Grant: Discovering the Future

Applications for the Discovering the Future program are open now through May 8

Our 2020 winners:

Michael Lampson (PI)
School of Arts and Sciences
Department of Biology

ben black
Ben Black (Co-PI)
Eldridge Reeves Johnson Foundation Professor
Perelman School of Medicine
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics


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.


Discovering the Future grants can be awarded to Penn faculty working on blue sky, high risk/high reward research

Grant Size:

Grants will range from $100,000 to $400,000. Grants will be targeted to creative, out-of-the-box ideas with the potential to alter the trajectory of the given field. The process will be highly selective.

Grant Term:
  • 1-2 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.
Funding Criteria:

The goal of the program is to transition exciting new ideas to the point at which they can be sustained by other modes of support. Proposals will be evaluated based on:

  • Scholarly merit, creativity, impact, and innovation
  • Feasibility
  • Significance of the research
  • Prospects for future extramural funding

Please note: Proposals will also demonstrate one of the following characteristics:

(the proposal MUST specify which one of these three (3) points is relevant)

  • Recent research results that are unanticipated or surprising and, if validated or extended, would alter the current understanding, change the trajectory of a field of study, or establish a new topic of research
  • A new concept that is original and exciting but lacks enough evidence to move toward acceptance in the field
  • A new combination of trans-disciplinary concepts that has the potential to open new avenues of inquiry

Proposal Guidelines: (A new application cycle is expected May 2023)

Applicant and Project Information: All fields and all certifications are required (complete online)

Abstract and Summary: 200-word limit, Complete online. Write in simple language a description of the proposed work. State the objectives. The description should explain the compelling reason for the proposal. Do not include your PI name or proposal title.

Proposal: Upload a single PDF document, maximum 3 pages. Include background, purpose, aims, methods used, work to be undertaken, and outlook for future (continued research and external funding). Please be mindful of the interdisciplinary backgrounds of the reviewers and make the proposals accessible to the readers.

Bio Sketch/CV

Sponsored 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.

Budget Form: NOTE: Do NOT use commas when answering budget questions.

  • Allowable Costs- supplies, non-faculty salaries, and travel expenses related to the project.
  • Faculty salaries are not allowable.
  • Graduate tuition is not allowable.
  • Equipment costs up to 100% of the budget may be eligible for funding, but requests must be justified in the application as essential to the research. In addition, if all or most of the budget is for equipment, the applicant must document that other resources will help cover the research. The review will focus not on the equipment being requested but on the scientific program to which it will be applied. Equipment requests for multiple user items will increase the likelihood of funding.
  • Because not all projects can be funded fully you must prioritize budget items by order of importance.
  • Fringe Benefits are calculated for FY23 full-time employees. Please use 9.7% to calculate part-time EBs

Evaluation Process:

Since fortuitous discoveries do not occur on a scheduled time line, 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
  • Impact that the discovery would have on the field if verified and extended
  • Experimental and/or theoretical approaches along with expected outcomes and timeline
Comparison of OVPR Funding Opportunities:
  Discovering the Future Research Grant Accelerating Lab to Market Pre-Seed Grant University Research Foundation
Purpose Blue-Sky, High Risk Research Grants Pre-seed Grants Supports faculty research, pilot projects, instrumentation, and conference support
Eligibility Penn Faculty Penn Faculty Penn Faculty
Program Frequency Annual (next cycle Spring 2023) Annual (next cycle Spring 2023) Annual (next cycle Fall 2023)
Award Amount up to $400,000 $10,000 to $50,000 but could be larger if justified (up to $200k) Up to $75,000
Award Period One to Two years One to Two years One year only
Review Process VPR selection based on Faculty Review Committee VPR selection based on Commercialization Committee VPR selection based on Faculty Review Committee

What is the submission period (opening & deadline)?
A new cycle for the Discovering the Future grant program is expected for May 2023.

Where can I submit my proposal?
Proposals can by submitted online at SM Apply using your PennKey or through the OVPR website at and selecting Discovering the Future.

What documents do I need to submit my proposal? (Should it include budgets?)
Applicant and Project Information

  • Proposal
  • Bio Sketch/CV
  • Sponsored Support
  • Budget Form

For a comprehensive list of requirements, please see

Who is eligible?
Penn faculty are eligible to apply.

Can I apply more than once?
Only one application per funding cycle is allowed

Is there a waiting period for reapplying?
Yes, applicants may reapply in the next funding cycle with clearly marked changes

Does the grant support salary/travel/undergraduates/post-docs/research associates/technicians/programmers?
PI Salary is not supported from this grant. Undergraduate students, post-docs, research associated, technicians, and programmers are supported

Who is on the review committee/panel?
The review committee is comprised of Penn faculty with relevant expertise, who can provide informed and objective reviews of submissions

How long does it take to hear back? How long does the entire process take?
Depending on the number of applications, it can take from 4-10 weeks

Do I need to complete my research within the allotted period?
No, but a no cost extension is required

Do I need to return unused funds?
Yes, all unused funds must be returned

Does the Co-PI have to be at PENN?
No, but awards will only be made to the Penn faculty member listed on the application

Is there any letter of support needed?
No, letters of support are not required

When are funds distributed?
After assessing the review panel recommendations, the VPR will issue awards and funds will be distributed subsequently

Can the application process be shared by the PI and BA?
No, the application process cannot be shared. The entire application process should be completed by only one person