Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#SciFund Countdown Primer!

Quick, before they're gone! The #SciFund Challenge ends on Thursday. Here, then, is a primer. If you see something you like, go check it out! I've funded a number of these and may kick in more before it ends.

I'm listing these in alphabetical order by researcher or organization name. Color coding: Green = fully funded. Purple=75% or more funded (I update my spreadsheet around midnight Eastern time; last update was at the cusp between Dec. 12-13). Brown= 50-74.99% funded Blue=25-49.99% funded. Red= <25% funded. Monies go to the researchers even if they don't meet their goal (RocketHub takes a slightly bigger cut for those), and even incomplete funding can accomplish great stuff. For example, Jarrett Byrnes has enough funding for one day's dive so far; Shermin deSilva has enough funding to pay a single assistant for a full year.

In other words, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Anything and everything makes a difference.

Herewith, then -- a group I've come to think of as "the forty-niners":

Eric Abelson: Does the act of looking change what we see? Abelson is trying to determine whether camera traps themselves alter the behavior of, say, skittish mule deer. And, since camera traps are our way of "reading" animal behavior and counting their numbers in the wild, what are the implications for our own data and wildlife conservation practices? (I look at this as kind of a Hawthorne Study in the wild.)

Rebecca R Achterman: Athlete's foot in worms? Turns out that some worms are very similar to human skin when it comes to diseases like athlete's foot, ringworm, and other skin ailments. Studying the effect of disease-causing fungi on the worms can give us insights into a whole host of skin infections.

Erin Ashe: Dolphinpalooza. Co-founder of the nonprofit Oceans Initiative, Erin Ashe takes to the high seas with her dog Wishart (dolphin spotter/sniffer/listener), to follow the Pacific white-sided dolphin. She's been studying and photographing this population to see how the dolphins interact with other species. Her non-invasive techniques (photography and statistics) track the dolphins through time to assess whether they are declining or endangered.

Eric Basham: Magnetic Nerve Stimulator Prototype. Basham wants to study the effects of electromagnetic pulses on a worm, because that could teach him more about the human brain. His modest budget is earmarked for worm bed and board and a few electronic components. Instead of a large-scale magnetic stimulator that runs into the tens of thousands of dollars, the parts Basham is looking for have price tags in the single- and two-digit range. Furthermore, whatever he builds, he will share as open source.

Jeffrey Bodwin: Pennies instead of petroleum! Bodwin wants to liberate cellulose from all parts of a plant for ethanol production instead of from just the kernel. His work is aimed toward chemically opening plant fibers and freeing their energy reserves. (Bodwin also created this Google map showing where all the forty-niners are.)

Timothy Bonebrake: Urban Butterfly Blues. Bonebrake has watched an estimated ten butterfly species go extinct in Griffith Park. He wants to know why, and he wants to know how to help save the butterflies that remain, not least because butterflies are environmental and health indicators. His study of the park involves citizen science in collaboration with schools and museums. (He also takes school kids on cool field trips.) And he posts pictures, like this lone duskywing near the end of its season.

Jarrett Byrnes: Hey! Did you miss that fish?! Byrnes has a treasure trove of data that spans 30 years, but he needs to calibrate it. The data, once calibrated, can show how the Channel Islands kelp forest has been changing, letting researchers get a better handle on environmental and other effects. Byrnes wants to fund a couple of dives that will get him the missing data links that will let him do that calibration. In addition to his own research, Byrnes also helped fund an aquarium to bring the ocean to disadvantaged schoolchildren in Utah.

Jessica Carilli: Corals and Climate Change. Carilli studies human impacts on coastal ecosystems. She's looking partiularly at heat stress: what lets some corals live while others die, the best places for corals to survive, and what humans can do to help corals survive. She also took some time out from preparing her #SciFund proposal to give birth to her son, who makes a three-days-late prenatal cameo in her video. He also attends her lectures.

