Today is Cyber Monday, the unofficial start of the online holiday shopping season. Although there are certainly deals to be had on the latest technology and clothing, a number of less-traveled sites offer a chance to buy the gift of knowledge. Using similar models to that of the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter, science platforms such as Sciflies, RocketHub, and Microryza offer contributors the chance to patronize cutting-edge research and receive detailed updates from the scientists involved (as well as the occasional souvenir). Any one of the projects in this roundup would be a great way to make this Christmas a festive season for science.
Do Asian elephant calls have grammar-like elements? – It’s been said that elephants never forget, but are they remembering words? Michael Pardo, a doctoral student at Cornell University, plans to spend six months in the forests and grasslands of Sri Lanka recording Asian elephant calls to find out. By digitally manipulating the calls and then playing them back to other elephants, he hopes to determine what similarities the vocalizations share with human language.
CAT: Launch a Water-Propelled Satellite into Deep Space – The use of water as rocket fuel makes a lot of sense: it’s cheap, plentiful, and could be gathered in the form of ice from space itself. Benjamin Longmier of the University of Michigan and colleagues plan to use their Kickstarter funds to run experiments on their plasma propulsion system, culminating in a launch of a small “CubeSat” to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.
Can we forecast the perfect ski day? – In an appropriately wintry project, Tim Garret of the University of Utah is developing a high-speed camera capable of taking millions of photographs of falling snowflakes. While themselves beautiful (and, of course, unique), the images will help Garret and his colleagues develop better computer models for predicting snowfall and snow development.
What are the Golden Eagles in Arizona eating? – The United States has two native eagle species: the famous Bald Eagle and the lesser-known Golden Eagle. Michelle Losee, a doctoral student at Antioch University, hopes to bridge the knowledge gap for an important bit of Golden Eagle ecology. The funds she raises will be used to cover her field expenses as she explores the diets of nesting eagles, supporting efforts to conserve these majestic birds.
How does a parasite create zombie-like behavior? – This project may have been more appropriate around Halloween, but it’s simply too interesting to ignore in this season. In a tale straight from a horror story, the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis infects carpenter ants and hijacks their bodies, maneuvering them into favorable positions for spreading the fungus further. Scientists are mystified as to how this occurs, but Charissa de Bekker of Pennsylvania State University plans to compare the activation of genes in ants before and after the fungal takeover to find out.