Announcing the Winners of the Experimental Grants

Posted on February 8th, 2024

A month ago, I announced that I would celebrate my 34th birthday by giving away $3400 to help four people become scientists of their own life. I encouraged people to submit proposals for a personal experiment they wanted to run, where $850 would help make it happen.

To maximize positive impact, I asked that there would ideally be some form of artifact people can consume at scale.

Then, my friend Andrew Nalband said he’d add $600 to the grant to celebrate his own 42th birthday, which meant we could have three additional smaller grants to give away.

Still, with more than 100 applications, it was a very difficult decision to make. The grant winners and finalists you will see below are a testament to the curiosity and creativity of the Ness Labs community. I’m so grateful I got to learn about each of these ideas.

And now, without further ado…

The winning experiments

First, we have the four main winners, who will each receive $850 to bring their experiment to life. Here they are, in no particular order:

Ness Labs Experimental Grants Winners

Grant Winner: Robin Torres Gouzerh (United States)

“Our idea is to integrate art, academic research, and scientific investigation to produce an artifact presenting the medicinal, societal, and interpersonal merits of psilocybin. This project is envisioned as an ongoing, long-term commitment and each iteration will touch on a different theme. The focus of this first effort is psilocybin. More specifically, the project is about how the compound can act as a bridge to expand thoughts and emotions beyond commonly accepted limitations. The artifact will consist of a boxed set of reinterpreted and revisited “universal” cards and a companion booklet.” – @RobinTorresGouzerh

Why: I have experienced firsthand the power of psychedelics, which have helped me overcome a lifelong struggle with depression and alcohol abuse. I’m excited to support a project that will hopefully increase awareness of the benefits of psilocybin mushrooms.

Grant Winner: Citra Cas (Indonesia)

“I saw so many pets having to endure pain for years because the current prosthetic solutions, even the 3D printed ones, are too expensive. They are expensive for pet owners, even more so for those which are living in animal shelters. 3D printed materials offer wider and cheaper alternatives, allowing for faster design iterations to finetune the mechanics and design of the model. It unlocks physical properties that conventional materials couldn’t achieve, and I’m experimenting with that.

I made the preliminary 3D models of the designs, and I’m currently in the phase of refining it. I would use the $850 to make 3D print prototypes of this preliminary design and cover travel expenses to meet the experts I’m working with in person. One of the experts I’m working with is a biotech researcher living in Vietnam. She has been working in an animal healthcare NGO for 25 years and she owns an animal shelter for stray cats and dogs. I hope to be able to visit her in person to discuss the physical prototype even further, to assess specific cases for different types of specific prosthetics, and learn a lot from the whole experience.”

Why: I love animals and I had no idea this was a problem. I like that this is a clever use of 3D technology. More affordable 3D printed prosthetics for pets who need them sounds like a great product to help bring to the world.

Grant Winner: Chloe Loose, with a little help from Dad (United Kingdom)

“Open source air purification for me and other kids. With my dad, I will be taking my existing paint box and adding sensors in places to measure the particles at different points inside the box. We will change the box from having just a fan to having a filter box that I can remove to change filters and add more fans to the inside. I will add different filters and collect data from the sensors to see how the different filters change the air. One of the sensors that we will make will be hand held so I can measure the effect outside the box as well. I then want to make a bigger version of my filter to see if it can filter the air in an entire room. I will use the money to buy parts to make the sensors and different filters and fans. All project files will be available for kids on GitHub.” — Chloe is 8 years old so she doesn’t have any social media.

Why: Air quality is an issue I recently started paying attention to thanks to my friend Steph Smith. I was already intrigued but then I clicked on the video pitch Chloe included, where she gives a proper presentation with a slides deck, and realized that she was probably the youngest applicant! I love how curious and creative she is, and I’m delighted to support this project. Also, kudos to her dad for encouraging her to apply.

Grant Winner: Monica Deu (Spain)

“I will create a digital meta-space to share resources, tools and reflections for navigating the process of grieving. I would also like to create a community around the platform for those who are more alone or accompany each other, sharing moments, feelings, through a platform like Discord or Slack. Finally, I am starting to write a book about everything I have been writing and reading about grief, learning about how my brain was processing the pain. For this book, I am interviewing people who are grieving or have grieved and also experts in the field, and I would like to be able to use part of the money to pay them something symbolic for their contribution. My idea is to create a book that collects all the interviews as well as some first chapters about my own grief process and what science, arts and other cultures know about what is involved in living through grief.”

Why: I have lost a few people close to my heart the past few years, and found the process of grieving both difficult and beautiful. I’m curious to see what a place where people can explore grief in a more generative way might look like.

