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PLOS Announces Finalists for Accelerating Science Award Program

PLOS, the Public Library of Science, today announced 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; ARL and SPARC are also among the program sponsors. Three top awards of $30,000 each will be announced on October 21 in Washington, DC, at an Open Access Week kick-off event hosted by 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.

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 ten 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. Saber Khan, a middle school technology teacher, teamed up with University of California, Berkeley, scientists Eva Schmid and Oliver Hoeller to develop a student-ready cell-phone microscope, turning a clinical diagnostic tool into a portable device that 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 had 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  policy makers 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 that they have not inventoried a vast number of oceanic species. Without this hard data, scientific knowledge and the potential effectiveness of conservation efforts are diminished. 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.

Video interviews of the finalists can be found on the PLOS website. 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.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. Its mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.