Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research

​​​​​​​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 prior to receipt of funding.

Please see Dean Smith's announcement regarding the 2017 program here

Award Information: Award range is $20,000-$200,000 in direct costs (project budgets should not include indirect costs). In 2016, the average award size was $85,600. 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.

 We are pleased to announce the 2017 Star Family Challenge awardees:

  • Jesse Snedeker, Professor of Psychology, FAS, “Language creation: Modeling the rapid emergence of a new language in Nicaragua”
  • Elsie Sunderland, Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, SEAS; Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering in the Department of Environmental Health, HSPH, “Epidemics in the wind: Can airborne bacteria cause meningitis outbreaks?”
  • Amy Wagers, Forst Family Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology , FAS, “Why we age: a potentially common driver of age-related dysfunction across organ systems”
  • Robin Wordsworth, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, SEAS, “Resolving the status of oxygen as a biosignature to allow a search for life on exoplanets” 

Please see a list of previous award recipients here

The most recent deadline for this competition was February 28, 2017. The 2017 call for proposals is posted here for informational purposes. The next Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research will be announced in January 2018.

Application Guidelines: 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. 

Applications must be submitted through the Harvard University Funding Portal.

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 2017 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.

2017 Review Committee:
Randy Buckner, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience (Committee Chair)
Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science; and Professor of African and African American Studies
Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics
Alexandra Killewald, Professor of Sociology
Naomi Pierce, Sidney A. and John H. Hessel Professor of Biology
Jason Ur, Professor of Anthropology

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.