BIODESIGN for the REAL WORLD, this project, would not have gotten off the ground so smoothly without the help of the SEED Money Grant from EPFL’s Cooperation and Development (CODEV) Office. We were honored and happy to participate in their First CODEV Seed Money Conference on 30 October. It was a great chance for our team to also reflect on the past 2 years we have been funded by this annual SEED grant.
Here you can find our presentation with the notes. We were asked specifically to address the following points:
- What are/were the main activities carried out through the funded projects?
- What is your particular experience regarding the Seed Money Project? What is its usefulness?
- How do researchers experience and assess the articulation of the contributions of the different actors involved?
- How do EPFL researchers assess their collaboration experience with their foreign partners?
- How do foreign partners assess their collaboration experience with EPFL researchers?
- What are the main opportunities and challenges of such form of scientific cooperation (N-S)?
- Have researchers encountered any problems during project implementation? What were such problems and what were their consequences?
- How do researchers assess the amount of budget received in relation to the activities accomplished?
- What was the benefit of having this project funded for a second round?
Some of the points that may not have been obvious that came up in our 3 partner site discussions were:
- [It is] not just about water monitoring quality or all the technical details but its also about building a network, interact with people, and working with different people’s ‘visions’ (Timbil from Lifepatch)
- This project is an opportunity to transfer research from the researcher to the public faster
- We have access to each-others ground networks, because we all come with our own practice.
- The project is also about designing strategies/curriculum to bring multidisciplinary collaborations with designers, artists, citizens and scientists together to make scientific tools, instruments and data more accessible to the public.
- This site, biodesign.cc and the other online sites (github too!) is a nice way to instantaneously provide access to our activities across partner sites, although nothing replaces in-person sharing
- That our access map looks like the one of the DIYbio map – but we have a long way to reach all the hackers (as assumed by the hackerspace map of the world) – we are not the only ones interested in water quality, mapping
- From a paper that describes the development for a chemical process for making an off-patent drug in enantiopure form – a project from 2006 to 2010. We cover some, but can definitely work on the last of their key points, which they conclude are important in the success of open-source (products) projects:
- kernel of activity
- cross-posting/exchange of documentation, methods
- low barrier to entry
- defining exactly / making obvious how others can contribute
Most of all, I quote Andreas from Lifepatch – [my] focus is communities.
This funding scheme is unique in that they aim at “promoting and strengthening scientific cooperation for development between its researchers and their partner institutions in emerging and developing countries”. Also very important for us, is how open they are to the thematics of what they fund. Their only requirement for the proposal was to “address key problems” faced by our partner countries. Without this open call, it would have been difficult to find funding for our project, our transdisciplinary (engineering school, art design and technology school, citizen science initiative) group, to do open science with no “preliminary data” on the specific subject.
The conference was a great opportunity to meet people at EPFL and also their partners abroad, doing amazing projects, who share the spirit of crossing disciplines and learning to collaborate across cultures. We were happy to see that Prof. Melanie Blokesch, and Prof. Rizlan Bernier-Latmani, both of whom inspires us and helped us kicked off 2013, presented their work at the conference. Prof. Blokesch discussed her project of the biomolecular analysis of cholera dissemination in DR Congo. Prof. Bernier-Latmani is now working on arsenic in the Mekong Delta, and interested in the arsenic absorbed in rice plants. Her work funded by the SEED grant allowed the researchers to build trusting partnerships, a hypothesis based on field-work, and larger scientific funding.
We saw that the SEED grant kick-started other projects, including urban mobility projects in Cuba. We were able to appreciate the history of the SEED grant program and its impact of the scientific investment in de-mining projects with collaborations in Colombia, as well as the establishment of strong academic nodes in electrochemistry for environmental remediation in Colombia and the Ivory Coast.
We were also excited to see the connections between projects. People doing mapping – areal mapping and quantification of vegetation and animal diversity, that involves academic partners, tourism, and an EPFL spin-off. Also, the SenseCityVity project in Guanajuato Mexico, which looks at urbanism crowdsourced through highschool students’ social media input from mobile phones. While it is a solid computer science project, the additional dimensions with engaging citizens as “factors of social change”, and the belief in this impact to the community was very inspiring.
We hope they continue this conference and more people in the EPFL community come to see the range of exciting international projects that are happening with people on campus.
If you are interested in applying for the SEED grant with your EPFL partner, the deadline for 2015 proposals is 15 December!
*the photographs courtesy of CODEV EPFL