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Power of the crowd: Natalie Jonk (BSc 2004)

Natalie Jonk

Natalie Jonk (BSc 2004) hopes Walacea will encourage the public to accelerate science that's important to them


One of the projects listed on Walacea will investigate group behaviour in dwarf mongooses

22 December 2014

Natalie Jonk (BSc 2004) may have travelled the world but her greatest adventure is just starting to unfold.

In September 2013, Natalie established Walacea, the first UK crowdfunding platform dedicated to science. The name Walacea is inspired by Sir Alfred Russel Wallace, who realised early on the power of raising funds through the crowd. By selling specimens, he funded the research expeditions in the 1850s that helped him develop the theory of evolution by natural selection.

'Now we can use the internet to provide a tangible link to scientists who are studying anything from amazing wildlife to cosmic rays,’ says Natalie.

Funding research in this way can also give early career researchers the opportunity to lead their own projects.

‘Alfred Wallace, like many famous scientists including Newton and Einstein, had worked on his own independent research from his early 20s,’ says Natalie. ‘The current funding model makes it challenging for young and early career scientists to take the lead on their research. We want to change this.’

Natalie worked in the corporate world for five years before taking a leap into the unknown by starting Walacea.

Bristol’s Enterprise and Knowledge Exchange teams helped connect Natalie with her first 20 scientists to approach. About half of them were interested in crowdfunding, which seems to reflect the difficulties scientists face in funding their research.

Natalie hopes the projects will help scientists and society understand more about our impact on the planet, as well as encourage the public to play an integral role in accelerating science in areas of importance to them.

‘On my wish list for science are carbon-neutral vehicles, a greater understanding of the wildlife with which we share the planet and cures to rare diseases that continue to baffle researchers,’ she says.

The first projects to seek funding via Walacea include:

Come dine with bee
Scientists from the Urban Pollinators project want to identify the top 100 garden plants for pollinating insects based on the amount of pollen and nectar they contain.

Conserving African wild dogs in Malawi 
With forest, mountains and savannah colliding in Malawi, the country supports a rich array of wildlife including the endangered African wild dog. 

Dwarf mongooses
While many people count friends as one of the most important aspects of life, we know very little about the benefits of strong bonds between group members in other species.

Aliens in the classroom (coming soon)
Dr Jaap Velthuis from the School of Physics wants to offer A-level students the chance to participate in publishable research by gathering data on cosmic ray showers. We hope to help a number of schools crowdfund for their own detector (£6k each).

You can read more about Walacea in this recent article on The Guardian website.