Who: I am a life-sciences explorer.
What: I surf nutrient-to-gene trails.
Where: My base camp is at the University of Geneva.
When: - gianpaolo.rando@unige.ch,

DIY Research: how to start their own

It is possible for researchers to start their own private lab?
If in your life you want to sell pizza, it is easy to find a business plan: just open a pizza shop. But if you want to sell science, and you want to do it by yourself, in your garage rather than corporate in some academy or industry... Is it possible? Remember this name: InnoCentive. It will work also if you have already a job but have some spare-time to develop additional rewarding projects on the side. Sometimes, no more than a written proposal is required, and even if you don't have pipettes and centrifuges at home, you can just sell your ideas.

Got an idea? Sell it. Picture by Wonderferret

InnoCentive: a rewarding solution to DIY science projects.
InnoCentive believes that great solutions to tough problems can come from anywhere. Seeker organizations work with InnoCentive team to formulate and host Challenges with awards ranging from $5,000 to $1 million. They've already awarded over $9 million and counting - with some hard work and ingenuity, you could be the next winning Solver! In this post, I will introduce you to how InnoCentive works, and what you can do to become a successful and active Solver. The InnoCentive CEO, Dwayne Spradlin, blogs about the mission and how the solvers have 'helped changed the world' in the past year. In this blog he gives a great synopsis of what they have done in the last year and discusses some of the most noteworthy Challenges solved in 2011.

Connect with the global Solver community.
InnoCentive is home to a diverse global community of Solvers. Each Solver brings his or her unique experiences to every Challenge. It is recommended to follow the "I'm a Solver" blog section, where they regularly feature posts written by winning Solvers from around the world. You'll learn who they are and what makes them tick. They come from all walks of life and most likely possess many of the attributes that caused you to register with InnoCentive.

Personalize your experience with My InnoCentive.
When you log in to InnoCentive using your username or email and password, you'll be directed to My InnoCentive. From here, you can personalize your profile by clicking on the tabs labeled My Interests, My Account, and My Public Profile found across the top of the page. The My Challenges Tab aggregates all the Challenges you are currently working on, so you can easily keep track of deadlines and Challenge updates. If you have not viewed any Challenges you will be directed to the Recommended Challenges view which will select Challenges based on your indicated interests.

Start solving...view the details of some Challenges.
Each time you view the Details of a Challenge you will be asked to accept the Solver Agreement that is attached to the Challenge. It is by signing this agreement that you open a Project Room for a Challenge and the Challenge Details come into view so you can start working on your solution. From here you can ask questions and submit your solutions.

But how to find a relevant research demand?

You have already read about Fold.it, the site where people play online to solve protein structure for free. Imagine now an online pavillion who is actually paying the intellectual work of scientists working at home through different calls - named Challenges - to take part in a real scientific problem. This is InnoCentive. There are different challenge calls on InnoCentive: the theoretical one, the analytical one, etc. Take a look on their page where they are briefly explained. Each challenge is defined and written up by one innovation manager in collaboration with the seeker posting the challenge. Usually, InnoCentive offers problems and awards from highly reputable seeker companies and not-for-profit organizations, such as Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly, and the Rockefeller Foundation. To have an idea of the level of the creativity required to solve a typical challenge, read this Science article excerpt:
This week, Massachusetts-based InnoCentive announced the winners of its latest Web-based challenge: to use smartphones to detect potholes. Building on a city of Boston app called Street Bump, which uses GPS and accelerometer data from a smartphone to record a car's location and sudden bounces, contestants vied to find ways to pool this data from many vehicles while distinguishing potholes from jolt-inducing features like railroad crossings... [from: Science 24 February 2012, page 897]
How can I find a Challenge that might interest me? All the open challenges reside in a Challenge Center whose tab is available from your My InnoCentive page. Different disciplines classify a challenge and some pavilions determines their themes or populations features. You can choose challenges by selecting tags, then sorting them by posted date, deadline, award amount or number of solvers who have opened a project room. At that time you may also request a weekly digest of your selected view sent to your email address.

Do I need to sign an agreement? Yes, but electronically. Each challenge type has different Solver Agreements to be signed. The Seekers, who also have signed agreements and are paying to post their challenges, decide in conjunction with the project manager what challenge type best fits their problem. InnoCentive has been in business since 2001 and has awarded over 7 million dollars to over 850 Solvers. To check out these solvers and previously awarded Challenges you can have a look at the Awarded Challenges page.

Working on a Challenge. So find that challenge you want to solve. For instance, sell how to recover Bacillus spores from swabs at $30,000, or minimize surface damages on chocolate for 20,000 bucks. When you open the corresponding Project Room, all the details of the Challenge will become visible. You will find confidential data that the seekers want to make available to you but do not want to share with everybody. One of the things you do when you sign the Solver agreement is to keep this detailed information private. In the Project Room you will also see a Message and Solution tab. If you need to ask questions about the technical details of a Challenge click on the Message tab and select the Compose New Message button. The manager following this challenge will answer your question or get an answer from the seeker. Click on the Solution tab when you want to submit a solution for reducing fat absorption in french fries, get it accepted and enjoy the $8,000 money reward. Happy searching and solving!