The Key to Securing a Grant From the Gates Foundation: Be as Sci-Fi as Possible

Critics say Gates should be funding clean water before Ozcan's disease-detecting cell phone.
At the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Germany, Carlos Alberto Guzman is working on a way to administer vaccines using particles that enter the body through hair follicles and burst open when they make contact with sweat. An ocean and a continent away, UCLA researcher Aydogan Ozcan is making cell phones that double as microscopes capable of diagnosing malaria.

What both of these men have in common is an extra $100,000 to fund their research courtesy of the Gates Foundation. The Foundation announced the latest recipients of its Grand Challenges Exploration grants on Monday, many for work that sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel.

The Grand Challenges grants were created by the foundation two years ago. They fund discovery and development of "new tools to fight the diseases that cause millions of deaths each year in developing countries," the foundation says.

Getting one of the $100,000 grants doesn't require the usual pages of supporting data. Instead, anyone with a left-field idea (another recent grantee wants to use carnivorous plants to eat malaria-spreading mosquitoes) is encouraged to fill out the two-page application. "Recognizing that great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone," the site explains, the grants were created "to encourage even bolder and less conventional solutions."

Over the course of five years, the foundation plans to give out $100 million in $100,000 increments. If grant recipients can then show their idea might actually work, they can qualify more significant financial support from the foundation.

The next round of applications for the $100,000 grants are due May 19. The topics this time around include finding new methods of contraception and keeping moms and babies healthy. We're working on an iPhone app that locates the nearest condom dispensary, with mapping software for both Africa and the UDistrict.

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