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, seedfunding.stanford.edu.
“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.
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.
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.
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.