Seed grants help ideas grow

Stanford researchers have for years looked to seed grants to get innovative, risky or simply new ideas – whether it’s using prawns to combat disease or drones to map coral reefs – off the ground.

There’s an inherent catch when it comes to funding new research ideas. To get results, researchers need money. But before most funding agencies will provide grants, they want to see preliminary results – a little data to show that the crazy idea might work. What’s an academic to do?

One solution is seed grants, relatively small amounts of money set aside so that faculty can develop innovative, oddball or just plain new ideas. At Stanford, they’re often given out by interdisciplinary institutes like Stanford Bio-X, which has been fostering new collaborations between biologists and other fields of study for nearly 20 years. And since 2017, a number of seed grant opportunities have found a home at a Dean of Research-sponsored site,

“With seed grants, researchers can try out risky, early-stage ideas,” said Kathryn Moler, vice provost and dean of research. “Students can work jointly with two professors even if those professors don’t have joint external funding. Principal investigators can get the preliminary data they need to make their proposals more competitive. And with a topical seed grant program, Stanford can build a community of researchers in a new area.”

Stanford researchers have done all of those things: they’ve used drones to map coral reefs and track climate change, they’ve turned prawns into a weapon against water-borne parasites and they’ve developed wireless, biodegradable sensors that detect internal bleeding after surgery, all with the help of seed grants. What’s more, many of those projects were able to expand once the initial efforts proved fruitful.

A scientist carefully conducts her experiment in a research laboratory.
Image credit: Getty Images

Seed Grants for Health and Wellness

Better understanding the forces at play behind human health requires more than just scientists working in isolation in a lab. Many of the most challenging problems require teams of biologists, chemists, engineers, clinicians – even some social scientists – to work together. Seed grants have helped such teams find better treatments for cancer, reveal the inner workings of our brains and help seniors eat healthier food.

Extreme cold could reveal herpesvirus infection dynamics

Researchers don’t know much about how viruses like those that cause chicken pox infect cells. A super-cold form of electron microscopy could change that.

Regular Pokémon players have Pikachu on the brain

Adults who played Pokémon videogames extensively as children have a brain region that responds preferentially to images of Pikachu and other characters from the series.

In search of flatworms’ regenerative powers

No one knows exactly how flatworms can rebuild their entire bodies from the tiniest sliver. Now, bioengineers and materials scientists are building new tools to study the worms’ awesome regenerative powers.

Possible blood test for colon cancer

Up to half of people who should be screened for colorectal cancer do not get the routine procedure. A blood test to detect colorectal cancer being developed by Stanford doctors and materials scientists could help change that.

A glove to treat symptoms of stroke

Strokes often have a devastating impact on something most of us rely heavily on in our daily lives – our hands. Now, Stanford researchers are collaborating on a vibrating glove that could improve hand function after a stroke.

A simple new blood test for tuberculosis

While tuberculosis testing is now routine, standard tests don’t work for kids, people with HIV/AIDS and others who struggle to cough anything up from their lungs. A Stanford team is developing a new test to fill the gap.

A smartphone app to treat and track autism

Stanford bioinformatics researchers are working on a smartphone app that could help diagnose autism in minutes – and provide ongoing therapy as well, all with fewer visits to specialized clinics.

New techniques to study deadly ovarian cancer

A particularly deadly form of ovarian cancer is so deadly in part because it is quick to develop resistance to the drugs used to treat it. Now, a team is using new materials and imaging techniques to better understand the disease.

Wireless, battery-free, biodegradable blood flow sensor

Transforming super-sensitive touch sensors, Stanford engineers and medical researchers build a way to wirelessly monitor blood flow after surgery.

Tiny wireless device could help researchers study chronic pain

A team of Stanford Bio-X scientists and engineers is creating a small wireless device that could improve studies of chronic pain.

In Stanford study, worms dine on nanoparticles to help test biological force sensor technology

A biologist and a materials scientist have teamed up to unravel the biological forces at play within our bodies. The first phase: feeding nanoparticles to worms. Part of a series on tiny answers to biology's biggest questions.