Katelyn Cavanaugh: Learner Control in Online Training Programs. Cavanaugh wants to know what goes on when people control their own rate of learning in online training programs. Some studies show that learning improves when learners take control, while other studies show that learning suffers. Cavanaugh is investigating individual decision-making processes, using crowdsourcing to recruit her study participants.

Center for Conservation Biology: Preserving wildlife to benefit farmers. The Center wants to know if forests can support the native predators of crop pests. Researchers are tracking bird and bat species that are predators of a pest called the coffee berry borer. Farmers can conceivably preserve the habitats of these predators, which then help keep agricultural pests in check. Rather than taking an either/or approach to farms versus wilderness, the two could work in concert to benefit both farmers and wildlife.

Scott Chamberlain: Evolution in Agriculture. There is much more species diversity in natural landsapes than in agricultural ones, but what does this mean? Diversity offers more protections against pests, for one thing. Chamberlain is looking into how these differences drive plant evolution, by studying native sunflowers near or far from agricultural crops, and the role that pollinators play in both those types of environments. Pollinators and seed predators both influence the evolution of flower traits. Chamberlain is also studying the evolution of agricultural weeds.

Chip Cochran: The Yin-Yang World of Venom. Cochran chases down southwestern speckled rattlesnakes to collect blood and venom samples. Across their range, this species exhibits different markings and possible differences in venom. Cochran's work examines the toxins within these venoms, for the purpose of designing better anti-venom and for potential use in drug therapies.

Shermin deSilva: Helping elephants and people coexist. DeSilva has spent six years studying around 600 Asian elephants in Sri Lanka. Not only is she breaking new ground in studying a largely unexamined species, but she is also taking a holistic approach to looking at how elephants and farmers affect each other. Check out EFECT's Facebook page.

Zen Faulkes: Doctor Zen and the Amazon Crayfish. "Dr. Zen" wants to come to Florida to gather up some slough crayfish, close cousins to "Amazon" marbled crayfish, so that he can study their evolutionary differences in addition to one very obvious one: slough crayfish reproduce sexually while marbled crayfish clone themselves. What he learns could possibly help stem the tide of the invasive marbled crayfish. Faulkes also curates a #SciFund Twitter feed, had reviewed every #SciFund proposal before it went live, and has put together some awesome videos (like #SciFund Super Team-Up and Kitten or Crayfish?, not to mention a Dancing Yeti Crabs playlist).

Kevin Fomalont: Depression -- an Illness of the Whole Body. Fomalont studies depression and is investigating the contributions of early life stress to the development of mental illness, not just neurologically but as an illness of the whole body. Mental illness runs in his family, so this is a personal as well as a professional quest. Drawing from the new and integrative field of psychoneuroimmunology, Fomalont's research is taking him to St. Petersburg, Russia, for rare international collaboration with Russian neuroscience researchers.

Robin Freeman: Tracking the migration of the Atlantic Puffin. Individual puffins take different migration routes, but those individual routes remain fairly constant over time. Freeman wants to learn what effect environmental change is having on those routes over the long term.

John Gust: Send John to the Jungle! Gust is seeking support for his travel to the Yucatan's Yalahau region, to retrieve and study its artifacts. Yalahau's nineteenth century industrial activities had made global impacts. Plus, Gust could potentially solve the murder of Robert Stephens, the last owner of an old rum distillery.

Elizabeth Hadly: Species in peril. Hadly's team is studying species at risk of losing their genetic diversity. Such diversity is key to species survival. The team is monitoring populations and sequencing the DNA of pikas and tuco-tucos, Costa Rican bats and birds, and rainforest frogs. (This just crossed the 50% funded mark!)

