Supported Projects

We support projects in many different areas across disparate platforms — including informal education experiences, live science events, film and other media productions, and awareness campaigns. Below is a list of current and past projects funded by Science Sandbox.

Experiments in Science Storytelling

Production of three films that present scientific research on diabetes in new and engaging ways for a general audience.

Funding an experienced team of documentary filmmakers, the Simons Foundation is exploring how to use the vast array of video production tools to bring science to life in a way that highlights the wonders of discovery and the pursuit of knowledge. Films produced from the funding include an innovative look at the science of fat that uses animation and interviews to stitch together a surprising story, an examination of the discovery of insulin that contrasts the Hollywood version of the story with a more nuanced narrative arc, and an exploration of the diabetes crisis in India that follows a researcher who is using a long-term epidemiological study to gain insights into the disease.

The films were vetted by scientists and produced to appeal to an audience with a wide range of backgrounds in science. The positive reception of the films challenges the conventional wisdom that creating content for a general audience requires stripping science of its sophistication.


The first community biotechnology laboratory, located in Brooklyn and offering access and science courses to teachers, entrepreneurs and the general public.

Genspace serves the greater New York area by providing hands-on science courses for the general public, extracurricular experiences for students, and low-cost lab memberships and mentoring. These programs offer people the unique opportunity to work on their own projects and experience the joy and wonder of science firsthand.

Through internships and competition teams, Genspace allows participants to pursue personalized research projects in fields such as synthetic biology and genomics. Students learn experimental design and laboratory skills while gaining an understanding of the daily life of a research scientist. For high school teachers, Genspace offers inexpensive lab memberships and training to help them bring molecular and synthetic biology into their classrooms. Genspace also supports ‘bioentrepreneurs,’ and several startups have launched from its lab space in areas such as laboratory automation, alternative feedstocks, consumer products and biomaterials.

Genspace believes that the best way to promote understanding of 21st-century technology is through dialogue and participation. Its lab classes for adults encourage discussion of the societal impact of new technologies and the ethical questions they raise. Genspace presents a variety of talks, workshops and art/science initiatives, such as the Biodesign Challenge, and hosts teams from the Urban Barcode Project.


Two-minute radio segment exploring scientific phenomena and revealing the science behind everything in the New York metro area.

The WNYC newsroom’s new segment “Hypothesis” is a quick and informative introduction to science. Airing bimonthly during WNYC’s Morning Edition, it’s a two-minute excursion into the unknown. The goal of each segment is to unveil the science that surrounds us in New York City in less time than it takes to fry an egg. A listener wrote in about a segment on how rock salt melts ice, saying: “I like this simple explanation of a scientific phenomenon we walk over every day.” One segment highlighted a newly identified species of frog native to New York City, while another shared the results of a recent paper by a mammalogist at the City University of New York on the presence of gray whales in the Atlantic Ocean. “Hypothesis” routinely features New York City scientists discussing their research and its connection to the region. It is also partly listener-driven, with producers inviting listeners to contribute ideas for future segments, which they can do by tweeting @WNYC with the hashtag #hypothesis.

Joe’s Big Idea

Program that involves live appearances by NPR radio host Joe Palca to teach effective science communication, to students and science educators, through storytelling.

Joe’s Big Idea is a radio series produced by NPR science journalist Joe Palca and featured on NPR’s newsmagazines, website, blogs and social media pages. The series explores the people, inspirations and ideas that fuel scientific discovery. A well-established and increasingly popular staple of NPR’s science coverage, Joe’s Big Idea cuts through jargon and statistics to deliver compelling narratives that capture the wonder, curiosity and creativity at the heart of scientific endeavor while also introducing millions of NPR listeners to new theories, inventions and innovations.

With the support of the Simons Foundation, Joe’s Big Idea has expanded in recent years to include a full live-event series in which Palca travels across the country appearing before a variety of audiences — often students and science educators — to share his unique style of storytelling with the next generation of science communicators. Through this series, Palca is working with a community of science graduate students and postdocs to explore new ways to expand the program’s social media presence and further establish Joe’s Big Idea as fun, multiplatform journalism that not only provides information but also helps inspire a deeper fascination with science.

Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth

Summer STEM programs for students in grades K-12, with the mission of developing worldwide talent and cultivating their students’ passion for science.

In the summer of 2016 at Johns Hopkins University, Caitlin Hogan synthesized quantum dots. Muriel Leung wrote code to track health trends in social media. And Benjamin Aladejebi studied cells extracted from primates infected with SIV, the simian form of HIV, to learn how the disease affects the nervous system.

This level of work is customary for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty researchers at Hopkins — but Caitlin, Muriel and Benjamin are still teenagers. They’re among the seven high school juniors and seniors who spent six weeks in the summer of 2016 immersed in scientific research in faculty labs, participating in the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) Summer Research Program.

The program was established in 2015 with support from the Simons Foundation. Part of the Simons gift also supports an ongoing middle school science teaching project that brings together teachers and content experts to develop innovative science lessons.

Funding from the Simons Foundation provided each CTY Summer Researcher with a partial merit scholarship. Students were selected for the program on a need-blind basis, with additional need-based financial aid for those who qualified.

National Academy of Sciences

Program to bring scientific expertise to local decision-making processes by helping scientists and engineers become more engaged in their communities.

The Science & Engineering Ambassadors program is a joint initiative of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering that aims to integrate scientists and engineers into local decision making for the benefit of their communities. The academies chose Pittsburgh as the pilot site for the project in 2012, with a focus on energy, because of southwestern Pennsylvania’s abundant energy resources and high-quality research.

The program trains science and engineering ambassadors from universities, federal labs, nonprofits and industry. It enables them to become effective communicators and, in contrast to many science communications efforts, organizes ongoing engagements that give them the opportunity to connect with local decision makers.

In July 2015, the mayor of Pittsburgh signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop advanced ‘micro-grid’ prototypes to transform the way electricity is produced and distributed in the resurgent Steel City. A catalyst for the agreement was the Grid Academy, a four-part series on modernizing the electrical grid that the Science & Engineering Ambassadors program organized with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a local, private-sector leadership organization. The program’s experts also serve as advisers to several energy-related projects in Pittsburgh.

The Simons Foundation also supported the reprinting of the National Academy of Sciences’ Women’s Adventures in Science book series. Written for middle school-age girls, the series highlights exceptional women in science and their many accomplishments.


Science magazine that uses storytelling to foster a deep understanding of science and its relevance to the modern world.

Nautilus is an online and print magazine that uses storytelling to bring science into the most important conversations of today. Each month, the magazine chooses a theme drawn from the sciences, culture and philosophy. Individual pieces explore the implications of new science, and the issue as a whole reveals surprising connections among different sciences and between science and culture. The articles are supplemented by illustrations, video interviews, graphic stories, photo essays and interactive games.

In a popular-science media market that is largely short, fast and newsy, the editors of Nautilus believe people should care about science because it advances age-old questions and changes how we understand ourselves. This richer involvement of the audience requires a literary and nuanced presentation that gives its readers the credit they deserve. There has never been a greater need for the public to understand science: It is changing our world faster than any other single force and is increasingly relevant to global policy.

Nautilus delivers the full depth and complexity of modern science to its readers with style and imagination, while challenging them to imagine how its stories relate to one another. This approach makes Nautilus a global brand for a new kind of literary science experience.

Partnership for Public Service Fellowship at the White House

Project seeking greater representation of women and minorities in mainstream STEM entertainment media to promote more diversity in STEM fields.

As part of the Civil Service Fellows program run by the Partnership for Public Service, the Simons Foundation supports Knatokie Ford in her role as senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Ford is a biomedical scientist and creative science communicator with a unique blend of experiences in science policy, basic research, secondary education and the entertainment industry. This background has fostered her distinctive skill set and perspective. She holds a doctorate in experimental pathology from Harvard University.

Her “Image of STEM” project at the White House seeks to infuse mainstream entertainment media with diverse and compelling STEM images, stories and positive messages in order to promote greater diversity in STEM careers, in which women and minorities have been persistently underrepresented for decades.

