21 Scientific Research Projects Starting This Fall That Could Change The WorldS

Every year, governments and other institutions give scientists grants to continue valuable research in their fields. In the fall, we'll see thousands of such research projects get started — projects that will cure disease, improve agriculture, create more efficient energy, and take us into space — all thanks to funding from taxpayers and philanthropists.

Here are twenty-one standout projects from many nations that will start to change the world this fall.

These are just a handful of the thousands of publicly and privately-funded science projects starting this fall, and many of the grant amounts here are intended to cover years of research to come. If there's a research project you're excited about that didn't make our list, please post in comments and tell us about it!


Brain Tissue Regeneration After Stroke
Funded by: National Science Foundation (NSF) (US)
How much: $450,000
What it is: Clemson University's Ning Zhang will use this grant to develop a stem cell engineering strategy that promotes self-repair in the brains of stroke patients.
Why we are excited: Zhang made headlines in 2009 when her research on rats injected with a specially formulated "hydrogel" suggested that the gel could spur recovery and growth of stem cells in the brain. The therapeutic potential of a regenerative treatment such as this is incredibly exciting given the present lack of effective treatments for brain injuries in a clinical setting.

Development of a Hookworm Vaccine
Funded by: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
How much: $12 million
What it is: The Sabin Vaccine Institute will use this grant "to provide proof-of-principle that vaccination with two hookworm antigens will reduce infection caused by Necator americanus." In other words: A working hookworm vaccine for a disease that disproportionately affects the poor.
Why we are excited: Hookworm is often classified as a "neglected disease" because it's hard to get funding to fight diseases that affect impoverished regions of the world. Support to develop a working vaccine for hookworm could improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Identification of Biomarkers of Malaria Infection

Funded by: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
How much: $9 Million
What it is: A grant to the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of infectious diseases. This project will look for small molecules, DNA, and proteins that correlate with protection from pre-erythrocytic (PE) malaria infection by Plasmodium falciparum, and possibly predict the outcome of vaccine trials.
Why we are excited: Plasmodium falciparum, the particular protozoan parasite targeted in this study, is responsible for over 90% of the malarial infections worldwide, 98% of infection in Africa, and 90% of deaths from Malaria. A clinical vaccine for Malaria does not exist, and if this research is successful, could lead to a clinical vaccine that save the lives of millions of people a year.

21 Scientific Research Projects Starting This Fall That Could Change The WorldS

Space Exploration

China Launches its Space Station, Tiangong 1

Funded by: China's National Space Administration
How much: Undisclosed
What it is: Tiangong 1 ("Heavenly Palace" in English) will be China's prototype space station, weighing in at 8.5 tons. The station itself will be launched in early Fall, with 3 follow-up missions planned over the next two years, the last of which should place Chinese astronauts on the space station.
Why we are excited: As the United States ends its period of manned space flight (at least for a time), it's very exciting to see other countries step up and turn their eyes to the stars. Also, Tiangong 1 could possibly become the new "International Space Station" as it should still be in service when the ISS is decommissioned in 2020.

Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE)
Funded by: Russian Space Research Institute, developed in part by the Planetary Society
How much: Undisclosed
What it is: Ten types of organisms including eukaryotic and prokaryotic bacteria will be flown in triplicate in a self-contained, 100 gram cylinder carried on the Russian Fobos-Grunt return probe that will be sent to examine Phobos, a moon of Mars, later this year. Extremophiles were given preference for this mission, due to their abilities to withstand extremes in temperature and salt conditions, with a full list of organisms listed here. Why we are excited: Microbes take a three year journey into space! This experiment, if successful, could be proof of concept of various organisms being able to exist in the vacuum and temperatures of space.

Mexico begins its own Space Program
Funded by: Agencia Espacial Mexicana
How much: Undisclosed
What it is: A General Director of the Agency of Mexico's newly founded space agency will be named this Fall, solidifying their aims for developing their own space program and codifying their policies for exploration of space.
Why we are excited: A country initiating their own space program with the aim of putting manned vessels in space and not piggy-backing on Russian or United States flights is a very cool and expensive undertaking. The national pride garnered and political ramifications will be of much interest, especially as more countries follow suit.

Green Energy and Renewable Materials

Plug and Play Photosynthesis
Funded by: Royal Society (UK)
How much: $560,000
What it is: An attempt to observe electron transmission between engineered photosynthetic cyanobacteria and shunt the produced electrons to fuel production modules.
Why we are excited: Using the sun and bacteria as an electrical power source – a great untapped resource. Bacteria grow at an exponential rate in most cases, so this would be an excellent renewable energy source if successful.

