August 2011

Angel investment from the masses

A prototype machine to demonstrate optogenetics, funded by FundScience and developed by Backyard Brains with Senior Engineering Design Students from the University of Michigan. Reprinted with permission from

In spite of the hurdles, the founders are passionate about their organizations. As Fries puts it, "I'm sometimes more fascinated by SciFlies than by my own research." Vitrant works fulltime for FundScience. And progress is being made. $512.20 provided by FundScience, an amount that is too tiny to attract the attention of regular funding sources, was all the money needed to allow five undergraduate students at the University of Michigan to make a prototype tool they used for a project in optogenetics. Another grantee is ready to publish results partially funded by FundScience. It is still a long way from addressing the funding shortage for early-stage science projects; however, "the progress has been heartwarming," Vitrant said.

The traditional funding of basic science has largely relied on the patronage of wealthy individuals and, through national funding agencies, taxpayers. Now, with the support of microfinancing, scientists can be less frustrated by funding and more focused on science when they test new projects.

Jianfei (Jeffrey) Zhao ( is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute.


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