Planet Earth

28
Mar

Private Research Ship Makes Waves

Alexandra Witze, reporting for Nature:

Life onboard the R/V Falkor is a far cry from the spartan existence endured by most academic oceanographers on research trips. The privately run research vessel features a sauna, a glassed-in lounge and a helicopter pad to be kept clear at all times for VIP guests.

All of which isn’t too surprising, as two of the VIPs are the Falkor’s benefactors: Google board chair Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy. The 83-metre former fishery-protection vessel was retrofitted by the Schmidt Ocean Institute of Palo Alto, California, at a cost of US$60 million. Supporters say that it adds a new capability to US oceanography’s fraying infrastructure: an ability to take on riskier projects more quickly than federal agencies can.

Oceanography certainly isn’t the first field to suffer through government defunding but benefit from private largesse. For years, many stem cell researchers had to rely on private money to continue their research. Unless government science funding picks up, researchers in many other fields may find themselves in a similar situation.