By Nick Fordes
Recently, SciStarter added a project called Petridish, where citizens have a chance to contribute to innovative research in a unique way. Petridish is set up like Kickstarter and several other funding platforms. Users can browse a number of current projects, learn about the research objectives, and then donate at various levels. The really unique part of Petridish is that a donation not only helps the research project become viable, but based on the donation amount, various rewards are given. Petridish is less than a year old, but has already funded numerous research projects and involved citizens in big time research.
I recently had a chance to talk with Co-Founder Matt Salzberg about Petridish. His enthusiasm for the project and what the team hope to accomplish was reflected in our conversation.
Matt started his career as a venture capitalist where his investment interests were in the mobile and web-based sectors. While working around the world for various businesses, Matt saw huge potential in the Internet as a tool to gain leverage in certain markets. He was struck most by the Internet’s power to pool collective action and develop interest and eventually funds for a variety of projects. Building on his interest in science, Matt took the exact same model he had used in his investment career to develop Petridish.
According to Matt, the key to Petridish is that the projects included are as innovative and important as they are interesting. Some of his current favorites include an astronomy project to discover exomoons that has actually instead found a new planet. Other projects include studying cooperation among vampire bats, discovering how zebra’s got their stripes, and saving sharks with satellites. There is truly something for everyone’s interest on Petridish.
The other aspect of Petridish that has gone over well with contributors is the system of unique rewards for each project. Matt claims that this is what involves citizens further into the actual science of the research projects they are supporting and can develop meaningful relationships between researchers and citizens. Matt explained that the rewards are set up by the researcher and have included a cast replica of a fossil from a dig site, an analysis of your dog’s DNA, an even an analysis of the DNA in your own hair. Other more common rewards include new species naming rights, credit in academic journals, and invitations to join field expeditions. While it is not Petridish’s role to facilitate potential relationships between contributors and researchers, Matt hopes that they will provide the platform for this to happen.
Matt explained that while Petridish is not a traditional citizen science project with actual hands-on science, Petridish allows citizens to be part of big projects that they normally wouldn’t be able to on their own. It’s a different kind of connection, and citizens can be part of some really important discoveries.
Petridish seems to find a way for citizens to involve themselves in the important and necessary funding side of science. With an amazing variety of projects to choose from and a unique rewards system, Petridish is sure to continue to grow. Personally, I can’t wait to tell my friends there really is a moon named after my cat!