Washington Update

NSF Contest Seeks Big Ideas

By: Jennifer Zeitzer
Thursday, September 20, 2018

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is asking the public to help identify the most pressing research questions that should be addressed in the next decade.

In late August, NSF launched the 2026 Idea Machine contest, a competition that encourages researchers, individuals, and other stakeholders to “inform the U.S. agenda for fundamental science, engineering, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education research by proposing new Big Ideas for future investment by NSF.”

Big ideas are defined as risky, high-reward projects that are compelling and large in scope, innovative in character, will require at least a ten-year commitment, can attract creative contributions from researchers across various disciplines, and do not fit within any of NSF’s current programs. Examples of big ideas NSF has previously funded include navigating the Arctic, harnessing data, and understanding the rules of life.

During stage one of the contest, individuals and teams of no more than five people can submit research project ideas using NSF’s online form. Entries are due by October 26, 2018. A judging panel will select up to 30 big ideas to move on to stage two, where contestants will prepare brief video pitches to explain why their proposals address a compelling research challenge. A public comment period will follow, encouraging comments on the selected ideas and soliciting suggestions for further improvement.

Stage two entries will be judged by a blue ribbon panel of external STEM experts, who will select 12 big idea authors to take part in virtual interviews where they can explain in more detail why NSF should invest in their proposals. Six finalists will then move on to the final round of competition.

NSF leadership will announce the contest winners in August 2019. Up to four grand prize winners will receive cash prizes of $26,000 and be invited to appear at a recognition event in Washington. Entries selected for video interviews are eligible for $1,000 and the top 100 entries will be posted on the NSF Idea Machine website.

Additional information about the contest including frequently asked questions, a timelineeligibility rulesa toolkit, and other resources are available on the NSF Idea Machine website. As noted by NSF, participating in the contest provides stakeholders with a “chance to identify future research priorities at the national level, and help define critical, new, long-term research directions that promote the progress of science.”