2018 Grinnell Prize Winner: Mélanie Marcel

Mélanie MarcelMélanie Marcel, founder and CEO of SoScience, is the winner of the 2018 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. SoScience is an organization that harnesses the power of collaborative and socially-embedded scientific research to solve global challenges. Through her passion for exploring the intersection of science and global impact, Marcel has become a national leader and recognized expert on models for responsible research and innovation and has taken on a pivotal political role in the radical transformation of global scientific research systems.

Early in her laboratory experience, Marcel realized that researchers most often conduct projects for which they can secure corporate or governmental funding, rather than projects that address pressing community or environmental needs. Marcel founded SoScience in order to disrupt this system and create a new model for driving research.

SoScience connects scientists and scientific institutions directly to social innovators and community interests, igniting research collaborations that address justice and sustainability issues. The organization’s “Future of” conferences unite groups of scientists and social innovators to collaboratively develop research projects that lead to the creation of innovative solutions to some of the world’s most intractable challenges.

For example, the 2017 conference on the “Future of Soils” formed research and responsible innovation partnerships that addressed agricultural issues such as how to save water, reduce fertilizer use, increase yields, improve farmers’ incomes, and improve soil fertility and biodiversity. The “Future of” programs provide significant continuing support to select initiatives. A majority of additional initiatives born out of these programs have continued as well, moving the impact of their research out of the lab and into the social ecosystem.

Marcel’s expertise and innovative ideas are widely respected within the European Union. In response to her lobbying efforts, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development reoriented its research development policy to strengthen societal impact. In addition, Marcel has been nominated by the European Commission to evaluate its research policy. In this role she provides consulting services to the commission, as well as to financing agencies and other developing organizations in the field of responsible research.

Marcel earned her undergraduate degree in physics engineering, chemistry, and biology from ESPCI ParisTech and her master’s degree in bio-engineering and innovation in neuroscience from the ESPCI and Paris Descartes University. Following her education she researched human-machine interfaces first at NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Japan and then at the Brain and Spine Institute in France.