Biotransforming Phenylpropanoids derived from Biorefining
Funded by: Royal Society (UK)
How much: $580,000
What it is: Mimicking synthetic process used by organisms during metabolism to turn phenylpropanoids, small organic compounds that are a waste product from fuel manufacturing, into useful intermediates for the food industry.
Why we are excited: They are taking fuel waste and attempting to make it edible! Reduces waste and makes good use of it. We'll take it.

Developing and Investigating an Ultra-stable Molecular Hub for Bionanotechnology
Funded by: Royal Society (UK)
How much: $550,000
What it is: The biotin-streptavidin binding system is one of the tightest known , and this project will look at a mutant of streptavidin, traptavidin. Early studies on traptavidin show that it binds biotin ten times tighter than streptavidin.
Why we are excited: The biotin-streptavidin interaction is used in everything from tethering single DNA and protein molecules for study to industrial applications like protein purification. Increased immobilization will advance these areas, and open up a whole new realm of possibilities for tethering and using enzymes.

Preparation of Products of Economic Importance (Chitin & Chitosan) from Shellfish Waste
Funded by: The Pakistan Science Foundation
How much: Undisclosed
What it is: The polysaccharides Chitin & Chitosan have well known industrial uses, with Chitin used as a food and pharmaceutical stabilizer (along with its well known use as a biodegradable surgical thread), while Chitosan has been used extensively in water filtrationand has been recently shown to help "heal" scratches when exposed to UV light in a polyurethane based compound.
Why we are excited: Taking biological waste destined for a land-fill and turning it into a product of economic importance is a perfect example of good earth stewardship, and the financial benefit is a wonderful plus.

21 Scientific Research Projects Starting This Fall That Could Change The WorldS

Agricultural Sciences

Diversification of Smallholder Coastal Aquaculture in Indonesia
Funded by: Australian Center for International Agricultural Research
How much: $2 Million
What it is: A cross country funding initiative to aid small shrimping communities in Indonesia that have been devastated by recent viral attacks and market fluctuations. The program will test whether a change in producing aquaculture that thrives in brackish water (like tilapia, milkfish, grouper, crabs and sea cucumbers) would be beneficial to the indigenous population both economically and health wise.
Why we are excited: Cross country initiatives are exciting in general, especially when they could re-invent the farming culture of small communities for the better on several levels by working smarter, not harder. This is the type of science that helps families and individuals directly – the small steps that lead to larger leaps.

Developing Epigenetic and Gene Regulatory Systems for the Production of Food Crops & Biofuels
Funded by: Howard Hughes Medical Institute/The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (HHMI-GBMF) (US)
How much: $5 million
What it is: Cold spring Harbor's Dr. Rob Martienssen conducts revolutionary research on the epigenetic mechanisms of plants; transposons (mobile genetic sequences also known as "jumping genes"; and RNAi (a biological mechanism of gene silencing) to tackle pressing agricultural issues.
Why we are excited: Martienssen has a proven track record of conducting groundbreaking research, and he's expected to continue doing so. His various projects are pushing the boundaries of plant genetics in ways that could herald important advances in food security, improved nutrition, and sustainable energy — breakthroughs that could affect the lives of billions of people worldwide. As an example, Martienssen speculates that it may be possible to grow plants that can reproduce without pollination.

Earth and Environmental Sciences

Development of a Remotely Operated, Undersea Robotic Vehicle for Exploration of Ice-Covered Environments
Funded by: NSF (US)
How much: $2 million
What it is: A team of scientists and engineers at Woods Hole Oceonagraphic Institution, led by Principle Engineer Andy Bowen, is working to develop Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) that will allow us to explore polar seas and ice-covered ocean environments.
Why we are excited: Bowen tells io9 that work in the area of polar ROVs is particularly timely because it gives us the opportunity to "construct systems capable of doing new types of work under the polar ice caps, in particular under fixed ice glaciers in areas like Antarctica and Greenland, which are the subject of significant scientific interest due to changes in climate and sea level." Bowen says systems like the polar ROV represent an entirely new genre of underwater vehicles that will allow us to explore some of the harshest environments on Earth.