In addition to the four main winners, and thanks to Andrew’s generosity, we also have three additional winners, who will receive a $200 grant each:

Grant winner: Yaa Addae from Ghana – “Who is treated as worthy of care and in what ways does design, from architecture to public transport routes, reinforce this? ‘Designing Care Futures’ is a workbook for imagining both new and strengthening pre-existing infrastructures of care. A mixture of essays, case studies, and exercises, this is a key resource for designers and people invested in integrating a care ethic into their decision-making.”

Grant winner: Natalia Talkowska from the UK – “The essence of my project is the creation of a unique line of ‘How are You?’ cards, each intricately designed to foster emotional well-being and deeper personal connections. Unlike typical greeting cards, these are specifically crafted to encourage genuine communication about one’s mental state in a thoughtful, engaging manner. The long-term objective is to establish a sustainable model where the sales of the cards support ongoing production, distribution, and charitable contributions. The project will adapt and evolve based on feedback, potentially expanding into digital versions or interactive online platforms.”

Grant winner: Jonathan Fisher from the USA – “Studies have found that people who tell highly coherent stories (ones with foreshadowing and without extraneous details) tend to be happier two years later. Participation in storytelling is good for everyone, not just the ones that make a living out of it. I will use an LLM to map the layout of time-dependent stories at scale, exploring how the story structures across a number of films relate, studying the similarity in the rhythm of the story beats, understanding the trends between them and assessing how the estimates compare to actual film, and creating a paper.”

Full list of finalists

There were 100+ applications from 30+ countries. I was blown away by the quality of the applications, and wish I could have supported more experiments. Everyone who applied was considered a finalist, and my shortlist was actually a very long list.

Countries of applicants for Ness Labs Experimental Grants 2024

To support their vision, encourage them to keep on exploring their curiosity, and help them connect with fellow curious minds, all finalists received a one-year pass to the Ness Labs private community.

In addition, I’m sharing the full list of experiments below so if you see something you like and have some disposable income you want to use to help bring an idea to life, you can contact the finalists directly via their social media profile.

I will let you be the judge of the diversity, creativity, and ingenuity of these applications:

