W.M. Keck Foundation: Science & Engineering/Medical Research - Spring 2021

Sponsor Name: 
W. M. Keck Foundation
Description of the Award: 

Workshop Information: Foundation Relations and the Limited Submissions Office will conduct a workshop on via Zoom on Wednesday, December 9th 1:00-2:00 to explain the funding opportunity and process. Contact our office at limitedsubs@psu.edu for connection information.

The Keck Foundation supports basic research projects that are high-risk and have the potential for transformative impact in two program areas: Science & Engineering Research and Medical Research. Recent awards have supported pioneering research, with a particular focus on the development of promising new technologies, instrumentation, or methodologies. Historically, grants range from $500,00 to $5 million and are typically $2 million or less; however, the target budget must be $1 million from Keck over 3 years.

Projects must be high-impact, high-risk, quantum leaps forward in their fields and must address the following:

  • Why this team?
  • Why at Penn State?
  • Why Keck?
  • Your best rejection?

Competitive projects typically exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. Focus on important and emerging areas of basic science research with the potential to develop breakthrough technologies, instrumentation or methodologies that would break down existing barriers to inquiry.
  2. Are innovative, distinctive and interdisciplinary with the potential for transformative impact across a number of fields and potential applications.
  3. Exhibit a high-level of risk due to unconventional approaches, or by challenging the prevailing paradigm.
  4. Demonstrate that the chances of success would be seriously impaired without private funding. Projects that are too early-stage, high-risk, or interdisciplinary to fit within traditional agency funding mechanisms are sought. In fact, Keck looks for assurance that other avenues of funding have been declined. More than speculating on the prospects of public funding, reviews or discussions with agency program staff should be pursued. A project that has received excellent reviews from NSF/NIH, but dismissed as too risky, ambitious, etc. would be considered optimal.

Keep in mind the focus is on basic science with the potential broad impact; not translational, clinical, or applied science. For example, Medical Research proposals should describe innovative research that has the potential to impact fundamental mechanisms of human health and disease. Proposals that focus exclusively on a single disease are not likely to be funded, as the Foundation is more interested in endeavors that address more basic mechanisms/questions that will impact a number of diseases or disorders.

Application Process:

The submission process is multi-staged, starting with a consulting period where the Foundation will review 1-page concepts from an institution. From the pool of concepts submitted to this down-select, the internal review committee will select up to eight papers (four each in Science & Engineering/Medical Research) that are consistent with Keck’s funding priorities. Selected teams will have the opportunity to refine these papers based on internal reviews in preparation for sharing by Keck program staff. Keck feedback on each concept’s aims, methodologies, impacts, and rationale for support will be obtained by February 15. As a result, up to two projects (one each in Science & Engineering/Medical Research) may be selected to submit a 3-page Phase I proposal by May 1. Successful Phase I proposals are invited to submit a 12-page Phase II proposal by August 15.

Sponsor Final Deadline: 
Feb 15, 2021
OVPR Application or NOI Instructions: 

To apply to the internal downselect, use the concept paper template attached and upload application using the button on the right-hand menu bar and upload one PDF file (File name: Last name_KECK1_2021.pdf) containing the following items in order:

Application Requirements:

  1. Concept Paper (1-page, Times New Roman, 12-point font, one-inch margins):

    • PI Names and Keck Funding Category (Science & Engineering or Medical)
    • Overview: An overview of the proposed project emphasizing any unique aspects and pilot studies. Say what the breakthrough and leap forward may be;
    • Methodologies: A description of the methodologies. Note which aspects are greatest risk and why you can address that risk. This section should be the primary focus and largest section of the concept paper as Keck is more interested in the “what and how” rather than the “why”;
    • Justification for Keck Support: A justification of the need for private funding (exhibit proof of "excellent" reviews that are "too early" or "too risky" or "too interdisciplinary" from federal funding agencies (NIH/NSF);
    • Key Personnel: Highlight key project personnel and demonstrate expertise/capacity to carry out proposed work;
    • Budget: A roughly-estimated budget broken down by major areas, e.g., personnel, equipment, consumable supplies, etc. No F&A / indirect costs. (It is highly recommended budget should be $1 million from Keck over 3 years.)
  2. Internal Memo: (1-page):

    • Explains to PSU reviewers the “so what” and why you can succeed.

Office of Foundation Relations is the designated institutional contact responsible for communicating with the Foundation and is collaborating with Limited Submissions on the internal downselect process. For questions concerning the application process, other foundation-related questions, or the competitiveness of particular concepts applicants should please contact Alan Gibson, Assistant Director, Foundation Relations (ajg6181@psu.edu).

To be considered as a Penn State institutional nominee, please submit a notice of intent by the date provided directly below.
OVPR Downselect Deadline: 
Monday, January 4, 2021 - 4:00pm