Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research

​​​​The most recent deadline for the Star Family Challenge was February 28, 2018. More information on the next competition will be available in early 2019 for the anticipated February 2019 deadline. The information below contains guidelines from the most recent competition.

Program Description: Established in 2013 by a generous gift to Harvard University at the suggestion of James A. Star, AB (1983), the Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research provides seed funding to interdisciplinary high-risk, high-impact projects in the natural or social sciences. Early stage projects which are unlikely to receive funding from traditional grant-making agencies are encouraged. Award recipients will present and discuss their projects with a range of scholars in multiple disciplines at a Challenge event on April 9, 2018, prior to receipt of funding.

The following projects were selected for funding in the 2018 cycle:

  • Cora Dvorkin, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics. “Foreground Separation in the Search of Primordial Gravitational Waves.”
  • Karine Gibbs, Associate Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; and Colleen Cavanaugh, Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. “You can’t just go with your gut: Determining the switch to virulence in endogenous members of the gut microbiome.”
  • Peter Girguis, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; and Aspen Reese, Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows. “Collecting and Protecting Microbiomes: Leveraging Natural History Collections to Study Microbial Communities.”
  • Stein Jacobsen, Professor of Geochemistry, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Towards Solving the Younger Dryas Mystery.”
  • Matthew Nock, Professor, Department of Psychology; Samuel Gershman, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology; and Jukka-Pekka Onnela, Associate Professor, Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. “Using Mobile Passive Monitoring, Real-time Assessment and Dynamic Computational Phenotypes to Understand, Predict and Prevent Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors.”

Please see Dean Smith's announcement regarding the 2018 program here.

Award Information: Award range is $20,000-$200,000 in direct costs (project budgets should not include indirect costs). In 2017, the average award size was $106,250. Up to five awards will be made annually.

Eligibility Requirements: This competition is open to ladder faculty members in FAS and SEAS. Collaborative proposals are welcome but the lead investigator on the application must hold a faculty appointment in FAS or SEAS.

Please see a list of previous award recipients here.

Application Guidelines: Applications must be submitted through the Harvard University Funding Portal. To apply, please submit a one- to two-page proposal (one inch margins, 11 point font or larger) that briefly addresses the following:

  1. What questions are you trying to answer in this project? What problem are you addressing and why is it important?
  2. How will you approach the problem, and how does your approach differ from others? How does your experience enable you to approach the problem in an innovative way?
  3. What kind of impact could your project have? How will you measure results?
  4. Who will be involved in your project, and what resources will be required? Within your one- to two-page proposal narrative, please provide rough budget estimates for (a) personnel, (b) equipment, and (c) other. There is no prescribed format for presenting this information. Faculty are encouraged to work closely with their grant administrators to develop a budget. Indirect costs should not be included.

A one page appendix with graphics and/or references may be included in addition to the one- to two-page project proposal.

Applicants must also submit a two page biosketch. In addition, you may submit a two page biosketch for any collaborators involved in the project.

Evaluation Criteria: Applications will be evaluated for their significance, innovation, potential impact, interdisciplinarity and the ability of the applicant to successfully carry out the project.

Dr. Randy Buckner, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, will chair the 2018 Review Committee. Other committee members represent a broad range of disciplines. These reviewers were selected for their broad perspective and demonstrated capability for evaluating work in multiple fields of study. Because of the diverse nature of this committee, project descriptions should be written in language accessible to reviewers from a wide variety of fields.

2018 Review Committee:

Randy Buckner, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience (Committee Chair)
Gita Gopinath, John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and of Economics
Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics
Maryellen Ruvolo, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, and Harvard College Professor
Jason Ur, Professor of Anthropology
Daniel Ziblatt, Professor of Government

Reporting Requirements: Award recipients will be required to submit a one year progress report.

Additional Resources:

Questions? Please see our FAQs.

Contacts: Please contact Jennifer Corby at or 617-495-1590 or Susan Gomes at or 617-496-9448 with any additional questions about this internal grant program.