University Researchers Face Increasing Obstacles in Applying for Grants

Vaccines. Popular sports drinks. Computers. They share one quality: They were invented by researchers working at a college or university. Victoria McGovern says research leads to greater discovery and better education. McGovern is a senior program officer with the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, an organization that supports medical research in the United States and Canada. “It’s a very good idea to connect the discovery of new things to the teaching of new students,” she told VOA, “because you don’t want people who come out of their education thinking that the world around them is full of solved problems. You want people to come out of an education excited about solving problems themselves.” Research, however, costs money and most colleges have limited budgets, as well as competing goals and needs. A large part of being a researcher at a college or university involves applying for grant money, McGovern says, such as to private companies and organizations like hers, or local and national governments. The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, is an example. The NIH is the U.S. government agency that supports medical and public health research, distributing about $32 billion a year. Increasingly complex process The application process for grant money is highly competitive, McGovern says. It can be challenging for researchers who are less skilled at writing. Kristine Kulage argues that it is more difficult than ever for university researchers to secure funding. Kulage is the director of research and scholarly development at Columbia University School of Nursing in New …

Connected Thermometer Tracks the Spread and Intensity of the Flu

When a child feels sick, one of the first things a parent does is reach for a thermometer. That common act intrigued Inder Singh, a long-time health policy expert. What if the thermometer could be a communication device – connecting people with information about illnesses going around and gathering real time data on diseases as they spread?  That’s the idea behind Singh’s firm Kinsa, a health data company based in San Francisco that sells “smart” thermometers. Worst flu season in years With the U.S. in the midst of its worst flu season in years, Kinsa has been on the forefront of tracking the spread and severity of flu-like symptoms by region. The company says its data is a close match to flu data tracked by the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whereas the CDC collects from state and regional reports, Kinsa can spot fever spikes in regions or even by cities, said Singh. Fast and accurate information about how disease is spreading can make a difference during a health crisis. “If you knew when and where a disease was starting, you could target the people who needed the treatment and potentially prevent pandemics and epidemics from occurring,” said Singh, founder and chief executive of Kinsa. How it works Kinsa thermometers, which range in price from $14.99 to $49.99, connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, which pose questions about a person’s symptoms. The customer’s personal information is private, the firm said. With its thermometers in 500,000 households, Kinsa receives …

Mugabe’s Demise Brings Hope to Zimbabwe’s Ousted White Farmers

A new political dawn in Zimbabwe has sparked talk among farmers of land reform and the return of some whites who lost their land and livelihoods to President Robert Mugabe during a 37-year rule that drove the economy to collapse. Mugabe, 93, resigned in November after the army and his ZANU-PF party turned against him, prompting optimism among some of the thousands of white farmers ousted in the early 2000s on the grounds of redressing imbalances from the colonial era. For colonialists seized some of the best agricultural land that remained in the hands of white farmers after independence in 1980 leaving many blacks effectively landless and making land ownership one of Zimbabwe’s most sensitive political topics. Now some white landowners hope the post-Mugabe regime may address the land issue, either through compensation or returning land, and try to resuscitate a once vibrant agricultural sector boosting an economy once seen as one of Africa’s great hopes. “We are convinced positive signals will come quickly in terms of property rights,” Ben Purcel Gilpin, director of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), which represents white and black farmers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It would send a good signal to people outside Zimbabwe.”  New president and long-time Mugabe ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised a raft of changes since he took office, including a return to the rule of law and respect for property rights. Land ownership has been a key issue for decades in Zimbabwe dating back to British colonial rule in what …

Mugabe’s Political Demise Brings Hope to Zimbabwe’s Ousted White Farmers

A new political dawn in Zimbabwe has sparked talk among farmers of land reform and the return of some whites who lost their land and livelihoods to President Robert Mugabe during a 37-year rule that drove the economy to collapse. Mugabe, 93, resigned in November after the army and his ZANU-PF party turned against him, prompting optimism among some of the thousands of white farmers ousted in the early 2000s on the grounds of redressing imbalances from the colonial era. For colonialists seized some of the best agricultural land that remained in the hands of white farmers after independence in 1980 leaving many blacks effectively landless and making land ownership one of Zimbabwe’s most sensitive political topics. Now some white landowners hope the post-Mugabe regime may address the land issue, either through compensation or returning land, and try to resuscitate a once vibrant agricultural sector boosting an economy once seen as one of Africa’s great hopes. “We are convinced positive signals will come quickly in terms of property rights,” Ben Purcel Gilpin, director of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), which represents white and black farmers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It would send a good signal to people outside Zimbabwe.”  New president and long-time Mugabe ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised a raft of changes since he took office, including a return to the rule of law and respect for property rights. Land ownership has been a key issue for decades in Zimbabwe dating back to British colonial rule in what …

Refugees Ready to Go Green, Become ‘Innovation Hubs’

