Early in the history of science, thinkers such as Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci couldn’t rely on cushy tenure appointments to pay the bills and fund their research. Instead, these visionaries relied on the system of patronage, in which wealthy individuals such as Cosimo II de’Medici and King Francis I of France funded their work in return for both results and the social capital associated with supporting the progress of humankind. As scientists across the world, and the United States in particular, are forced to forgo expenses due to sequestration or the pace of the economy, some are turning back to this old model in a new way through the use of the social funding platform Kickstarter. This blog has previously reported on the ARKYD space telescope, but there are many other science projects worthy of support on the site. Here are seven of the most interesting ways you can become a patron of scientific progress today!
Leaf and Liquid – With the recent rise in popularity of gardening and urban farming, it’s become more important for technologically-adept city dwellers to understand the factors involved in growing plants. This project aims to create an accurate pH measurement system that plugs directly into a smartphone, making this important soil test more widely available.
Float the Dover Bronze Age Boat – In the vein of the famed voyage of the Kon-Tiki, this experimental archeology project hopes to test the seaworthiness of a boat recovered from under the streets of Dover in England. Backers could get a place on the first crew of one of the oldest known sea-going ships in history.
A Pregnancy Test For An Endangered Species – By combining a biosensor for spawning hormones with radio transmitters, Jim Garvey of Southern Illinois University has created a clever way to determine exactly where sturgeon go to reproduce. These data will give better focus to conservation efforts for this commercially important group of fish (and for enough money, one of the research subjects will be named after you!).
Library for All – The developing world is in dire need of science education, and although sites like Coursera and Khan Academy are valuable resources, they rely on technological access many may not have. Library for All is designing a system that works on practically all devices and bandwidth levels, opening scientific knowledge to even the least privileged.
Infragram – Near-infrared photography has become a widely-used technique in plant science, and this project wants to make it more accessible for the amateur scientist. Even artists may want to get their hands on the technology for the strikingly unusual colors that it produces.
Fermostat – For science that directly improves your life, look no further than this ingenious piece of tech, which simplifies the precise control of homebrewing beer. As the great Benjamin Franklin is (falsely) said to have written, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there are bacteria.”
The RoboRoach – Perhaps the creepiest project of the bunch, this effort to create the first “commercially available cyborg” will allow you to turn a living cockroach into a controllable puppet by electrically stimulating the neurons that detect obstructions in the insect’s path. While potentially amusing to anyone, the project also provides an inexpensive way for students to learn the basics of behavioral neuroscience.