The National Academies will hold its first-ever grants competition as part of a $40 million gift from the W. M. Keck Foundation. The 15-year donation, which is intended to foster interdisciplinary research, will also put the foundation's name on the academies' new office building in Washington, D.C.
"The Futures Initiative is designed to create a powerful, ongoing forum where the best and brightest minds from across the disciplines of science, technology, and medical research can come together and ask each other, 'What if ...?' " said Robert Day, chair and chief executive officer of the W. M. Keck Foundation, in announcing the gift last week. The centerpiece of the initiative will be an invitation-only, twice-a-year conference at which scientists will generate ideas for proposals. The first, on cell signaling, will be held 14 to 15 November at the academies' West Coast offices in Irvine, California.
The conferences will be organized by a panel drawn from the membership of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, which will also review proposals. Only invited participants will be allowed to apply for one of the four $200,000 seed grants to be awarded each year. The academies will also invite officials from funding agencies to "introduce them to the culture of interdisciplinary thinking," according to a spokesperson. "The seed grants are intended to get innovative projects off the ground," says Ken Fulton, NAS executive director and head of the Futures Initiative. "Once a project gets going, the researcher can take it to a funding agency for more money."
A broader goal of the program, says Fulton, is to bring about structural changes in funding organizations and academic institutions. Toward that end, the academies are launching a study to identify shortcomings in funding procedures and policies that hinder interdisciplinary science. The initiative also includes three $20,000 awards made annually to researchers, authors, film-makers, or journalists who excel in communicating science to the public.