Public Outreach Activities by MSRI

Public engagement efforts by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, an organization that advances mathematical research and works to improve understanding of mathematics among the general public.

The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) is one of the world’s preeminent centers for collaborative research in mathematics. Since 1982, MSRI’s topic-focused programs have brought together emerging and leading minds in mathematics, in an environment that promotes creativity and the interchange of ideas.

Over 1,700 mathematical scientists spend time at MSRI’s headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., each year. MSRI is known around the world for the quality and reach of its programs and for its leadership in basic research, mathematics education and the public understanding of mathematics.

MSRI reaches millions annually through its Public Understanding of Mathematics programs, which include sponsorship of the YouTube channel Numberphile, with more than 1.7 million subscribers; funding of films for public broadcast, such as Navajo Math Circles; and public events such as the National Math Festival.

Youth resources range from early childhood through high school. Projects include the National Association of Math Circles, which provides after-school recreational activities; the Mathical Book Prize, highlighting children’s books that inspire a love of math through storytelling; the traveling SoundScape Sculptures by Guerilla Science; and math-art installations on university campuses.

The public is invited to visit the More Math! section of the National Math Festival web site for games, puzzles, films, problem-solving sites, and other resources for all ages.

Science Friday

Science radio program offering free STEM learning materials for parents and teachers, and an on-air science club to motivate listeners to “go out and do science.”

Science Friday Initiative, the nonprofit producer of the radio program Science Friday, offers free STEM activities and resources for parents and educators who use Science Friday’s multimedia content as a springboard for engagement.

Science Friday’s learning materials are especially valuable because they make STEM vocations more accessible by providing examples of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and inventors conducting research and solving problems. Science Friday covers a broad range of topics to inspire learners at different stages of development. Its audio segments, digital videos, articles and slideshows, paired with transcripts and listening guides, help educators convey critical STEM concepts to young learners.

Another of Science Friday’s learning tools is Science Club. Launched in 2014, Science Club is an on-air invitation to go out and do science. Each challenge is carefully formulated to ensure that any level of participation — whether from an academic scientist, a kindergarten class, an industry researcher or an artist — can be celebrated. Through social media, participants share evidence of their explorations. Some past challenges have been to build a machine that makes art, to explain what the sun does, or to describe scientific phenomena. Thousands of people have showcased their work, and millions have seen the results.


Online aggregator of citizen science projects that connects people to scientific projects they can contribute to in a meaningful way.

SciStarter is an online citizen science hot spot. With support from the Simons Foundation, SciStarter is making its valuable ‘project finder’ feature and its database of citizen science projects available for communities, media partners and websites to duplicate on their own pages. SciStarter aggregates more than 1,100 citizen science projects on a single website in order to connect scientists and community leaders with anyone who wants to contribute to science. The Simons Foundation grant enabled SciStarter to create open, customizable software tools that anyone can use.

A citizen science project can involve one person or millions of people collaborating toward a common goal. SciStarter already shares its database of projects with PBS Kids, the National Science Teachers Association,, Discover magazine and Astronomy magazine. The Simons Foundation grant made it possible for SciStarter to create ‘plug-and-play’ versions of the database to make it even more readily available to everyone. In addition, now everyone who adds a project to the SciStarter database will benefit from unlimited distribution outlets, reaching millions of potential participants.


Teacher-led organization that trains teachers, via development workshops, in a student-focused approach to STEM learning.

STEMteachersNYC launched in 2011 to promote the teaching of STEM disciplines in New York City schools. With over 525 teacher members, STEMteachersNYC presents monthly STEM-themed workshops and intensive summer workshops in a student-focused teaching method known as Modeling Instruction. However, there is a serious shortage of experts who can lead these workshops. STEMteachersNYC has formed a partnership with the American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA) to foster the spread of Modeling Instruction in the U.S. To address the shortage of experts, STEMteachersNYC organized two one-week Modeling Instruction leadership development workshops in summer 2016 for 30 participants who are implementing the approach in their classrooms.

