Big, important scientific breakthroughs are built of small, incremental experiments. And the partial government shutdown is already interfering with some of that research.
Scientists often depend on the government for grant funding, expertise and — in some cases — even regulatory approval. With the shutdown, some researchers are missing those key elements of scientific collaboration. Here's how some scientists say the shutdown is affecting their work.
Tuesday Simmons, a graduate student in microbiology at the University of California, Berkeley, writes, "I'm a grad student at Berkeley, but my PI [principal investigator] works for the USDA (like several PIs in my department). While the grad students continue to work, it is difficult for us without our advisers here." She says this affects her in two primary ways. "I am trying to complete a manuscript with my adviser and I need to meet with him to discuss figures and text edits," Simmons says. And she says she is "trying to plan a new experiment where I'm adding synthetic microbial communities to sorghum plants, and I need to iron out the details with him before starting the experiment."
Simmons points out that it's hard to hit the pause button on plant research. "The plants continue to grow and need care (such as water and maintained growth chambers). During this time, many plants are dying, time points for experiments aren't being collected, and plants are maturing without people to collect their seeds. This can set experiments back weeks, months or, in some cases, up to a year. Honestly, the labs with grad students are the lucky ones, because we're allowed in to take care of plants."
Andrew Leifer, a physicist at Princeton, says, "I'm a newer assistant professor and I've been trying hard to land my first federal grant, which is crucial for funding my research into how the neurons in a worm's brain generate its behavior."