  • Creating videos that introduce philosophical ideas to those who probably would not otherwise encounter them. – @EthanJKemp (United States)
  • Building a random generator website to help people try new ideas to feel better right then and there. – @jenventuring (United Kingdom)
  • Building an app where people can post their works in progress. – @mathurahravi (United States)
  • Sharing essays and stories in handwritten form technology to bring people into the story. – @nicholasgoodey (Germany)
  • Making a movie about practicing self mastery and cultivating healthy human relations using AI tech. – @epiphaniesmovie (Mexico)
  • Starting a YouTube channel to empower and encourage people to take their power in many areas of life. – @satyalights (United States)
  • Launching a digital media platform documenting African struggles, resilience and triumphs. – @gideonruhara (Kenya)
  • Conducting comparative research on Islamic architecture to build a strong evidence base about the wide-ranging ways architecture impacts our well-being. – @mimbar360_ (London)
  • Exploring Taenaris butterfly chemical defenses and presenting the results at a major scientific conference. – @belkissa (United States)
  • Designing a one-month online adventure with friends to discover joy in our lives and work. – @EstebanBaldera (Mexico)
  • Launching an edtech platform that has the student-teacher relationship at the heart of its social graph. – @piyush-ahuja (United Kingdom)
  • Building a portfolio career of curiosity. – @aishashok14 (India )
  • Creating a SWE school and community. – @iworkforthem (Singapore)
  • Producing a work of fiction to influence the younger generation to see and honor the journey of stateless refugees. – @rachigungho (Japan)
  • Creating a set of collectible cards for mental models one can develop, acquire, or teach. – @victordavidmx (Mexico )
  • Creating a short video series about when I lived out of my car for a while. – @yuvalsteuer (Israel)
  • Creating a short film about a bike trip asking women on the way ‘What do you think men need to understand better about women, and themselves?’ – @brianmathe (France)
  • Building an infrastructure for personal knowledge management for a modern semantic desktop. – @labs_sen (Austria)
  • Following a group of young females in the UK visiting textile farms and documenting the process of producing a locally produced scarf and bandana. – @_colechi (United Kingdom)
  • Creating a comic book to show the results of a 30-day experiment with mind training. – @samantharosestein (United States)
  • Investigating the impact of emerging AI solutions on enhancing mindfulness in remote work settings. – @reachaditya (India)
  • Starting a community of soul-making artist-practitioners. – @the_wilderless (Albania)
  • Democratizing the trading landscape. – @jiBlloh (Nigeria )
  • Building a community for skilled amateurs to connect and find projects. – @kempy487 (United Kingdom)
  • Launching a podcast about the body/mind connection and embodied healing arts. – @maelyslepeutrec (France)
  • Creating a dynamic media platform fostering cross-disciplinary discussions among emerging leaders to address cultural, technological, ethical, and spiritual challenges. – @christinasatory (United States)
  • “Offering crafting kits as hobby that doubles as a tool to feel more centered while relaxing. – @katyfitz222 (The Netherlands)
  • Translating cutting-edge science into easy tips for native English speakers who wish to achieve fluency in French. – @céline-guerreiro (France)
  • Making quality videos to share my love of reading. – @DebbieDoesBooks (United States)
  • Connecting an indigenous ‘white’ elder with indigenous Aboriginal Australian elders in a filmed podcast / cultural documentary. – @tim_adalin (Australia)
  • Designing a collection of illustrated short stories for children around the themes of disability and neurodivergence. – @ola_niike (Nigeria)
  • Empowering autism awareness with facts via a database of curated stats to promote neurodiversity. – @shaylaprice (United States)
  • Increasing the criminal justice system’s ability to detect inaccurate identifications and therefore avoid relying on them. – @DToredi (Scotland)
  • Paying visits to psychics in Vienna as part of research for a mystery feature film about love, death, and consciousness. – @olga-yakimenko (Austria)
  • Making videos at the intersection of mental health and productivity. – @danieloliech (Kenya)
  • Enhance my ability to integrate therapeutic art techniques into my practice through a training certification. – @voltavoloshinsmith (United States)
  • Uncovering the barriers to physical activity and preferred interventions of Zimbabwean pregnant women. – @AnoHoveee (Zimbabwe)
  • Recording short vertical-format videos to explore somatic practices such as meditation, breathwork, self-massage, outdoor walks, dancing, and sports. – @gia.manolea (Romania)
  • Creating a hub of solace and support offering affordable digital memorials, curated funeral services guidance, empathetic grief counseling, and demystifying insurance—bridging the gap in times of loss. – @Superjohna07 (Kenya)
  • Creating a website that brings together content creators, especially writers of short stories and tales to make them available to read for free on the internet. – @Ivancernadas (Spain)
  • Traveling the world and learning about business development. – @OFFICALSIDGRG (Nepal)
  • Testing the concept of a healthier treat alternative that combines classic French patisserie with an African twist. – @annabelola (United Kingdom)
  • Making skincare products that are intentionally formulated to solve solutions like hyperpigmentation which people of color experience the most. – @msyvonnejay (United Kingdom)
  • Launching a curated social content platform aiming to explore in-depth the lives and influential teachings of the world’s most successful and knowledgeable individuals. – @jessekrim (United States)
  • Creating a multimedia platform to assist the youth and their communities to access online opportunities, resources and information with ease. – @phemelo-kebinelang (South Africa)
  • Building an archive of urban stories, a community of urban dwellers, and a series of in-person salons and walks on the art of noticing and attention. – @PHurducas (The Netherlands)
  • Remembering my female ancestors using writing and imagination. – @Kikiesque (Egypt)
  • Build a tool that allows users to analyze written text using a NLP model trained on Algerian dialect. – @elhadj-chikhaoui (Algeria)
  • Prototyping an NFC-compatible wearable paired with portable and aesthetic tags to enable and empower me to enter focus mode.  – @michaelakerem (United States)
  • Creating an online and in person support network to build confidences, reduce stigma and champion autism within academia and at university. – @annetteraffan (United Kingdom)
