Meet Your Search for Research Microgrant Winners!

Last week the inaugural Search for Research competition came to an exciting conclusion.  While there was movement all across the leaderboard, the eventual top two finishers battled it out for the top spot with over 1000 votes between them in the final 24 hours!  Luckily, thanks to all of your support in downloading and using the toolbar, we raised enough money to fund both of them!  So let’s meet the first class of Microgrant award winners.


First Place

Photo by Alex Snyder

Tim Williams

Tim Williams is an undergraduate at Ohio University in the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology. From early on he has been eager to get involved in research. As an over-ambitious freshmen he quickly realized how little he knew and how unprepared he was for research. He has spent his last two years filling his course load with everything he could to remedy this even taking a PhD level lab course. He has recently been accepted into the lab of his choice, lead by Dr. Sarah Wyatt and he couldn’t be happier.

Tim intends to use the grant money provided by BenchFly to buy UV water filtration systems to avoid the algae-induced 80% mortality rate (per month) that plagued the preliminary studies on Isoetes’ growth regulation. Water monitoring equipment will also be purchased to regulate the environmental conditions as has been impossible to date. Isoetes is not readily available and without a large, stable, controlled population, significant progress would be impossible.

How long have you been performing research?

I have only very recently gotten involved in independent research. This spring I am completing a PhD level course on cellular and molecular lab techniques so that I might be as prepared as possible for my lab position. My progress on the Isoetes project has been to compile the background knowledge to improve on previous mistakes. I will formally begin after the Isoetes is ready to be collected, which will be soon.

What got you interested in science?

I have been interested in science as long as I have been alive. I can remember being frustrated by the lack of information online before even Google existed. As a kid, no one had satisfactory answers for my questions, but my family encouraged me in every way. In grade school I realized that “why?” is more important than “what?” because once “why?” is answered, it explains everything else. That question, “why?” is what science is all about.

What are some of the major problems you face in performing research?

As a sophomore, my largest hurdle to performing research has been getting a foot in the door. I wanted to start as a freshman, but that option never materialized. It takes a mix of ability, an open spot in a lab, and funding to get this to work. This grant helped close that last gap so I can finally begin in earnest.

How will the BenchFly Microgrant help you move your project forward?

The Benchfly Microgrant is essential to this project. The project was at a stand-still. With no funding, the project has been inactive for over a year. The previous research on Isoetes has been plagued by murderous brown algae. I will now be able to properly combat this foe so that the Isoetes specimens may live long enough to be studied properly. This project is now able to resume with increased vigor.



Sergio Diez-de-Medina

Sergio is a Biochemist at the Universidad de Chile who holds a Masters degree in Technology Management from the Universidad de Talca. Currently, he is pursuing his PhD in Biotechnology at Universidad Andrés Bello with the support of a CONICYT fellowship. He works in Plant Functional Genomics and Bioinformatics with Dr. Herman Silva searching for pathogen resistance and biohydrogen production within chilean potato varieties. He also acts as a managing editor for the technology management journal

How long have you been performing research?

If I consider the undergraduate research units that I did before getting into Plant Biotechnology then I’ve been in the lab since 1999, but I´d rather say that I really started research when I got into this field in 2002.

What got you interested in science?

Ever since I was a kid, everything related to science grabbed my attention, particularly astronomy. Also, I think playing with fire and making funny mixtures in the backyard played a role too. But after I met chemistry in high school, I just got captivated by her.

What are some of the major problems you face in performing research?

Considering that I work in a country so distant from the rest of the world, receiving our reagents and equipment in time to perform our work is a major challenge.  Also, I must say that the opportunities for scientists in Chile are very unfavorable, economically speaking. Maybe this is the reason why so many good Chilean researchers go overseas to find a job after grad school (quality of life factor).

How will the BenchFly Microgrant help you move your project forward?

These days I´m looking forward to finding some interesting genes in these potato varieties. So to have a good precision micropipettors will help me to develop the molecular biology assays that I need to use.


Here are their proposals:

Resurrecting a Fossil: A Window on Evolution (Tim Williams)

Isoetes is an ancient plant, descended from the Earth’s first giant trees around 420 million years ago. These trees reached 180 feet in just a few years, capturing a huge amount of CO2 and forming much of the present-day coal. Modern Isoetes have a defect in growth regulation keeping them very short. By understanding how Isoetes works, we can learn a lot about early plant evolution, and we may even be able to restore these amazing trees. This grant will help establish a controlled population Isoetes and will offset the material cost of the research.

Super-Potatoes!!! (Sergio Diez-de-Medina)

Potato is one of the most important crops included in human diet. Worldwide the production of potatoes is affected by several pathogens, been one of the most devastating Phytophtora infestans, which caused in 19th century the great irish famine. Nowadays this pathogen is still an issue due to its complexity. Lately has been identified chilean potato varieties that are substancially resistant to highly aggresive Phytophtora isolates. A Benchfly microgrant will be very useful to buy materials to identify the molecular reasons of the natural resistance in these chilean “super potatoes.”


Congratulations again to our winners and thanks to everyone who participated in the Search for Research contest!


12 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Erich Palma

    wrote on May 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Exelent, Sergius is good guy and better scientist.

  2. nmsco

    wrote on May 13, 2010 at 1:32 am

    In your opinion he may well be, but reality and votes possibly say different :-)

  3. Tim Williams

    wrote on May 13, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I would advise you not to judge me before I've gotten dirty in the lab. There is a difference between potential and achievement. I'll happily let you judge me once I'm published. ;-)

  4. necrotic

    wrote on May 13, 2010 at 3:30 am

    although it's not an R01, cheers to the microgrant contest for showing that there are ways to pay for experiments beyond the NIH.

  5. Drazen

    wrote on May 13, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Congratulations to our guys ;)

  6. Tim Williams

    wrote on May 13, 2010 at 8:29 am

    I find it amusing to share the spotlight with a project on potatoes. I'm one of the few Americans who doesn't like potatoes in any form, even fried. Even so, congratulations to my fellow plant biologist.

  7. Katie Boehle

    wrote on May 17, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Congrats to both winners!!!

  8. Bob Friedman

    wrote on May 17, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Congratulations Tim! You continue to make me proud to be your Grandpa Bob.

  9. Moniqua`

    wrote on May 18, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Way to go Tim! We are so proud and look forward to hearing more. Moniqua

  10. Puneet

    wrote on May 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I want to pursue my career in research .I am really interested in science too , but my only problem is my fear. Whenever I learn that someone has done a lot of hardwork and achieved something then I
    really feel happy for that person but at the same time I doubt myself that will I b able to do the same? or will I ever b able to do so much of hardwork?can I ever do that?
    I really need encouragement , so plz reply back.

  11. [email protected]

    wrote on May 26, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Fear of failure is incredibly common among scientists. In fact, we'll be posting an article on the subject in the next couple of weeks. I'd say if you're interested in science and think you may want to pursue research, go for it! Roll up your sleeves and give it your best shot. If you fail, take what you've learned and move forward – it may hurt, but it's not the end of the world. But you'll never succeed if you don't even try!

  12. Write Grants Like Kenny Rogers? | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on September 27, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    […] we prepare for our next round of microgrant funding through our Search for Research program, we’d like to know the award structure that you prefer. Which type of gambler are you […]

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