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Scientists launch crowd-funding experiment for research projects

Seeking to capitalize on the crowd-funding trend, a pair of biologists this month launched the #SciFund Challenge to raise money for dozens of scientific projects.

Jai Ranganatha and Jarrett Byrnes launched the #SciFund Challenge to provide a platform for scientists to promote and raise funds for their work. Projects range from a study to understand recovery of rainforests in Borneo after disturbance to research into whether invasive snake species have triggered a decline in chile pepper plants in Guam to a cloud monitoring effort in a Costa Rican forest.

The #SciFund Challenge is an experiment itself. It runs through the month of May but will be extended if it proves effective. To date the public has pledged nearly $55,000 to 75 projects.


Crowd-funding is a simple concept. Someone creates a project page with a funding goal (amount and date) and then sets out promoting the project (usually via social media) to win supporters who pledge various amounts of money, often in increments of less than $25. If the target is hit, the money is collected and sent to the project. If the target isn’t hit, the money is refunded to contributors.

Interest in crowd-funding has been epitomized by the rise in Kickstarter, which in three years has generated over $200 million for nearly 50,000 projects. One project — a next-generation watch known as Pebble — has raised more than $8 million, but most projects are modest. Documentaries and art projects are particularly popular on Kickstarter, but the #SciFund Challenge is now attempting to do the same for science.

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