The 2014 #SciFund Challenge

Logo for the #SciFund Challenge

SciFundLogo The 2014 #SciFund Challenge

At STEMulate Learning, we have taken part in the #SciFund Challenge since its creation. The high-performance computing (Supercomputing) node from Round 1 continues its ongoing support to the World Community Grid and has provided almost 50 years of total combined CPU power towards matters of importance on the global scale (treatments for cancer, developing new medicines, sources for water and power, etc).

That node was created through the support provided during the first #SciFund Challenge – a crowd-funded community effort supporting scientific investigation and tools to aid researchers in various disciplines: wildlife management, ecological studies, archaeology, sociology, and many other avenues that could benefit from citizen scientists joining their support to the researchers’ technical expertise.

Most of the researchers are not yet top men and women in their fields, already set up with extensive labs and government-funded equipment – instead, they are eager researchers with innovative and fresh ideas to investigate the world in amazing new ways and search for solutions to many different questions but their lack of seniority often prevents them access to equipment and support for travel for their research.

The needed resources have been marvelously obtained by asking friends, family and interested citizens for their support in terms of small donations of money or the much more valuable act of sharing their own enthusiasm for the researcher’s projects. Other agencies have picked up some past #SciFund Participants’ projects and provided support from other areas as well. One of my projects in Round #3 on neurocomputing was selected for a competition in a separate event, and their followers voted for their favorite project, after which my project received a monetary award that factored into the results of the #SciFund Challenge itself.

In other rounds, sometimes participants did not reach their funding goals but still attracted the attention of supporters who provided them with success after the event concluded. In Round #2, the original designer of the RepRap 3D printer, Adrian Bowyer, contacted Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, about my crowd-funding effort to obtain a 3D Printer. The donated MakerBot Replicator is still being used in our STEMulate Learning and SOLID Learning workshops to build educational solutions using Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing).

This year, our STEMulate Learning programs for the summer will include robots capable of underwater exploration (ROVs), which we are building using the open-source Sea Perch design created by MIT. This open-source design helps our students and public school educators to develop skills involving the design, creation, and use of robots through practice and even competitions using swimming pool facilities at their local schools.

Several of our students want to use the ROVs to study animals and plants in Texas rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. Landowners in the Texas Hill Country will allow us to take an extended exploration trek of the spring-fed river on their property, where dinosaur tracks are visible below the water’s surface. ROVs allow safer exploration for minor students, compared to the underwater solar panel tests in our Solar Seaweed project from #SciFund Round 2, which involved sending down human divers to take readings on our sunken solar PV panels’ output for the duration of their dive.

However, the divers could also reach much greater depths than our Sea Perch ROVs can attain, and could operate in open water rather than only in the protected water of swimming pools where the PVC-pipe and hobby motor-driven craft must operate. One of the resources I keep around for our workshops is a subscription to the MAKE magazine, in which Issue #34 detailed a new open-source ROV created by David Lang and Eric Stackpole. Their OpenROV is capable of extended operation in deeper open-water environments, and has been used to explore lakes, underwater caverns, sunken ships, the Aquarius Sea Base and even areas under the ice in frozen environments.

MAKE34Cover 219x300 The 2014 #SciFund Challenge

David and Eric crowd-funded the OpenROV design through Kickstarter, and when I talked with David about our program here, he thought it fit their hoped-for use of the open-source design they shared with the Maker community. David even agreed to provide an Endorsement for our project “Exploring the Depths with OpenROV” at Microryza, where the fourth #SciFund Challenge will be hosted starting next week.

Our past rounds were hosted by RocketHub, and operated differently – at RocketHub, it was possible to partially-fund a project even if it did not meet the target goal figure of support. Microryza projects are only successful if they reach the goal figure or more, at which point the project’s sponsoring organization receives the donated funds. If the project goal is not met, the funds are simply never transferred from the supporters to the researchers. This all-or-nothing quality required more focus on the crowd-funding part instead of the crowd-serving part I normally focus upon through the STEMulate Learning and SOLID Learning programs.

I and a group of other Texas A&M University faculty will be conducting a program this year for three week, termed the Aggie STEM Camp. This is entirely based on volunteer work, just as our other weekly workshops are managed. For the #SciFund Challenge, we are only crowd-funding additional equipment to expand our current program – all instructional personnel, land access and transportation costs are being provided by our existing supporters and volunteers.

We will be trying to raise a scant $1004 for the OpenROV in kit form,  with a stretch goal of $431 for an underwater video camera that would let our students record their explorations and share those videos on YouTube for other students elsewhere. This is a fairly small amount, so each donor can make a real difference by a donation of $25 or $50, even for $5-$10 instead of the morning coffee that day, although we hope some of our supporters may want to do more if they are able.

Our past rounds of the #SciFund Challenge have provided many and continuing opportunities for scientific research, exploration and education of Junior High and High School students in public schools. The example provided by each week’s donated CPU power from the World Community Grid node illustrates the power of distributed computing and of individual small donations towards greater causes for teachers and students.

WorkForLoveSmall The 2014 #SciFund Challenge

I ask you to spread the word about our programs and our crowd-funding effort to your contacts through social media and personal connections, whether you decide to support our crowd-funding project monetarily or not.  The more people talking about Science and STEM education today, the better chance our kids have in the world ahead!

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