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W.M. Keck Foundation Program for Science and Engineering

General Information

Program Description

The W.M. Keck Foundation seeks to generate far-reaching benefits for humanity by supporting pioneering discoveries in science, engineering, and medicine. By funding high-risk/high-impact work of leading researchers, the Foundation seeks to lay the groundwork for new paradigms, technologies, and discoveries that will save lives, provide innovative solutions, and add to the understanding of the world.


Schools may submit one (1) application in each of two categories to the W.M. Keck Foundation for Penn’s internal competition:

  1. Science and Engineering; and
  2. Medical Research.


To be eligible, PI must be a full-time Assistant or Associate Professor at an invited US academic institution, working in the area of studies of medical research and science & engineering. Funding is awarded to universities and institutions nationwide for projects in research that:

  • Focus on important and emerging areas of research.
  • Have the potential to develop breakthrough technologies, instrumentation, or methodologies.
  • Are innovative, distinctive, and interdisciplinary.
  • Demonstrate a high level of risk due to unconventional approaches, or by challenging the prevailing paradigm;
  • Have the potential for transformative impact, such as the founding of a new field of research, the enabling of observations not previously possible, or the altered perception of a previously intractable problem.
  • Fall outside the mission of public funding agencies;
  • Have been recently denied funding by a federal funding agency expressly because the project was judged too high risk or early stage. The foundation prefers to see the rejection in writing.

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

  • Grants range from $1 million to $5 million and are typically $2 million or less.
  • Award extensions are not allowed. 
  • The foundation prefers projects that are not too clinical or too applied, not related to therapeutics, not disease-specific, and not a “logical next step” in research. 
  • The foundation also prefers to fund projects for which federal funding is not readily available.

Review Process

Selection Criteria

The University has been invited to nominate 1 faculty member in each of two categories to the W.M. Keck Foundation: (1) Science and Engineering and (2) Medical Research. A committee, established by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR), will determine the final nominees to represent the University. 

OVPR Internal Review Process

Applications must include the following:

  1. Cover Page which includes:
    • Project title
    • Candidate’s name, academic rank, department, email address, phone number and campus address. 
    • Date of faculty appointment to the University including Month and Year  
  2. A Concept Paper (maximum 1 page)
    • An overview of the proposed project emphasizing any unique aspects and pilot studies (indicate area of emphasis for project) and background to put the research into perspective
    • A description of the methodologies – please be specific about how the project will be conducted and how the PI will achieve their goals. Focus on the What and the How. For example, highlight project challenges and innovative ways the PI will overcome them.
    • Key personnel
    • Impact – how will this project be a scientific leap forward? How is this project transformational? What makes this project distinctive?
    • Brief justification of the need for Keck support (demonstrate a federal rejection of the project on the grounds that it is too high risk or early stage and that Keck is the funder of last resort)
    • Funding amount request along with breakdown – personnel, supplies, etc.
    • For more information on drafting a compelling application, refer also to the foundation’s guidelines:
  3. A CV (using NIH Format) (maximum 5 pages), which includes educational background, professional appointments, awards and honors. 
  4. All materials must be submitted in a single pdf document in the above order to 
  5. Subject line of the email should be, KECK_applicant LAST name_ applicant FIRST name.