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Discovering the Future Research Grant Program

General Information

Program Description

Fundamental scientific research has been the cornerstone of the continuous improvement in quality of life over the last century. Scientific research is also the origin of technological advances that underpin our national economy. During the last decade, the federal financial support for scientific research has decreased by 25% in real dollars. Simultaneously, traditional sources of fundamental research support have become increasingly conservative, i.e., low risk. Peer review processes require some certainty in outcomes; foundations (though they state otherwise) often veer toward sure wins; and corporate sponsors focus on translational work. It has been argued, e.g., by the National Academies, that the nation is missing opportunities for discoveries that would change the world. The Discovering the Future Grant aims to fill this gap in funding opportunities by supporting the Penn faculty in blue sky, high risk/high reward research.


Schools may submit an unlimited number of applications for Penn’s internal competition.


  • Discovering the Future grants can be awarded to Penn faculty working on blue sky, high risk/high reward research.
  • For any sponsored research projects, the applicant must be eligible to serve as Principal Investigator for the project, unless otherwise noted in the LSO. Please see Penn’s PI Eligibility requirements to ensure you are eligible. 

Award Information

  • A research award from $100,000 to $400,000 for 1 to 2 years.
  • Unexpended funds must be returned.
  • A no cost extension must be approved by the Vice Provost for Research. Requests for a no cost extension should be made prior to the expiration of an award. No cost extensions will only be granted for extenuating circumstances. Extensions will not be made for longer than six months. A progress-to-date report including a revised budget will be required.
  • Scholarly merit, creativity, impact, and innovation
  • Feasibility
  • Significance of the research
  • Prospects for future extramural funding

Review Process

Selection Criteria

Since fortuitous discoveries do not occur on a scheduled timeline, solicitations will occur on a biannual basis; however, awards are not guaranteed for each cycle. Funding decisions will be made by the VPR based on recommendations of a faculty review committee that will evaluate proposals. If no proposals qualify in a solicitation cycle, no grants will be awarded in that cycle. Successful proposals will describe the:

  • New concept and the basis on which it is deemed unanticipated, surprising, and not evident in the discourse of the field.
  • The impact that the discovery would have on the field if verified and extended.
  • Experimental and/or theoretical approaches along with expected outcomes and timeline

OVPR Internal Review Process

Applications must include the following:

  1. Cover Page which includes:
    1. Proposal Title
    2. Candidate’s name, academic rank, department, email address, phone number and campus address.   
  2. Abstract (200-word limit): Complete online. Write in simple (non-technical) language a description of the proposed work that is suitable for a lay audience. State the objectives. The description should explain the compelling reason for the proposal. Do not include your PI name or proposal title.
  3. Letters of Recommendation (maximum 1 page)
  4. Research Proposal (maximum 3 pages):
    1. Include your name, your department, and the proposal title on the first page.
    2. Include background, hypothesis/purpose, methods used, work to be undertaken, and outlook for future (continued research and external funding). 
    3. References are not included in the page limit and should be included in this section.
  5. A Biosketch/CV (Using NIH format, if relevant) (maximum 3 pages)
  6. Research Support: Include current annual funding directly related to the proposed discovery, title, award amount, sponsor, grant period, pending applications (include notification of pending applications). Failure to provide an accurate description of other support available to the PI will disqualify this application.
  7. Budget (maximum 1 page): Download the budget template. NOTE: Do NOT use commas when answering budget questions.
  8. Appendix: Additional documents. Do not use the appendices to circumvent page limits.
  9. Home departments must have a 26-digit budget code.
  10. All materials must be submitted in a single pdf document in the above order to 
  11. Subject line of the email should be, URF_SCHOOL_applicant LAST name_ applicant FIRST name.