Understanding How Plants Will Respond to Drought and Other Environmental Threats
Funded by: HHMI-GBMF (US)
How much: $5 million
What it is: Dr. Keiko U. Torii's research at the University of Washington is driven by her desire to observe, make sense of, and understand the patterns of the natural world, and she accomplishes these things by elucidating how processes like cell proliferation and organ growth occur in plants.
Why we are excited:Torii's passion for understanding the orderly nature of the world around her has led her to remarkable discoveries (Torii was among the first scientists to discover receptor kinases in plants, the proteins that span cell membranes and help orchestrate communication within and between cells). Her continued research efforts will help us understand and predict how well crops, trees, and other plants can cope with climate change and other other environmental threats.

Closely Interacting Microbes as Hotspots of Biogeochemical Activity
Funded by: The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundationv (GBMF) (US)
How much: $867,000
What it is: This GBMF grant will fund investigations by the UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceonagraphy that explore how closely coupled marine microorganisms interact physically and exchange nutrient molecules.
Why we are excited: Biogeochemical research like this investigates the interplay of chemistry, physics, geology, and biology in incredibly interesting ways. In studying the effects of our ocean's microorganisms on biogeochemical cycles at the sea surface, we serve to gain a better understanding of everything from humanity's effects on the environment to the evolution of life on Earth itself.

Monitoring of Earth Surface Changes from Space
Funded by: GBMF (US)
How much: $725,000
What it is: Members of California Institute of Technology's Division of Geology and Planetary Sciences are developing new techniques to characterize images taken from space that will allow them to "monitor long-term changes in the Earth's surface at fine spatial and temporal scales."
Why we are excited: Development of better surface-monitoring techniques has implications for improving our understanding of everything from landslide processes to glacial movement to seismic activity.

21 Scientific Research Projects Starting This Fall That Could Change The WorldS

Technology and Biotechnology

NSF Engineering Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering
Funded by: National Science Foundation
How much: $18.5 Million
What it is: A grant to establish a center at the University of Washington to study how human physiology could interact seamless with robotics. The final aim of the research is that "the resulting intelligent systems, neural implants, and robotics will be engineered to meet individual human needs for sensation and movement. "
Why we are excited: The United States government officially embraces transhumanism through a major influx of funding and the establishment of the core center. This, in part, legitimizes the movement, moving it away from the fringes of society, while at the same time making it several steps closer to reality we may see in our lifetime.

Fault Tolerant Control and Reconfiguration of Walking Robots with Flexible Legs
Funded by: Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology of the Republic of Korea
How much: Undisclosed
What it is: A joint project to improve balance issues in walking robots. The project leads have already been successful on their own, and their combined insight will increase the quality of their results and expedite their contributions.
Why we are excited: Balance issues are one of the major chasms to overcome prior to widespread application of walking robots and a movement toward bipedal robots. The combined efforts on the part of the Indian and South Korean research team saving time and money as well, and increase communication between the two counties over the course of the three year project.


Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology
Funded by: Tanzanian Government (and loans from Tanzanian Social Security and Pension Funds)
How much: Undisclosed (rumored to be as much as $2 Billion)
What it is: A new center for science research in Arusha, that is currently finishing construction and should be taking students for the Fall 2011 semester. The goal is to have Masters and Ph.D. level student research, focusing on physical sciences and engineering.
Why we are excited: Advanced research in a part of world where it is lacking, with a tremendous amount of funding on a 200 acre site that seeks to do world-class research on the level of schools like MIT. These are the things we need all across the world if we are to truly advance as a species.

Brazil's Science Without Borders Program
Funded by: Brazilian Government
How much: $2 Billion
What it is: Funding to send approximately 75,000 Brazilian students interested in pursuing advance degrees in the physical sciences and engineering, with the hopes of a portion of the students returning and strengthening the scientific infrastructure of Brazil.
Why we are excited: Brazil currently has the 7th largest economy in the world, behind Great Britain and ahead of Italy, and this attempt to fortify their science infrastructure could advance them several years into the future, making the country a scientific powerhouse. Brazil also takes a liberal stance on stem cell research.

Enhancements to Bill Nye's Climate Lab Exhibition
Funded by: GBMF (US)
How much: $1.8 million
What it is: This grant to Chabot Space & Science Center will "support design, development, fabrication, and evaluation of enhancements to the Bill Nye Climate Lab Exhibition and website."
Why we are excited: Kids and adults alike should learn and understand the basic principles of climate change, how it affects them, and how they can address it — Bill Nye's Climate Lab Exhibition provides a perfect place for them to do just that. Plus, come on, who doesn't love Bill Nye?

Photos by Creations, Goodluz, mtr, Tveritinova Yulia via Shutterstock