The Small World Initiative (SWI) strives to combine technology, science, and innovation to make meaningful and measurable improvements in the global education and healthcare landscape.

The mission of the program is twofold.

First, it seeks to encourage students to pursue careers in science and increase scientific literacy through real-world applicable laboratory and field research in introductory courses.

Second, it aims to address a worldwide health threat – the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics – by tapping into the collective power of many student researchers concurrently tackling the same challenge, living up to its motto “crowdsourcing antibiotic discovery.”

Replace standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses
— PCAST, Engage to Excel Report (2012)



SWI was inspired in response to the PCAST "Engage to Excel" report to President Barack Obama, which called for the "[replacement] of standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses." In 2012, less than 40% of student intending to major in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fields completed the degree. SWI is designed to change that by engaging students in an authentic research experience, which addresses a real-world crisis – the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics – and changes their perspective of an otherwise ordinary ecosystem (soil). SWI offers students a framework to think like scientists, express their curiosity, and hone their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Small World Initiative Pedagogic Goals

  • Retain students in STEM
  • Train students to apply the scientific method and think like scientists
  • Inspire the next generation of scientists

Modern medicine, including chemotherapy and surgery, would not be possible without the use of antibiotics. Yet, the supply of effective antibiotics is dwindling as the pharmaceutical industry turns towards more profitable drugs. Each year in the US, at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 die from these infections (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Therefore, antibiotic resistance is the most important medical challenge facing humans in the 21st century. SWI offers a platform to find candidates for new drugs and to study the untapped microbiological and chemical diversity of soil.

Small World Initiative Scientific Goals

  • Address the global concern for antibiotic resistance
  • Discover candidates for novel natural product antibiotics
  • Explore the untapped microbial and biochemical diversity of soil