  • Offering free sabbatical coaching calls. – @matt__yao (United States)
  • Sharing the most interesting podcast takeaways in a free daily email. – @matthieubaillarge (France)
  • Maintaining a safe place for Ukrainian refugees where they could find friends, books and their native language. – @milightning (Ukraine)
  • Developing a captivating story concept for a sci-fi epic film and release a teaser using advanced AI tools and engines. – @nuarnoir (Germany)
  • Creating a visual story telling platform for journalists, artists, influencers and people who enjoy documenting life. – @dm3i (Germany)
  • Producting a docuseries exploring the history and meaning of hair across time, geographies and cultures. – @dianacfmnunes (Netherlands)
  • Exploring how the salience effect shapes financial decisions across the different states of the economy. – @Busra_Eroglu1 (Germany)
  • Launching a sustainable fashion blog that focuses on conscious consumerism with an accompanying ebook. – @hmodamensch (United States)
  • Kickstarting a project blending neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality in newsletters and a blog. – @SpiritualSacredSpace (United Kingdom)
  • Redefining the narrative around startups by spotlighting the often-overlooked gems flourishing in unexpected corners of the world. – @fcordobaot (United Kingdom)
  • Creating a series of illustrations on how to identify and deal with negative emotions. – @elena-oprea (United Kingdom )
  • Gathering a cross sector community of schools and sectors to listen, learn and lead in bringing human centered educational research to practice with one another. – @jane-r-shore (United States)
  • Upskilling mama mbogas to get modern knowledge on how to run a successful grocery store. – @thestartupfromafrica (Kenya)
  • Prototyping and launching a poster calendar that maps your entire life in one view. – @davekangtv (United States)
  • Creating an online tool to provide a score, practical recommendations and signposting to enable SMEs to understand what skills and training they need. – @jaredjosephwhite (United Kingdom)
  • Writing a research paper on the effects of the Post 2008 Austerity Crisis recovery in rural/urban centers in Greece compared to the US. – @kuramaworld (United States)
  • Creating a text-based collection of quotes on the topics of gender, sexuality, romance, spirituality, and emotions, sourced from 1-on-1 conversations with 20 women. – @strangestloop (United States)
  • Investigating the role of GPR84 in the pathogenesis of fibrosis in non-alcoholic fatty livers. – @ajmain-ishaat (Bangladesh)
  • Documenting the unique relationship between a single group of crows and the residents of a small village in South Korea.  – @pagans_we_are (South Korea)
  • Designing a playful studio for creatives to increase their agency by creating space and time to explore seasonal curiosities. – @linda-vinod (India)
  • Studying different types of clouds and design an interactive memory game to help students learn about them. – @federikovi (Italy)
  • Launching a transformative guide for those yearning to break free from unfulfilling careers. – @anfconsulting (Australia)
  • Promoting agroforestry through AI and database technology. – @kalinabethany (Canada)
  • Hosting a 300-person design conference. – @usiriczman (Argentina)
  • Developing a mobile application that promotes backyard gardening of vegetables. – @sahibzadinoornisa (Pakistan)
  • Flying from Spain to the US, going to a Panera in NYC and getting the Charged Lemonade, talking about the effects I notice, and going back, all documented on video. – @Coscorrodrift (Spain)
  • Grow a public digital garden to collect stories of people collaborating with artificial intelligence, uncover new ways of doing things with AI, notice patterns, and share insights. – @dudarev (Ukraine)
  • Building a product that allows busy professionals to share their knowledge and feedback without scheduling a meeting or clogging up their inbox. – @becky-stephens (United Kingdom)
  • Producing a digital exhibition with a mix of multimedia experience from videos, interview transcripts, pictures, and essays regarding the common thread that runs in the stories of Indonesian women. – @astridastra (Indonesia)
  • Hosting an in-person conference around the themes of collective intelligence and mental health. – @esmeararesa (United Kingdom)
  • Creating a French-language podcast that aims to popularize science through engaging talk and innovative game concepts. – @mich_dmk (Canada)
  • Launching an experimental pop-up community space for neighbors who care about the planet. – @niviachanta (United States)
  • Using tech, robots, and AI to boost nature awareness and afforestation while engaging communities transparently. – @mert-celenk (Turkey)
  • Experimenting with better interfaces for reading, writing, searching using AI. – @shacrw_ (India)
  • Creating a ‘climate fiction’ reading and writing course that breaks down barriers to climate action by unleashing our imaginations. – @jessica-redmond (United Kingdom)
  • Studying how racism affects Black people’ have a psychological impact on mental health using data, surveys, and stories and writing a book on how a Black neurodivergent woman navigates life. – @bossnayamoss (United States)
  • Create a mini course to teach artists to trust their bodies through an original improvisational dance/poetry technique, without requiring prior experience with either. – @dancewithneelam (United States)
  • Building a creative studio for design and content creation. – @real_shamjay (Nigeria)
  • Establishing a multimedia presence online to offer a diverse library of content for self-cultivation, starting with painbending. – @geoffinitelyill (United States)
  • Studying the validity of psychological symptoms as a measurement of menstrual cycle phases for better mental health and research. – @viccmery (United Kingdom)
  • Publishing a 60-day video series exploring how African youth can harness AI for better financial health. – @nihao_sam (Kenya)
  • Increasing the representation of BIPOC therapists by growing their Twitter and newsletter to reach more people who need their care. – @dorotheadw_ (United States)
  • Creating a custom GPT and AI-guide for deeper personal story discovery and articulation. – @flynnkristina (Canada)
  • Launching a multi-platform media series showcasing the extraordinary power of human resilience, highlighting people who have found innovative and meaningful ways to overcome debilitating physical, mental, or social obstacles. – @brittanybdwilliams (Canada)
  • Designing a performance toolkit that visually explains a set of tools and exercises for people to perform at their best. – @InsInfographics (United Kingdom)

Many thanks to everyone who applied and thus participated in this little experiment of mine! I’m so grateful to have learned so much from all of you.

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