Posts Tagged ‘National Science Foundation’

National Science Foundation Helps Scientists & Engineers Become Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Laboratory research and business innovation normally don’t go together. But the National Science Foundation is trying to change that with Innovation Corps, a program designed to teach scientists and engineers how to become entrepreneurs.

Under a $10 million grant through the NSF, I-Corps will award $50,000 to 100 teams each year for five years to turn their research into innovative startups that benefit the economy and create jobs.

Suitably, the education portion of I-Corps will be taught through the Stanford Technology Ventures Program at Stanford University, tucked into the venture capitalist region of Silicon Valley.

The program is an MBA of sorts for scientists and engineers. By applying a scientific method approach to entrepreneurship, I-Corps has the potential to drastically change how laboratory research is transformed into entrepreneurial realities.

Over a period of six months, teams will be mentored by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to learn how to commercialize their ideas by identifying the resources required, targeting the right customers and successfully delivering their products. They will also learn how their research adds value to the marketplace.

The NSF will pilot new merit review processes to swiftly identify financial support and mentorship for research discoveries made through I-Corps.

The program is a public-private partnership between NSF, the Deshpande Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation. It kicks off in September.

Video Games in the Service of Research

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted. Two of us in the communications department spent the afternoon playing video games.

And our boss was cool with it. No, really, he was.

Chances are he wouldn’t be so nonchalant were we engrossed in, say, the next installment of Grand Theft Auto or Modern Warfare 3. No, these games serve a higher purpose: furthering research.

We came across them earlier in the week, thanks to a report on ScienceInsider. The blog post wondered when the National Institutes of Health was going to dip its toe into high-risk, high-reward research, with a prize attached to it.

According to the report, the America COMPETES Act allows NIH to do so; the story quotes a senior NIH official as saying that progress has been made, but patience is required. Further down, the story discusses how the non-scientific public can be used to further biomedical research; one example is the website, which hosts a treasure trove of data on patients and could be useful for researchers to sift through.

Then came the video games.

Computer games like FoldIt and EteRNA allow non-scientists to participate in the discovery process. And that can be beneficial; one computer scientist notes that people with only a basic scientific background aren’t constrained by what they think the answer should be. Instead, their free-thinking solutions continue to delight scientists.

So, the Research!America team did just that: We unleashed two non-scientists onto the games to get their perspectives:



Background: FoldIt has been around for a few years (as the timestamp on this post from BoingBoing notes), and it asks users to fold and modify proteins in different ways. And in doing so, it helps researchers at the University of Washington gain a better understanding of protein folding, as well as finding microscopic improvements that could turn harmful proteins into beneficial ones. One important note: FoldIt is a downloadable application, so if you plan on using it at work, you might need permission to get it onto your hard drive.

Gameplay: As others in the links above have said, the game is strangely addicting. For a non-scientist, it takes time to become used to the concepts of hyrdophobics and clashes. Fortunately, there’s an extensive tutorial to make you aware of all of the tools at hand: design mode, shaking and wiggling (whose music is vaguely reminiscent of CSPAN2’s orchestral music during a Senate quorum call). But in all, it makes you feel powerful, in that you’re contributing to something larger than yourself and that you have complete creative freedom while doing so. There are no right answers, only a score and the challenge to beat others are on the high score board. And be prepared to be frustrated when you come within 10 points of advancing to the next tutorial or just missing out on the big board; with the click of a mouse, you can return to your most productive point, which certainly helps when a single stroke reduces your score from 8,500 to zero.



Background: EteRNA’s slogan is “Played by Humans, Scored by Nature.” Indeed, a weekly winner is chosen and that person’s results are synthesized. Like the folding proteins in FoldIt, the winner’s creation is scored based on how well the RNA folds. The game helps researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University better understand life at the cellular level and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, molecules, by the way, play critical roles in the fundamental processes of life and disease – from protein synthesis and HIV replication to cellular control, according to EteRNA. However, the implications of this knowledge are not fully understood, and scientists still don’t fully grasp all of RNA’s roles.
That’s where EteRNA comes in.

Gameplay: Like FoldIt, EteRNA is rather addicting and required some getting used to for a non-scientist, communications type. Kindly, EteRNA offers tutorial puzzles — the first of three types of puzzles it possesses — for users to familiarize themselves with RNA design. Once you’ve cleared the five tutorials (or before, if you dare), you can move on to challenge puzzles, which allow you to hone your RNA folding skills. But don’t worry — if you get stuck, EteRNA helps you by offering a strategy guide. Once you get really good, EteRNA invites you to create your own puzzles with the goal of identifying problems with existing algorithms and working toward improving them.

Research Advocacy in the News

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

With federal funding much in the news as Congress debates spending priorities and deficit reduction, Research!America and our members and partners have also been in the news, speaking out about the economic impact of research and its importance to our nation’s health and competitiveness.

