NSF Dear Colleague Letter: Exploring the NSF 2026 Idea Machine
NSF seeks to further explore the pool of ideas submitted to the NSF 2026 Idea Machine, for the purpose of framing new potential areas for NSF investment. This Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) invites submission of proposals for Conferences, and EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs), following the themes that emerged in the top group of Idea Machine entries.
SUMMARY OF THE OPPORTUNITY
The submitted Idea Machine entries were in the form of short concept outlines and videos rather than full-length research proposals. To develop these conceptual descriptions into actionable research agendas that include sets of specific research questions, NSF seeks proposals for catalytic activities in the form of:
Conferences that bring together those interested in shaping any or a group of these top 33 broad ideas into actionable research themes, or new long-term research programs.
EAGER projects to extend, develop and test concepts from among the top 33 ideas that are ripe for early stage, transformative research.
Opportunities for participation by undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, K-12 students, industry representatives, and others are encouraged. NSF welcomes proposals that include efforts to broaden participation of underrepresented groups (women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) in the development of the research agendas. Reflecting the Idea Machine concept, NSF seeks proposals on topics that cross disciplinary boundaries.
Each proposal submitted in response to this DCL should be grounded in a compelling, cross-disciplinary research challenge in line with one or more of the top-ranked Idea Machine entries. The proposal should address the current state of the research challenge and describe an integrated strategy for addressing the challenge. Proposals must identify which concepts from among the 33 entries the activity proposes to enrich or extend.
Proposals submitted in response to this DCL should be prepared and submitted in accordance with the guidelines contained in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) and the instructions provided below.
NSF 2026 CONFERENCE
These awards will provide support for projects with durations of up to one year and budgets of less than $100,000. PIs should clearly outline the anticipated target audience to be engaged in the proposed conversation(s) and the plan to disseminate the findings after the conference(s). Convening events can take the form of workshops, symposia, or other types of meetings, and can include multiple sequential events as long as the proposed activities request a budget of less than $100,000 in total. PIs are encouraged to contact NSF by sending an email to NSF2026IM@nsf.gov and ask about the suitability of the proposed conference prior to submission of a proposal.
NSF 2026 EAGERS
For a project to be considered for EAGER funding through this opportunity, a 2-page Research Concept Outline (RCO) must be emailed 60 days prior to proposal submission to NSF2026IM@nsf.gov. The RCO must be a PDF file that clearly describes the idea of the EAGER and illustrates how the project extends and deepens one or more of the concepts found among the 33 entries. PIs are also required to clearly articulate the anticipated high-risk and high-rewards aspects of the proposed activity. Based on those summaries, EAGER proposals will be invited, if appropriate.
See PAPPG Chapter II.E.2 for specific instructions on preparing EAGER proposals.
Proposers should upload the invitation letter in the single copy document section of the proposal. NSF 2026 EAGER proposals received without prior discussion with, and subsequently followed by a written invitation from a Program Officer, will be returned without review.
Proposals and research concept outlines should be submitted by 5:00 PM submitter's local time on the dates shown below:
- Conference proposals: March 15, 2020
- EAGER Research Concept Outlines: March 1, 2020
- EAGER proposals: April 30, 2020
For more information:
NSF 20-041: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20041/nsf20041.jsp
The NSF 2026 Idea Machine: https://nsf2026imgallery.skild.com/