is important to back science, why the public should support their taxes being used to fund scientific research. I want the public to be interested and excited about what scientists like me are doing."

Dr Wiles is no stranger to using social media to convey her passion for science, having collaborated with the graphic artist Luke Harris to make two short animations about how fireflies are being used by scientists like her.

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