Research!America initiated the concept and worked with Richard Bridges, PhD, College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, University of Montana, on an op-ed published today in the Helena Independent Record, yesterday in The Billings Gazette and last Thursday in the Missoulian, both located in the district of Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-At-Large-Montana), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees HHS agencies. The full op-ed (“Invest in Montana research, continue to reap long-term benefits”) is available online at the links above. Among the points made in the op-ed:

While many Montanans benefit from and appreciate research discoveries, they may not be aware that these discoveries are made right in their own state. As the number and competitiveness of scientists in our universities, hospitals and research institutes have grown dramatically in the past several years, so too has our success in attracting NIH grants. Considering that about 60 to 70 percent of this funding typically supports salaries, it translates directly into jobs: skilled technical jobs, sustainable jobs and well-paying jobs. Indeed, a study by the Families USA Foundation revealed that in 2008, the $38 million awarded to Montana by NIH led to the creation of about 700 jobs. Further analysis by Research!America revealed these health research jobs in Montana had an average annual salary around $55,000. Excitingly, this successful trend is continuing, as 2010 saw further increases in both NIH and NSF awards made to Montana.

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Our current times require that not just scientists speak up, but that all of us who see the long-term value of science voice a call to continue making our national investment in research a priority. Research is the key to Montana’s future.

Research!America’s chair, former Congressman John Edward Porter (R-IL), was cited in The Nation and by Bloomberg News for his leadership in doubling the National Institutes of Health budget in 1998, working with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in the face of strong budget-cutting pressures. Porter also was interviewed by Nature Medicine’s Spoonful of Medicine blog in a Q&A, “How to protect research funding from the chopping block,” that was picked up by Stanford Medicine’s Scope blog.

Research!America’s President and CEO Mary Woolley was quoted in The Washington Post’s Federal Eye blog on proposed cuts to the National Science Foundation budget and in The Washington Times on the impact of research cuts to U.S. competitiveness. She authored a guest post on PhRMA’s Catalyst blog, noting steps advocates can take now to protect federal funding for medical and health research. For more ways to take action to protect research funding, visit or sign-up here for our advocacy alerts.

Research!America’s new Your Congress-Your Health poll data was cited in Nature Medicine’s Spoonful of Medicine blog and by wire services United Press International and Asian News International. See the full poll findings and urge your Member of Congress to respond to the Your Congress-Your Health questionnaire at

Research!America Urges Congress: Support Medical Research in 2012 Budget

Monday, April 18th, 2011

WASHINGTON—April 18, 2011—Research!America urged Congress to prioritize medical, health and scientific research as it begins the process of determining the FY2012 federal budget.

Former Congressman John Edward Porter (R-IL), Research!America’s chair, said, “Science, research and innovation are the future for our economy, for job growth and for healthier, more productive lives. Our national deficit poses a serious challenge, and we must meet that challenge and solve our deficit and debt problem. But in so doing, we must prioritize what is vital to us and what is not and build on our areas of worldwide leadership. In medical research, we have always been and are today the global leader. We cannot allow that to be lost. We must protect funding for the federal agencies that drive our competitiveness in the world and our leadership in science and innovation.”

Research!America called for protection of funding for our nation’s leading health research agencies:

• National Institutes of Health, which funds research at academic institutions and medical centers nationwide, creating jobs, boosting local economies and laying the groundwork for product development by the private sector;
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose research helps protect Americans against pandemics and bioterrorism and works to prevent costly disease and disability;
• Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which supports research that improves the efficiency and quality of health care and thus helps control costs;
• National Science Foundation, which funds basic discoveries that private industry can develop into new products and technologies, creating jobs and ensuring U.S. competitiveness; and
• Food and Drug Administration, whose regulatory science ensures the safety and efficacy of new medicines and medical devices, speeding the benefits of research to patients.

Mary Woolley, Research!America’s president and CEO, said, “Research and development are economic imperatives, not partisan issues. I hope Congress and the White House will agree on a bipartisan basis that we must invest in health research as a means of saving lives, saving dollars—through smarter, better health care—and maintaining our leadership in an innovation-driven global economy.”

Woolley added, “The public understands this well. In a Research!America poll last month, 78% of Americans said federal funding for health research is important for job creation and the economy, and 61% say accelerating our nation’s investment in research to improve health is a priority. I urge Congress to tell Americans where they stand at I also encourage the public to contact their elected officials’ district offices during this week’s congressional recess to ask them to fill out the questionnaire.”

Last week, Research!America submitted written testimony, available here, to the House Subcommittee that oversees appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Research!America is the nation’s largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, Research!America is supported by member organizations that represent the voices of 125 million Americans. Visit

FY11 Budget Compromise: Science Agencies’ Funding

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

As we’re all now well aware, the battle over the FY11 budget recently — and finally — came to a head. In almost the final hour, as the nation counted down to what seemed to be a certain shutdown, Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise, thereby narrowly avoiding a shutdown.

The compromise resulted in the largest annual spending cut in our history: Overall, the agreed-upon continuing resolution cuts $78.5 billion from President Barack Obama’s FY11 budget request.

Most notably, a $500 million cut in biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health was avoided. NIH, as many other agencies, will face cuts (ScienceInsider has more details) but the cuts are less than a previous version of the budget.

According to the most recent numbers available, compared to the FY2010 enacted levels, the budget deal cuts $260 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health; $53 million from the National Science Foundation; $69 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and $25 million from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Official numbers on cuts to the Food and Drug Administration were not immediately available.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the compromise legislation tomorrow.