Academic Researchers look to Crowdfunding Platforms

Researcher Chris Grant samples fish populations in   a Pennsylvanian river Photo Source: Inside Higher ED

Researcher Chris Grant samples fish populations in a Pennsylvanian river
Photo Source: Inside Higher ED

When a professor from a small liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania decided to take on a massive research project two summers ago, he went through the usual, often futile, process of applying for federal and private grants. But when funds were short a year later, he went down a nontraditional route — turning to the public and the Internet for help.

In 50 days, Juniata College’s Chris Grant and his research partner, Gina Lamendella, raised $10,800 through a crowdfunding website called iAMscientist. The money was used to fund an ongoing project on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on Pennsylvania’s stream ecosystems.

“There were a lot of initial questions, but we’ve paved the way for other people at smaller institutions to use this funding as a mechanism,” Lamendella said. “I think it’s certainly the way of the future.”

As a result of increased competition and diminishing federal research funding, it is becoming more difficult for university researchers to bring their scholarly endeavors to life. Though still in their relatively early stages, crowdfunding platforms are becoming a popular mechanism for scientists to raise cash — quickly.

Though there are differences from one platform to the next, crowdfunding sites function similarly: A person posts a description of his or her idea asking for small contributions from the community at large, and those who feel passionately about the project can donate. The fund-raiser is usually given a specific amount of time to reach his or her goal, or the backers are not charged. Typically the crowdfunding site receives a percentage of the amount the fund-raiser earns, and backers can receive “rewards” from the fund-raiser for pledging certain amounts of cash.

Kickstarter, which launched in 2009, is the world’s largest funding platform for artists, musicians, filmmakers and designers. While many projects fail, some have found massive success on the site — like a video game that gained $4,188,927 from 74,905 backers.

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