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

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

Workshop Information: Foundation Relations and the Limited Submissions Office will conduct a workshop via Zoom to explain the funding opportunity and process. Workshops are scheduled for November 16th: 3:00-4:30 pm or November 17th: 9:00-10:30 am. 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 $500,000 to $5 million and are typically $2 million or less; however, the target budget must be $1 million from Keck over 3 years.

The program is extremely competitive with about 200 applicants to the Foundation with only five awards in each category. Scientists are judged based on the:

  • Quality of their ideas and the boldness thereof and the science.
  • The question and whether it will lead to more questions and additional answers.
  • Could this question lead to a life’s work or career-defining work that would shift scientific thinking in a field or the world?

Successful investigators will be published in top journals and those publications should indicate that the investigator is a leader in what is transpiring in the field.

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

  • Why this team?
  • Why at Penn State?
  • Why Keck?

    • Speak specifically to reviews where the project has been rejected by federal agencies (NIH/NSF) as too early, too risky, or too interdisciplinary

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 responsive.

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 2022. Successful Phase I proposals are invited to submit a 12-page Phase II proposal by August 15, 2022.

Sponsor Final Deadline: 
Aug 15, 2022
Other Deadline Dates: 
Concept Paper: February 15, 2022; Phase 1 application: May 1, 2022
OSVPR Application or NOI Instructions: 

To apply to the internal downselect, use the concept paper template attached  to the InfoReady competition and upload the following in sequence in one PDF file (File name: Last name_KECK-May2022.pdf) :

Internal Application Requirements:

  1. Concept Paper (written for a well-educated lay audience) - see Template file linked at the right (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 with expertise in your discipline the more technical “so what” and why you can succeed.
  3. Excerpts of federal agency reviews or correspondence with federal program managers indicating that the project is too risky, too early, or too interdisciplinary for the agencies' programs.
To be considered as a Penn State institutional nominee, please submit a notice of intent by the date provided directly below.
OSVPR Downselect Deadline: 
Tuesday, January 4, 2022 - 4:00pm
For help or questions: 

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 Sophie Penney Leach, Director, Foundation Relations (swp2@psu.edu).