Substrate Games Awarded NIH Phase II SBIR Grant To Make Learning Organic Chemistry Accessible, Engaging, and Effective


DES MOINES, IOWA, May 6, 2019 - Substrate Games, LLC has been awarded a competitive SBIR Phase II grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Division for Research Capacity Building (DRCB) totaling $1,491,415. This award will support the continued research and development of a mobile interactive learning platform for undergraduate students studying organic chemistry and other fundamental sciences. This project is expected to produce a full commercial product covering the entire first semester organic chemistry course, instructor-centered integrations to facilitate adoption by higher education institutions, and a pilot study with over 800 undergraduate students at Texas A&M University.

Only 1 in 4 college freshman remain on a pre-health track by the end of their junior year. These students must take a wide range of required fundamental science courses, most of which have earned reputations as “weed out” classes. Of these, organic chemistry is perhaps the most notorious with up to a 40% attrition rate. Research has pointed to chemistry in general as being a primary reason for students dropping out or changing majors. Through our efforts in speaking with hundreds of stakeholders we have found students struggle with organic chemistry due to the abstract and conceptual nature of the content, the need for manipulating complex three-dimensional (3D) structures in their heads, and the sheer volume of information presented. It was clear that better student-centric tools needed to be created, so we are building a next-generation platform that is mobile-first and uses gamification techniques to make learning organic chemistry more accessible, engaging, and effective.

Following a successful proof-of-concept, we’re excited to leverage our expertise in interactive digital media, technological innovation, and science education to truly help students succeed. We’re grateful to have found alignment with NIH to make both economic and social impact.

- Will Schneller, Co-founder & CEO


About the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Division for Research Capacity Building

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) supports basic research that increases our understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. NIGMS-funded scientists investigate how living systems work at a range of levels from molecules and cells to tissues and organs, in research organisms, humans, and populations. Additionally, to ensure the vitality and continued productivity of the research enterprise, NIGMS provides leadership in training the next generation of scientists, in enhancing the diversity of the scientific workforce, and in developing research capacity throughout the country.

The Division for Research Capacity Building (DRCB) supports research, research training, faculty development, and research infrastructure improvements in states that historically have not received significant levels of research funding from NIH. It also supports faculty research development at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups, research and research capacity building directed by Native American and Alaska Native tribal organizations, and conducts a science education program designed to improve life-science literacy.

NIGMS is one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal medical research agency of the Federal Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is a participating federal agency in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBRI) / Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program.

The United States Congress created the SBIR program in 1982. These programs congressionally require eligible governmental agencies to set aside a percentage of their extramural budget so that domestic small businesses can engage in R&D that has a strong potential for technology commercialization. The goals of the SBIR program include stimulating technological innovation and increasing private sector commercialization of innovations developed through federal R&D funding. Eleven federal agencies have SBIR programs. Federal agencies with extramural research budgets over $100 million are required to set-aside a certain percentage of their budget to the SBIR program.

About Substrate Games

Founded in 2015 by Will Schneller and Dr. Eve Wurtele, Substrate Games is on a mission to use interactive digital media to make difficult science concepts approachable and enjoyable. Headquartered in Des Moines, IA, Substrate Games has received support from NIH, NSF, and IICorp with the aim of making a positive impact in the local economy, as well as social impact throughout the nation.