Kalani Kirk Hausman: STEMulate Learning! Hausman discovered the power of supercomputing on a budget, and he wants to spread that power and frugality throughout the American public educational system. An offshoot of his "Scrap-heap Supercomputing" workshops, this DIY lab would link computer nodes together in concert with projects like the World Community Grid's "Discover Clean Water" and "Cure for Childhood Cancer." Hausman himself devotes hundreds of hours of otherwise idle computer time to these projects. He also curates several #SciFund digests, such as this one at Scoop.it.

Steve Herbert: Domesticating algae for the 21st century. Herbert studies Chlamydomonas, an alga that may lie at the center of a new "green revolution" in biofuels. Herbert wants to see if genetic help from a related alga called Volvox could help "Chlamy" cells stick together for easier harvesting. It would be like picking up a slice of bread instead of one crumb at a time.

Matthew Hutchins: Methods of artifically aging red wine. Hutchins is looking to separate fact from fiction, comparing more than half a dozen methods of artifically aging red wine to see if any have any effect. These methods range from flowing the wine through an electric field to soaking it in toasted oak chips, to subjecting it to various gadgets.

Diane A Kelly: Force of Duck: Measuring explosive erection. Kelly has teamed up with biologist Patty Brennan to study the biomechanics of an evolutionary arms race (well, genital race) between male and female ducks. They want to know whether copulatory forces drive the evolution of reproductive structures. (If you've ever wondered whether a duck's penis can shatter a silicone tube, watch the video.) (This just reached the 50% mark!)

Debi Kilb: Every Blip Counts -- Low Cost Seismic Sensors. Kilb wants to turn every computer into a seismic recording device, because increasing earthquake understanding might help seismologists predict them better. Her fundraising would support developing a game to educate children and expand her network of users.

Kristina Killgrove: Ancient Rome DNA Project. Killgrove has already been studying the isotopes in ancient Roman bones that tell her how members of Rome's underclass had lived and died. Her groundbreaking research has already shed light on the heretofore invisible men, women, and children who had immigrated to Rome. Now she wants to study the DNA of Rome's "99%" to see where they all came from.

Matthew Leslie: Why is this dolphin's fin on backwards? Leslie is studying a species of spinner dolphin in which adult males sport dorsal fins classified as "wacky" or "funky," depending on which authority you consult. He wants to conduct flow tank studies to see if the odd "backwards" fin makes a difference in the dolphin's swimming capabilities and, by extension, its desirability as a mate. His video includes a shot of an X-29 experimental fighter plane with drag-reducing, backward-looking wings. If that sort of thing worked for planes, why not for cetaceans?

Levi Lewis: Saving Hawaii's Coral Reefs. Building upon research that examined the effects of pollution and overfishing in Maui, Lewis has organized a team of chemists, biologists and resource managers to explore the effects of water quality and herbivory on coral reef development. His team is looking at over eight sites along leeward Maui. (This project has just passed the 25% mark!)

Lopez et al.: Culture of Climate Change in French Polynesia. At the national level, French Polynesia has recently begun planning for how it will cope with the effects of climate change. Yet little is known about how local people in French Polynesia experience climate change on a daily basis, and how they're already coping with and responding to environmental fluctuations. An interdisciplinary team is studying how environmental change is affecting subsistence fishing and agriculture, tourism, aquaculture, fresh water availability, human health, and cultural identity.

Kelly Lyons: What's That Weed? Lyons is creating a pocket field guide to urban plants. Her original publication will be made for the city of San Antonio, but will serve as a template for other regions. In addition to high-quality macro photographs, Lyons' guide will contain general information and fascinating facts for each species. Her photos will be of two types, those dedicated to recognizing plants in the field and those dedicated to the more botanical understanding of the species and their relatives.

Jorge Mederos: Can we save Collserola National Park? The forest canopy plays a big role in ecosystem function and in regulating climate, but almost nothing is known about the tree canopy throughout Spain and Portugal. Mederos is studying insect species in the canopy of Collserola National Park, an Edenic forest surrounded by urban sprawl outside Barcelona. (This project has just passed the 25% mark!)

