The NSF 2026 Idea Machine: New directions for research

September 05, 2018

The NSF 2026 Idea Machine is a competition to inform the U.S. agenda for fundamental science, engineering, and STEM education research by proposing new “Big Ideas” for future investment by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each of the four winning Big Ideas will receive a cash prize of $26,000 and its authors will be invited to a recognition event in the Washington, D.C. area.

In the nearly 70 years since it was founded, NSF has played a critical role in establishing U.S. leadership in fundamental STEM research and education, advancing knowledge and creating innovations that drive the nation's economy and enhance its security, and in training the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The NSF 2026 Idea Machine is NSF’s way of asking the public and research community for input on the nation’s long-term research agenda. NSF’s original set of 10 Big Ideas announced in 2016 was generated by NSF staff based on ideas from the research community. For the next set of Big Ideas, NSF wants to hear from all interested stakeholders – including the general public – about the most important and potentially transformative basic research questions.

What is a “Big Idea”?

  • A Big Idea is a compelling research challenge in fundamental STEM or STEM education that is large in scope, innovative in character, and requires a long-term commitment (i.e., 10 years or more) to address.
  • It has (a) worthwhile objective(s), is ambitious and challenging, and may require a paradigm shift in our thinking.
  • It requires high risk/high reward, transformative exploration at the frontiers of research in science, engineering, and STEM learning.
  • It will attract creative contributions from many researchers.
  • It crosses traditional scientific boundaries, fills recognized gaps, or takes advantage of new opportunities, and it does not fit within the current programs of any particular NSF directorate or division.
  • Progress toward addressing it would have significant societal and scientific impact that would benefit many stakeholders, both inside and outside the research community.

The NSF 2026 Idea Machine has four stages

  1. Big Idea development and submission: Individuals or teams of up to five can submit a Big Idea may be on any topic that fits within the fundamental STEM research and education research mission of NSF. Submissions are due by October 26, 2018.
  2. Video pitches and public comment: In January 2019, approximately 30 Big Ideas will be asked to create a video pitch up to 10 minutes long in order to explain why the challenge is important, the approach to addressing it, and what success would look like. Then, the public will be invited to offer their feedback in February and March 2019.
  3. Blue-ribbon panel virtual interviews: Up to 12 Big Ideas will be selected for virtual interviews with a blue-ribbon panel of science, engineering, and STEM education experts in March through May 2019. The panel will recommend up to six for final consideration by NSF.
  4. Selection of winners and awarding of prizes: In August 2019, approximately four Big Ideas will be announced, and prizes will be awarded!

Launch your imagination now! 

Head to the website and read the submission guidelines, eligibility requirements, and other rules.