Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research

The 2019 competition concluded with the Star-Friedman Challenge event on May 10, 2019. You may review the 2019 RFP below for reference, though it may change in future award cycles. The next deadline for this program will be in February 2020.


2019 Award Recipients: 
Building the World’s Smallest Flying Machines
David Keith, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics; Joost Vlassak, Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Materials Engineering

Impacts of Elevated CO2 on Bees and Pollination Services via Alterations in Pollen Nutrition
Benjamin de Bivort, Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; Noel Michele Holbrook, Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry and Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; Samuel Myers, Principal Research Scientist, Planetary Health, Exposure, Epidemiology, and Risk Program, Department of Environmental Health & Director, Planetary Health Alliance; James D. Crall, Rockefeller Foundation Planetary Health Alliance Postdoctoral Fellow in the de Bivort Lab

Search for Superconductivity in Hundreds of Atom
Jennifer Hoffman, Professor of Physics; Boris Kozinsky, Associate Professor of Computational Materials Science

Testing a New Proxy for Past Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels
Ann Pearson, Murray and Martha Ross Professor of Environmental Sciences & Harvard College Professor

2019 Awardees
Winners of the 2019 Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Program Description: The Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research (formerly known as the Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research) provides seed funding to interdisciplinary high-risk, high-impact projects in the life, physical, and social sciences. Early-stage projects that are unlikely to receive funding from traditional grant-making agencies are encouraged. Established in 2013 by a generous gift to Harvard University at the suggestion of James A. Star, AB (1983), the program is expanding in the 2018-19 academic year through a gift from Joshua Friedman, AB (1976), MBA (1980), JD (1982) and Beth Friedman to invite proposal submissions from Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) in addition to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Award recipients will present and discuss their projects with a range of scholars in multiple disciplines at a Challenge event on May 10, 2019, prior to receipt of funding.

Click here to read Dean Gay’s announcement of the 2019 program.

The Challenge for Promising Scientific Research: a Retrospective


Award Information: Individual investigators may request up to $150,000 in direct costs; collaborative proposals involving funding to multiple independent investigators may request up to $300,000 in direct costs. Only investigators based at the four participating schools (HMS, HSPH, FAS, and SEAS) may be included in the budget. Project budgets should not include indirect costs. Approximately five awards will be made annually.


Eligibility Requirements: This competition is open to ladder faculty members in the four participating schools (HMS, HSPH, FAS and SEAS). In HMS, this program is open to ladder faculty (assistant professors, associate professors, and professors) who have primary appointments in the HMS basic and social science departments AND whose laboratories are located on the HMS Quadrangle. In HSPH, eligible PIs include primary Harvard Chan School ladder faculty whose research operation is based at the Harvard Chan School. Collaborative proposals are welcome but the lead investigator on the application must hold a ladder faculty appointment at HMS, HSPH, FAS, or SEAS. Funding may only be requested to support work that will be done by FAS, SEAS, HMS, or HSPH investigators.


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:

1. A one- to two-page proposal (one-inch margins, 11-point font or larger) that briefly addresses the following:

  • What questions are you trying to answer in this project? What problem are you addressing and why is it important?
  • 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?
  • What kind of impact could your project have? How will you measure results?
  • 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.

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

3. 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 or team of applicants to successfully carry out the project.

Dr. Randy Buckner, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, will chair the 2019 Review Committee. Other committee members represent a 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.

2019 Review Committee:
Randy Buckner, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience (Committee Chair), Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Emily Balskus, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Cassandra Extavour, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Alexandra Killewald, Professor of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Stephen Lory, Professor of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School
Frans Spaepen, John C. and Helen F. Franklin Professor of Applied Physics, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Daniel Ziblatt, Professor of Government, Faculty of Arts and Sciences                                                                          

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

Questions? Please see our FAQs.