DNA in wastewater could provide clues to help community health, Stanford researchers say

Stanford Bio-X researchers are developing methods for monitoring of DNA in wastewater, which could enable early detection of disease and discovery of previously undetected pathogens.

Stanford scientists find abandoned drug effective against 2 human viruses in lab

Stanford scientists have resurrected a discarded drug that helps human cells in a lab dish fight off two different viruses. Based on what they learned about how the drug works, it might also help fight the viruses that cause Ebola, dengue and Zika, among others.

Stanford scientists observe brain activity in real time

A Stanford Bio-X team of scientists invented tools for watching mice brain nerves send signals in real time. The technique will make it easier to study brain functions and help develop therapies for brain diseases.

Brain stethoscope listens for silent seizures

By converting brain waves into sound, even non-specialists can detect “silent seizures” – epileptic seizures without the convulsions most of us expect.

Light-sensitive chips could one day restore sight to the blind

Millions of people are slowly losing their vision to diseases of the retina, such as age-related macular degeneration. Now, a device more than a decade in the making may help some of them see again.

Stanford scientists create ‘guided chemotherapy missiles’ that target cancer cells and spare healthy ones

Latching chemotherapy drugs onto proteins that seek out tumors could provide a new way of treating tumors in the brain or with limited blood supply that are hard to reach with traditional chemotherapy.

Stanford scientists develop new technique for imaging cells and tissues under the skin

A team of Stanford Bio-X scientists developed the first technique for viewing cells and tissues in three dimensions under the skin. The work could improve diagnosis and treatment for some forms of cancer and blindness.

Gel-like padding being developed by a Stanford Bio-X team could help cells survive injection and heal spinal cord injuries

A team of Bio-X scientists is developing a gel to help protect cells from the trauma of being injected into an injury site. The work could help speed cell-based therapies for spinal cord injuries and other types of damage.

‘Squishiness’ can indicate embryo viability, Stanford researchers find

A team of bioengineers and physicians has found that the squishiness of an hour-old fertilized egg can predict its viability, a metric that could lead to safer, more successful IVF pregnancies.

Collaboration aims to improve cancer care in Nigeria

Stanford physicians are engaged in an ongoing and wide-ranging collaboration with the country’s ministry of health and doctors at major university-affiliated hospitals to improve several areas of cancer care.

Egyptian women say doctors don’t discourage female genital cutting

More Egyptian women are seeking the opinions of physicians on whether their daughters should undergo female genital cutting, which is illegal in the country, but they say doctors don’t advise against the procedure.

Mobile devices help remove barriers to fresh food

Researchers from the Stanford Prevention Research Center identified a number of challenges to healthful living for seniors. In response, the center established Neighborhood Eating and Activity Advocacy Teams (NEAAT) to organize seniors and improve their access to healthful food.

Researchers aim to see if patients are helped by genetic tests

Researchers studied whether giving patients genetic information about their risk of coronary artery disease would help motivate them to reduce that risk by changing their behavior.

With tablet computers, seniors flag problems in local neighborhoods

Researchers at the Stanford Prevention Research Center developed a computer tablet to help neighborhoods flag problems for city planners.

How an interdisciplinary chef cooked up imaging technique

Spurred by the loss of a friend, Adam de la Zerda developed a new imaging technique to detect changes in cancerous tumors sooner than previously possible.

The brain doesn’t navigate quite like a GPS

Neuroscientists’ discovery of grid cells, popularly known as the brain’s GPS, was hailed as a major discovery. But new results suggest the system is more complicated than anyone had guessed.

Micro-balloons could reveal how the small intestine adapts to dietary load

A tiny micro-balloon that fits inside a fruit fly intestine could help scientists understand the forces or nutrients responsible for signaling the intestine to grow or shrink in response to food. Part of a series on tiny answers to biology's biggest questions.

