Students use crowdfunding to pay for research

By Dylan Reynolds

Two innovative University of Akron graduate students recently decided to skip the typical methods of research funding, opting instead for a more modern approach: crowdfunding.

The students, Angela M. Alicea-Serrano and Bor-Kai “Bill” Hsiung, took advantage of crowdfunding to pay for the fees associated with the biology-related research that they conduct.  Crowdfunding is a relatively new method of fundraising in which cash-seekers request donations via the Internet.

Alicea-Serrano and Hsiung entered a competition on The organizers picked 20 projects related to “animal superpowers” from more than 12 U.S. universities. In the competition, participants were guided through the creation of an online research proposal. These proposals were related to unusual animal traits, such as the punching power of pistol shrimp or geckos’ sticky feet.

Once the proposals were listed on the website, the public could view each proposal and, if they so desired, contribute money.  The competitor with the highest contributions at the end of the contest was awarded an additional $1,500 for his or her victory.  The competition began at the beginning of April, and just wrapped up on April 22.

Hsiung’s research, which raised a total of $7,708, pertains to tarantula hairs. With his crowdfunded money, he will use 3D nano-printing to create five models of tarantula hair. This is an attempt to mimic the nanostructures of the hair of the large spider.

Meanwhile, Alicea-Serrano’s research proposal involved Hawaiian spiders — specifically , the evolution of the silk they produce. In the future, she will travel to Hawaii to collect samples from these spiders, and she hopes to use the funds from the crowdfunding to contribute to her travel expenses.

Alicea-Serrano’s proposal raised $2,962.

In the past, students seeking research funding had to apply for grants, which tends to be a long, arduous process. But nowadays, funding is more difficult to obtain from government agencies and universities have less money to offer student researchers. Under these circumstances, crowdfunding has become a viable option for students looking for research money. Fortunately for Alicea-Serrano and Hsiung, they are ahead of the curve.