National Science Foundation Funding Forecast

NSF graphic for 2026 Idea Machine Competition


Brittney Van D… February 24, 2020

In summer 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) called upon the scientific community, nonprofits, industry members, and general public to participate in the NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition, a contest designed to help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering. Earlier this month, competition winners were announced, and the topics chosen provide valuable insight into NSF's priority investment areas for the coming decade.

NSF 2026 Idea Machine Grand Prize winners included:

  • Engineered Living Materials: Envisions a new class of materials that combine the properties of living organisms with the applications of built materials.

  • From Thinking to Inventing: Proposes a new era of artificial intelligence (AI) research, where machines could learn to model human creativity and thought processes in order to evaluate, improvise, and ultimately solve new and complex challenges.

  • Public Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Aims to develop new technologies for carbon capture and storage that “borrow the technology of an industrial facility and bring it to our backyard.”

  • Emergence: Complexity from the Bottom Up: Aims to harness emergence, “a phenomenon that describes how simple components interact to form elaborate things,” to improve the efficiency of complex systems by mirroring nature.

Meritorious (Runner-Up) Prize winners included:

  • Unlocking the Future of Infrastructure: Seeks insights into the “development of next-generation infrastructure materials and construction systems that could lead to better infrastructure on Earth and in distant planets in the future.”

  • Theory of Conscious Experience: Investigates questions at the intersections of “research on cognition, philosophical concepts, theoretical computer science, artificial intelligence, computational modeling, and virtual and augmented reality to study the subjective experience of consciousness.” 

Later this year, NSF will seek submissions from the research community to further cultivate the winning research themes above through workshop proposals and Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs).

EAGER proposals may request up to $300K and must aim to support, “exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches.” More information specific to the EAGER funding mechanism can be found by following this link to Chapter II of the NSF Grant Proposal Guide.