PLOS Announces Finalists For The Accelerating Science Award Program

PLOS is pleased to announce the six finalists for the Accelerating Science Award Program (ASAP).  The program recognizes the use of scientific research, published through Open Access, that has led to innovations benefiting society. Major sponsors include the Wellcome Trust and Google. Three top awards of US$30,000 each will be announced on October 21 in Washington, DC at an Open Access Week kickoff event hosted by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and the World Bank.

As award finalists, these individuals and teams are being honored for addressing a real-world challenge either by reusing previously published Open Access research or by creating a new repository of freely available research data to assist current and future collaborative research projects.  Open Access is the free, immediate online availability of articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully as long as the author and the original source are properly attributed.

“As these finalists illustrate, Open Access is good for science, good for business and good for the public, because it eliminates artificial constraints on the dissemination of research findings. This means that every student, every scientist and every citizen can benefit from any study published by Open Access done anywhere in the world,” said Elizabeth Marincola, Chief Executive Officer of PLOS. “The ASAP sponsors are proud to have received many worthy nominations. The six finalists embody the Open Access ethos by drawing on freely available research to create innovations that better society.”

The six finalists, along with the challenges they address and their innovative approaches, include:

  • HIV Self-Test Empowers Patients (Nitika Pant Pai, MD, MPH, PhD, Caroline Vadnais, Roni Deli-Houssein and Sushmita Shivkumar):  Worldwide it is estimated that as many as six in 10 HIV-infected individuals don’t know their HIV status and don’t seek testing. To increase awareness, knowledge and access to a convenient HIV screening option, and to expedite connections to treatment in nations hardest hit by the disease, Dr. Nitika Pant Pai and medical staff at McGill University and McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, developed a strategy based on the synergy of the Internet, an oral fluid–based self-test and a cell phone. This integrated approach included HIV education, an online test to determine HIV risk level, instructions for testing and interpreting the results, and confidential resources for referrals to trained counselors, support and healthcare workers. The tailored smartphone application, developed on the basis of original research published in multiple Open Access journals, helps circumvent the social visibility of testing in a healthcare facility. The application could alleviate fears of stigma and discrimination and make HIV detection simple and confidential.
  • Global Collaboration to Fight Malaria (Matthew Todd, PhD):  At least one child dies of malaria every minute of every day, mainly in Africa and Asia. According to Matthew Todd, who leads the Open Source Malaria Consortium in Sydney, Australia, given minimal financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop new treatments and a high degree of suffering among the affected communities, a large-scale collaborative research model provides a solution. Todd turned publicly available data into a global effort to help identify new anti-malaria drugs.  He did this by creating an open-source collaborative involving scientists, college students and others from around the world. They use open online laboratory notebooks in which their experimental data is posted each day, enabling instant sharing and the ability to build on others’ findings in almost real time.  Todd’s Malaria Consortium could provide a model for researchers collaboratively tackling other daunting medical challenges, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Smartphone Becomes Microscope (Saber Iftekhar Khan, Eva Schmid, PhD and Oliver Hoeller, PhD):  Science teachers often struggle to engage young students when their classroom experiences are limited to pre-prepared biological samples viewed through standard microscopes. Mr. Saber Khan, a middle school technology teacher, teamed up with University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco scientists Eva Schmid and Oliver Hoeller to develop a student-ready cell phone microscope, turning a clinical diagnostic tool into a portable device students and teachers could use as a mobile learning laboratory. To meet this challenge, Schmid and Hoeller drew on an Open Access article by global health researchers who’d invented the original cell phone microscope for use in remote clinical settings. With the adapted tool in hand, Khan’s middle school students collected and imaged samples in city parks, geotagged their locations and blogged about their results. Today, a traveling kit of cell phone microscopes has helped engage students from Hawaii to Austria.
  • Calculating Ecotourism Impact (Ralf Buckley, PhD, Guy Castley, PhD, Clare Morrison, PhD, Alexa Mossaz, Fernanda de Vasconcellos Pegas, Clay Alan Simpkins and Rochelle Steven): An obstacle hindering the efforts to make the case for ecotourism as a sound conservation policy is the lack of dollar value put on protected species by  policymakers and the public, especially in low- and middle income countries. Ralf Buckley and his team from the International Centre for Ecotourism Research in Queensland, Australia developed an innovative method for calculating the value of ecotourism for endangered animals, based on freely available data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Calculations applied by Buckley’s team to endangered mammals, birds and frogs across the world, were published in Open Access publications in order to help publicly funded nature preserves make the most of their resources to protect and expand protected areas.
  • Measuring and Understanding the Sea (Mark J. Costello, PhD):  At a time when research shows 20,000 land and sea species to be directly threatened with extinction, marine ecologists are concerned they haven’t inventoried a vast number of oceanic species. Without this hard data, scientific knowledge and the potential effectiveness of conservation efforts are diminished. Dr. Mark Costello manages the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), the largest real-time collaboration of species (taxonomic) experts and marine biologists in the world. Their work completed the naming of more than 200,000 known species, adding up to 2,000 new species every year. WoRMS is now the international standard for marine species nomenclature and is relied upon by a large number of institutions.  In addition, a collection of Open Access articles specifically utilized the WoRMs Register.
  • Visualizing Complex Science (Daniel Mietchen, PhD, Raphael Wimmer and Nils Dagsson Moskopp): Many aspects critical to understanding science, experiments and the natural world can only be described in words and diagrams  in a limited way. Good quality multimedia can help make that understanding easier. Daniel Mietchen and his group accessed articles in PubMed Central to help them create the Open Access Media Importer (OAMI), a bot that can scrape and download supplementary multimedia files from Open Access science articles, repositories and data stores.  The bot has uploaded more than 13,000 files to Wikimedia Commons and has been used in more than 135 English Wikipedia articles that together garnered more than three million views.

 

Photos and video interviews of the finalists can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/asaptoolkit/ . The six finalists will be narrowed down to three award recipients by an international committee composed of distinguished leaders in multiple fields, including:

  • Agnes Binagwaho, MD, Minister of Health, Rwanda and faculty member in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School
  • Helga Nowotny, PhD, President of the European Research Council (ERC) and professor emeritus of Social Studies of Science, ETH Zurich
  • Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO, O’Reilly Media
  • Harold Varmus, MD, Nobel laureate, Co-founder of PLOS and the current Director of the National Cancer Institute

 

The ASAP program sponsors share a commitment to affect policy and public understanding to support the adoption of Open Access. They include the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), Co-Action Publishing, Copernicus Publications, Creative Commons, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Doris Duke Charitable Trust, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), eLife, Hindawi, Health Research Alliance (HRA), Howard Hughes Medical Institute, ImpactStory, Jisc, Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, Mendeley, Microsoft Research, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), Research Councils UK (RCUK), Research Libraries UK (RLUK), Social Science Research Network (SSRN), the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), SURF (Netherlands), the World Bank, and major sponsors Google, PLOS and the Wellcome Trust.

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About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization founded to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. PLOS engages in outreach activities that promote Open Access and innovations in the communication of research. 2013 marks PLOS’s tenth anniversary as an Open Access publisher, reaching an international audience through immediate and free availability of research on the Internet. PLOS publishes a suite of journals: PLOS ONE, PLOS Biology, PLOS Medicine, PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases and PLOS Pathogens. PLOS ONE publishes research from more than 50 diverse scientific fields and is the largest peer-reviewed journal in the world.

 

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk

 

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