RSC supports Marblar: crowdsourcing ideas for unused science

30 October 2012

The RSC has teamed up with an Oxford University spin-out to sponsor six challenges on Marblar - a radical new online platform for finding applications for unused scientific discoveries.

More than 95% of technologies developed in universities never make it to market, leaving publicly or philanthropy-funded research collecting dust on the shelf.  Often, given that academic research can be so ahead of its time, the commercial relevance of these technologies isn't immediately obvious. 

Marblar aims to remove this bottleneck by crowdsourcing ideas for real-world applications from the global science and technology community, with the ultimate goal to create new products and new companies that will drive job creation around these innovative discoveries. 

Marblar was founded by four PhD student entrepreneurs from Oxford University, Kings College London and Imperial College London. They have developed an innovative idea to gamify the traditional technology transfer process by posting interesting science in the form of challenges and asking 'Marblars' (users) to find clever new directions for these technologies.  Marblars are rewarded with online points, badges and cash prizes, as well as the possibility to join any fledgling start-ups that might arise from their ideas. 

The RSC has selected six promising technologies that have been published in RSC journals and is sponsoring a Marblar challenge for each one. Two of these challenges launch today and they will be open for ideas from the community for the next three weeks.  Users will be able to vote on the most promising ideas and the RSC will award cash prizes of 700 to each of the winning proposals, as well as 200 for each of the crowd favourites.

David James, RSC Executive Director Strategic Innovation said: "Working with Marblar is a very exciting and interesting opportunity for the RSC.

"This innovative new platform presents a novel way for the RSC to facilitate links between academia and the commercial sector, as well as providing an additional route for us to support RSC authors by publicising their research."

Dan Perez, CEO of Marblar and an Oxford biochemistry PhD student said: "We're absolutely thrilled to be partnering with the RSC on these challenges. Our goal at Marblar is to clickstart a science revolution and move forward this pool of unrealized potential and we are delighted to have the RSC's support to do this."

RSC Marblar challenges

SlipChip is a low-cost microfluidic device that uses only two pieces of plastic or glass to enable the user to perform multiple small-scale chemical reactions simply and precisely. By simply 'slipping' the glass or plastic 'chips' across each other, a number of reactions can be carried out in nanoscale volumes in parallel.

SlipChip was developed at the University of Chicago by Professor Rustem Ismagilov and his then graduate student, Feng Shen. They've since created a spinout company called SlipChip based on this technology and Ismagilov has continued his work at the California Institute of Technology. Given the technology's ability to precisely manipulate reactions in a programmable way, they see applications in multiple fields. Through Marblar, they hope to find ideas beyond their discipline that can exploit SlipChip's ability to 'count molecules', as well as new capabilities for the technology. 

Take Two is an exciting new technique developed by Dr Sergio Bertazzo in Professor Molly Stevens' lab at Imperial College London.   It enables bioengineers to study interactions between cells and biomaterials by combining two forms of microscopy in an innovative way.

For years, researchers have been combining scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and fluorescence techniques to provide structural and biochemical information at nanoscale levels. However, the combination of these two techniques ultimately destroys the fluorescence signal. Take Two, termed Correlative Light Ion Microscopy, uses scanning ion microscopy instead of SEM, allowing bioengineers to toggle back and forth between the two imaging modes to collect signals to almost single molecule resolution, without affecting the fluorescence signal.

Dr Bertazzo said: "I'm not a biologist, I'm a materials guy. I just thought this was a cool thing to do and now I'm hoping the Marblar community can tell me which previously unanswerable questions we can help work on using this technique." 

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Contact and Further Information

Victoria Steven
Media Relations Executive
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7440 3322