STEMteachersNYC and AMTA have expanded their model to other locations throughout the country. They established four pilot locations — Phoenix, Ariz.; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Bridgeport, Conn.; and southern Florida — with AMTA providing fiscal management and STEMteachersNYC providing operational advice. Support from the Simons Foundation provided subsidies for these projects on a matching basis to help defray startup costs.

In 2016, STEMteachersNYC transitioned to a staffed professional organizational structure with a focus on excellence in STEM teaching.

The Posse Foundation

Program to help talented high school students from diverse backgrounds access higher education and assume leadership positions in the workforce.

The Posse Foundation identifies urban public high school students with leadership potential and gives them access to excellent higher education. Since its formation in 1989, Posse has selected almost 7,000 students as Scholars, who are awarded full-tuition scholarships by top-tier colleges and universities. Scholars are admitted in multicultural teams of 10 students, who support one another on campus. Posse Scholars have a graduation rate of 90 percent, significantly higher than the national average, and are ready to assume leadership positions in the workforce. Posse’s ultimate goal is to create a leadership network that embodies the wide range of perspectives that characterize America’s diverse society.

In 2006, Posse initiated its STEM Program, which provides access to higher education for students from underrepresented groups who intend to major in STEM fields. The U.S. is facing a critical shortage of STEM professionals; the STEM Program addresses this crisis by increasing the number of women and minorities majoring in STEM disciplines. Posse partners with 10 top-tier colleges and universities to admit 100 STEM Scholars each year with full-tuition scholarships. Despite the rigorous demands of these areas of study, STEM Scholars graduate at a rate of over 90 percent and distinguish themselves in their careers.

UCSF Science & Health Education Partnership

Program to enable high school students to conduct scientific research on a college campus, with a goal of inspiring participants to attend college and pursue a degree in STEM.

The High School Intern program (HIP), led by the Science & Health Education Partnership at the University of California, San Francisco, brings students who have just finished their junior year of high school to the university to conduct research and prepare for college. By participating in HIP, students become comfortable working in a laboratory, conduct experiments independently, learn to present scientific research, and begin to see the opportunities available to them in scientific fields.

Unlike most high school research programs, HIP does not seek students who are already on track to enter top-tier universities. Instead, the program selects students who are interested in science but may not plan to attend college. The majority of HIP students come from backgrounds underrepresented in the sciences, such as low-income or minority households. HIP makes a critical difference in the lives of these students: Studies of HIP alumni demonstrate that over 90 percent matriculate to college, 76 percent complete undergraduate degrees in the sciences, and 87 percent pursue graduate education. Each of these statistics significantly exceeds the national averages for students from similar backgrounds, and in recognition of these outcomes, HIP received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2011.

White House Frontiers Conference

Inspired by an issue of Wired magazine edited by President Obama, the conference focused on new frontiers of innovation and how the U.S. can build capacity in science and technology.

In October 2016, President Obama went to Pittsburgh to host the Frontiers Conference — his final major event focused on the topics of science, technology and innovation. The one-day conference covered a wide range of topics including precision medicine, brain science, artificial intelligence, smart cities, advanced manufacturing, climate change and space exploration.

The conference included five discussion tracks, a plenary session and an expo open to the public featuring science exhibits related to the five tracks. The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University communities participated in the event along with other regional partners; additional invitees included prominent national and international figures from industry, academia, government and the nonprofit sector.

White House South by South Lawn Festival

A festival that took place on the South Lawn of the White House, bringing together artists, scientists and tech visionaries for a daylong exchange of ideas.

In 2016, President Obama issued a call for action — an invitation for artists, entrepreneurs, innovators, scientists and musicians to come to the South Lawn of the White House for a daylong festival of ideas. Inspired by the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, South by South Lawn asked some of the leading visionaries of our time to share their methods for engaging communities and effecting change.

The festival included a conversation on the role of entrepreneurs in building companies and organizations focused on solving critical challenges, a panel on population increase and what that means for food sustainability, and several exhibitions on topics ranging from virtual reality to coding.

The event also featured a discussion between President Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio and Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, on the bright spots and challenges of the effort to protect the planet from climate change. A screening of DiCaprio’s documentary “Before the Flood” followed the discussion.

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