A rare disease inspires a new test for aldehydes

Fanconi anemia is a rare but deadly disease, and there are no good drugs to treat its root cause. Now, Stanford researchers are developing a test that could help kids with the disease and millions more with related conditions.

Image credit: Scott Randall/Flickr

Seed Grants for the Environment

Whether it’s climate change or river-borne disease, environmental challenges are inherently complex, intertwining our health, politics, economy and more. To solve those problems, researchers need to reach across traditional academic boundaries. Seed grants have helped make those interdisciplinary collaborations possible, allowing Stanford researchers to confront lead contamination in Bangladesh, track climate impacts on our infrastructure and coral reefs and discover a new way to literally chew up plastic.

Plastic-eating worms may offer solution to mounting waste, Stanford researchers discover

An ongoing study by Stanford engineers, in collaboration with researchers in China, shows that common mealworms can safely biodegrade various types of plastic.

Stanford researchers look to stormwater as a solution for semiarid regions

Coordinated work with local and federal agencies could provide a template for capture and reuse of stormwater in dry regions such as the American West.

Stanford researchers find prawn solution to spread of deadly disease

New Stanford research shows that the river prawn, a natural predator of parasite-carrying snails, proves effective at curbing the spread of schistosomiasis in West Africa.

Stanford researchers track a silent killer in rural Bangladesh

An interdisciplinary team of Stanford researchers seek to understand why lead contamination persists in one of the poorest corners of the world, and how to stop its spread.

Prawn vs. snail: Stanford researchers use competition to fight disease

Researchers from Stanford's Woods Institute believe little crustacean could play big part in stopping spread of parasitic infection in Africa.

Stanford drones open way to new world of coral research

Camera-equipped flying robots promise new insights into climate change effects on important ecosystems.

Stanford research shows Aboriginal hunting practice increases animal populations

The way that Aboriginal people in Australia go about hunting monitor lizards for food, based on "dreaming," leads to many more of the lizards, rather than fewer.

When bridges collapse: Are we underestimating the risk?

Studying how and why bridges have collapsed in the past identifies the limitation of current risk assessment approach and demonstrates the value of new perspectives on climate change impact.

Sanitation solution for urban slums gets national recognition

Building on seed-grant funded research, a Stanford team working on a sustainable solution recently won a new grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

teacher calling on student with raised hand
Image credit: Getty Images

Seed Grants for Education

Seed grants support more than just the latest scientific and technological discoveries. They’ve helped Stanford faculty and staff develop innovative new ways to teach students on campus and around the world. Among the results have been a distance learning initiative, a new online platform for collaborative learning and a series of online courses in science communication, each of which continues to this day.

Annotation tool helps students beyond Stanford

Lacuna, a free online annotation platform developed at Stanford, promotes collaborative learning and interdisciplinary conversations. The platform is being used at higher education institutions around the world.

Seed grants enable new online courses for Stanford students

The newest cohort of faculty pioneers will teach at Stanford, in high school, on overseas programs – and throughout the world. One of the grants is being used for a course that launches tomorrow.

‘Now you try it’: Stanford faculty share experiences of online teaching

A packed forum at the Stanford Graduate School of Education draws students and educators eager to implement new technologies and methods.

Stanford MOOC goes to extremes to teach Environmental Physiology

Researchers Anne Friedlander and Corey Dysick spent 48 hours at the 14,000-foot summit of Pikes Peak to study the impact of high altitude on the body for a Stanford online course.

Stanford course explores social networking in the 18th century – and in nature

An interdisciplinary freshman course shows students how networking predates Facebook by hundreds, even millions of years.

Blood, sweat (but no tears) in Stanford HumBio class

Podcasts by students, followed by action videos, make exercise physiology real, very real.

Upping the quality of science papers, one paragraph at a time

A faculty member's online science-writing class helps researchers from around the world hone their writing and presentation skills.

Stanford expands distance learning across the globe

Funding from the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning has helped create distance-learning environmental education courses in Africa.