Daniel Mietchen and Fabiana Kubke: Transforming the way we publish research. Taking their cue from Beethoven, who said, "There should be only one repository of art in the world, to which the artist would donate his works in order to take what he would need," Mietchen and Kubke apply that principle to research. They want to make thousands of scholarly articles easily accessible -- to anyone -- by creating and maintaining a central repository.

Melia Nafus: The Secretive Life of the Desert Tortoise. Agassiz's desert tortoise is found only in the Southwestern deserts of North America, and it is in rapid decline. The desert tortoise is also difficult to study. It spends most of its time in burrows and is well camouflaged outside those burrows. Nafus wants to track tortoise populations with the help of radio transmitters. By knowing more about the tortoise's preferred habitat, better decisions can be made with respect to urban expansion and solar energy facilities.

Marisa Alonso Nuñez, Cancer? Yeast has answers. Nuñez is studying the effects on one of cancer's major players, a protein called Polo Kinase. Why yeast? Because the neat thing about Polo Kinase is that it ranges throughout the evolutionary spectrum from yeast to humans, and yeast is much easier to study.

Lindsey Peavey: Turtles in the Deep. Peavey wants to fill the knowledge gap that exists concerning olive ridley turtles. Studies of these turtles have concentrated on females nesting on beaches. Peavey wants to study these turtles in the open ocean, where they spend most of their time. That will allow her to study both sexes and all ages, to see how they are foraging and otherwise utilizing their habitat. This knowledge can then help the fishing industry be more effective in catching more of its target species and avoid the bycatch of turtles.

Bree Putnam Squirrel-Snake Face Off!Putnam wants to know why ground squirrels harass rattlesnakes for no apparent reason, particularly using a behavior called tail-flagging. Tail-flagging creates an infrared signal that rattlesnakes are specially equipped to detect. Putnam is using a mechanical squirrel to collect data on rattler behavior.

Yoav Ram: The Evolution of Stress-Induced Hypermutation. Ram's mathematical models on how bacteria react to stress show where conventional wisdom may have gone astray, and may explain why bacteria become antibiotic-resistant so quickly. Their mutations and evolution may also have implications for cancer treatment. Funds will help him travel from Israel to next year's Population Genetics Group meeting in Nottingham.

Aditya Rao: C-Cilia in Motion! Rao is studying Chlamydomonas cilia (hairs), which are a lot like the cilia occurring throughout the human body. Those little whips are so important than when something goes awry in one, some awful diseases happen. He wants to know how things go wrong, so that maybe some day they can be made to go right. (This project just reached 25%!)

Jennifer Schmitt: Smart Delivery. Schmitt wants to use Tanzania's vast network of cell phones and a Facebook-like social network to help transport vaccines to Tanzania's remotest villages, when and where they're needed. She's looking at the infrastructure already in place: Tanzania's people in motion. All they need, Schmitt says, is "extra room in their backpack, on their bike, in their trunk, on their mule, or elsewhere for transporting a small cooler of vaccines." They know where all the potholes and muddy ditches are, and they can navigate them better than traditional vaccine delivery trucks encountering the same ruts and yawning, washed-out chasms.

School Of Ants: School of Ants. Ants pollinate plants, disperse seeds, and eat insect pests. The School of Ants is a citizen science project that maps different ant populations that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. In addition to discovering new species, the School of Ants tracks shifts in ant populations as their landscape is altered by urbanization and a changing climate.

Serengeti Lion Project: Serengeti Live. The Serengeti Lion Project spans 45 years. More than 200 camera traps capture images of the Serengeti's large carnivores, to study how these predators coexist; those cameras currently generate a million photographs a year. Researchers wait months for friends and colleagues to fly home from Tanzania with flash drives. They're looking for a way to transmit photos by satellite, not just to the University of Minnesota but to the public.