Many refugees would like to buy low-carbon stoves and lights but poor access in camps and a lack of funding is forcing them to rely on “dirty and expensive” fuels, a report said Tuesday. Millions of refugees worldwide struggle to access energy for cooking, lighting and communication and often pay high costs for fuels like firewood, which are bad for their health. Yet two-thirds would consider paying for clean cookstoves and more than one-third for solar household products, according to a survey by the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI), a partnership among Britain, the United Nations and charities. “Energy providers don’t tend to think of refugees as potential energy consumers, but the opportunities to build a relationship with them are huge,” Mattia Vianello, one of the report’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. Clean energy for refugees is a global priority for the U.N. refugee agency, which provides free solar power to thousands of displaced people in camps in Jordan and Kenya. Campaigners are seeking to create a market for cleaner-burning stoves and fuels to supply millions of households worldwide that are using inefficient, dangerous methods. Perilous smoke When burned in open fires and traditional stoves, wood, charcoal and other solid fuels emit harmful smoke that claims millions of lives each year, according to the Clean Cooking Working Capital Fund, which promotes stoves that produce less pollution. In Uganda, refugees collect wood from surrounding areas, “devastating” the local environment and creating tensions with locals, Raffaela Bellanca, an energy adviser with …

Colorful Makeover Puts Mumbai Slum on Tourist Map

A colorful paint job has transformed one of Mumbai’s drab hilltop slums into a tourist destination, even prompting comparisons with Italy’s picturesque Amalfi Coast. During a recent journey on a Mumbai metro train, Dedeepya Reddy was struck by the grim appearance of a slum in Asalpha in the city’s eastern suburbs as she stared out from her air-conditioned carriage. Reddy, a Harvard University-educated co-founder of a creative agency, was keen to brighten the lives of slum residents, while also changing the perception of slums being dirty and dangerous, and decided on a simple makeover. Armed with dozens of cans of colorful paint, Reddy and a team of about 700 volunteers painted the walls and alleyways of the hilltop slum over two weekends last month. Residents, at first skeptical, also got involved and helped paint quirky murals, the 31-year-old said. “When you look at slums, you think they are shabby and dirty, and that also becomes a reflection of the people who live there,” Reddy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We used bright colors to change how slums and their residents are viewed. It also gives residents a sense of pride and dignity about their homes.” Up to 37 million households, or about a quarter of India’s urban population, live in informal housing including slums because of an acute shortage of affordable housing, according to social consultancy FSG. In space-starved Mumbai, which has some of the priciest real estate in the world, the shortage is even more critical, with hundreds of …

NEM Foundation: Coincheck Hackers Trying to Move Stolen Cryptocurrency

Hackers who stole around $530 million worth of cryptocurrency from the Coincheck exchange last week — one of the biggest such heists ever — are trying to move the stolen “XEM” coins, the foundation behind the digital currency said on Tuesday. NEM Foundation, creators of the XEM cryptocurrency, have traced the stolen coins to an unidentified account, and the account owner had begun trying to move the coins onto six exchanges where they could then be sold, Jeff McDonald said. Hackers made off with roughly $533 million worth of the cryptocurrency from Tokyo-based exchange Coincheck Inc late last week, raising fresh questions about security and regulatory protection in the booming market. The location of the hackers’ account was not known. “(The hackers are) trying to spend them on multiple exchanges. We are contacting those exchanges,” Singapore-based McDonald told Reuters. NEM Foundation spokeswoman Alexandra Tinsman said the hacker had started sending out “XEM” coins to random accounts in 100 XEM batches, worth about $83 each. “When people look to launder these types of funds, they sometimes spread it into smaller transactions because it’s less likely to trigger (exchanges’) anti-money laundering (mechanisms),” said Tom Robinson, co-founder of Elliptic, a cryptocurrency security firm in London. Robinson said such hopping among different cryptocurrencies was becoming more prevalent among cybercriminals trying to cover their tracks. The coins that the hackers had taken made up around 5 percent of the total supply of XEM, the world’s 10th biggest cryptocurrency, according to trade website Coinmarketcap. McDonald said …

IMF Chief Says Middle Eastern Nations Must Broaden Tax Bases

Middle Eastern countries should pursue fiscal policies to support growth and build broader tax bases to fund infrastructure projects and social spending, the head of the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday. “A key priority is building broader and more equitable tax bases. All must pay their fair share, while the poor must be protected,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told an economic conference in Marrakech, organized by the Washington-based fund and the kingdom. That would allow them to spend more on social safety nets, health and education services than the current 11 percent of gross domestic product in the region. “Fiscal policy can and must be redesigned to support inclusive growth in the region,” Lagarde said. More efforts are also needed to support the private sector, she said. The state, the dominant employer in many Arab countries with their young populations, can no longer hire newcomers to the labor market. “This, too, can help make room for high-return social and infrastructure outlays,” Largarde said, adding that better access to finance, a more favorable business environment and fewer barriers such as red tape were necessary. “Protracted regional conflicts, low commodity prices, weak productivity and poor governance have held back the considerable potential of the region,” the final statement issued by the IMF and two other international bodies said. “Growth has not been strong enough to reduce unemployment significantly, and a staggering 25 percent of young people are jobless,” it added. …