New funding effort will deploy a corps of scientist ‘scouts’ to spot innovative ideas

Read the full story in Science.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineer Kristala Prather is relishing the chance to present her work in person at scientific meetings now that the pandemic has eased. But starting this month, she will head to the airport with an added goal in mind: to serve as a “scout” for an unusual new funding program.

Prather’s mission is to spot colleagues with an intriguing research idea so embryonic it has no chance of surviving traditional peer review—and, on her own, decide to provide some funding. “I’m looking forward to giving it a try,” she says. “I’m a people person, and I like learning new things.”

Prather’s new task comes thanks to the Hypothesis Fund, a nonprofit launched today that has an intriguing approach to funding climate change and health studies. Instead of inviting scientists to submit proposals, the fund will find recipients through 17 scouts—scientists, including Prather, chosen for their curiosity, creativity, diversity, and interest in the work of others. Each will get 12 months to award a total of $300,000 to fellow researchers with promising early-stage ideas.

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