Allison Styring: Mapping a Bornean Soundscape. Bornean rainforests are some of the most diverse forests on the planet. Not only are Bornean forests incredibly rich and poorly understood, but they're also under threat. Styring wants to record and map the sounds of hundreds of animal species living in these forests, ranging from ground to canopy, to better understand how they communicate, and to share the sounds with both the public and the scientific community.

Marisa Tellez: Alien vs. Predator. Tellez is studying the relationship between crocodilian species and their parasites, which have co-evolved over hundreds of millions of years. As a result, crocs have evolved the strongest immune system in the world. This bond between croc and parasite could possibly be beneficial, helping crocodilians adapt to changing environments. But the parasites fall victim to water pollution -- and without them, a croc's immune system could be compromised. This parasite-host relationship also has implications for human health and the relationship we have with our own parasites.

Susan Tsang: Bats in peril: flying foxes past and present. Tsang studies the flying fox, which does not use sonar. She wants to learn how these fruit bats relate to other bat species, but more than half of all flying fox species are endangered. By sequencing DNA from museum collections, Tsang can study those connections and the bats' genetic histories.

Luis Valledor: Chlamystress. The alga Chlamydomonas is good biofuel material, among other things, like a source of electricity and biomass heat. It produces even more when it's stressed. Luis Valledor studies "Chlamy" stress responses, which include making more material that can be refined into energy. More than just watching what they do, he wants to know how they do it. And since green slime hasn't yet become a Special of the Day at dining establishments, farming this alga sidesteps the debate over whether to use more popular crops (and valuable agricultural land) for food or for fuel.

Walter Weare: Artificial Photosynthesis at NCSU. Weare wants to collect and store solar energy, but not in a battery. Liquid fuel is much more energy-dense and thus weighs much less than a battery does. Weare is looking for a way to absorb the energy of light and then transfer it to a catalyst for making fuel.

Kelly Weinersmith: Support Zombie Research!. Weinersmith is studying fish behavior under the influence of parasites that reside in its brain. The parasites change the fish's brain chemistry in order to get the fish to behave in a way that's beneficial to the parasite -- like attracting a predatory bird. Since the parasite lives out its next life cycle in the gut of the bird, it wants the infected fish to be eaten.

Ross Whippo: Behold, the power of Seagrass! Whippo is studying the role of seagrass in the seagrass meadows of British Columbia. Those limp clumps on the beach are powerhouses of food, shelter, and photosynthetic energy, and are interconnected with many species throughout the ecosystem. Whippo wants to understand them better and figure out why they are declining.

The Wild Life Team: The Wild Life of our Homes. The Wild Life Team is collecting data from citizen scientists on the microbial life that is all around us but invisible. Their study includes genetic analysis of these life forms. They want to gain a better understanding of the species living with us and on us in different types of homes and environments, and hope to expand their reach into places with more extreme climates. They also want to study the impacts of climate change, both through short-term readings and "long-term ecological research houses."

Andi Wolfe: Cats Nails: A parasitic plant of South Africa. Wolfe is studying a South African plant whose health speaks for that of an entire ecosystem. Cats Nails takes all of its nutrients and water from the roots of other plants, and it is found in ecosystems that have been mostly preserved from human interference. The presence of Cats Nails means that an ecosystem is in relatively good shape. Wolfe's lab group is studying the plant's basic biology and the ways in which it relates to different species.

Lee Worden: Mathematics of Direct Democracy. Can the ways in which people work together to make decisions be charted mathematically? Can models be used to learn how we can best solve shared problems? Worden wants to know what works, not just within movements like Spain's Real Democracy movement, Greece's dimokratia movement, and Occupy Wall Street, but in the workplace and within the scientific process.

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Anonymous wastewater consultants said...

Thank you introducing me to the work of Levi Lewis.

He continues his research on Maui, he recently posted an updated here: http://coralreefecology.ucsd.edu/2012/01/23/pau-hana-maui-2011/

Kind regards,

8:16 PM  

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