A brief history of science funding (and how you can help!)

11:17:00 AM

Have you used your cell phone today? Eaten an apple? How about turned on a light?




You’re probably well aware that each of these things was, on some level, the result of a scientific discovery. (Think I’m wrong on the apple? Researchers at the University of Minnesota developed the Honeycrisp. And man, am I glad they decided it was worth checking into.) Back when Ben Franklin was curious about electricity, if he wanted to test an idea, he paid for it all by himself—a funding strategy that was the norm for generations. But as more and more people started developing useful things, the procedure for funding discoveries started to change. The patent system was developed, private investors and companies started paying for research, and national governments established their own agencies to fund scientific studies.

Today, most scientific research in the United States is funded by government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. There are also a huge variety of private organizations, companies, and charities that fund anything from pharmaceutical drug trials to spaceflight. Latest to the financing party is crowdfunding—the American Cancer Society recently used this technique to provide a two-year grant for a post-doc to research ovarian cancer.

So how can you make sure scientists develop the next Honeycrisp apple?* While you can’t actually help the NIH or the NSF decide which grants to fund, you can contact your Congress reps to let them know you support increasing the budget to those agencies. You can find one of the thousands of different agencies that fund special-interest research, and donate or volunteer. And you can use sites like sciencedonations.com to actively fund researchers in various fields, or even to help them out with their work.

It’s hard to say what could be discovered with your help, but one thing is certain—scientists around the country depend on your support. So pick up your pen, your checkbook, or your lab coat, and get to work!


Researchers from CU Boulder
showing their support at Relay for Life 2015.

Looking for a local way to help support research? The American Cancer Society (ACS) is currently funding several researchers right here at CU Boulder. Volunteers have organized a fundraiser for the ACS, the Relay for Life of Boulder, which starts at 6pm this Friday, July 22nd at Fairview High School. Come on down with your family and friends for fun activities, competitions, food for sale, a silent auction, and much more!

*Don’t worry, they’re working on it.

Written by Jaimee Hoefert, the founder of Science Buffs, and a PhD student in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

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