GERMINATION: Germination of Research Questions for Addressing Critical Societal Challenges

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

Engineers and scientists are capable of making enormous impact when they conceive and conduct fundamental research that addresses societal needs. Our world faces many critical challenges engendered in part by the expanding and aging world population, including meeting global needs for food, energy, water, land, and other resources, while respecting and maintaining the balance of our planetary ecosystem. Other notable challenges include addressing climate change; maintaining cybersecurity, privacy, and fairness in our increasingly connected world; and providing, maintaining and protecting infrastructure. All of these represent potentially large and fertile opportunities for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research to serve society. 

The NSF Directorate for Engineering GERMINATION program aims to foster the development of pedagogical frameworks, platforms and/or environments to enable participants to formulate research questions and ideas with potentially transformative outcomes. The extraordinary response of the STEM research community to the COVID-19 pandemic, exemplified by the record-breaking speed of novel vaccine development, highlights the outstanding capabilities at all levels of the research enterprise. The GERMINATION program seeks to harness the immense capacities of academic researchers to similarly address other critical global challenges through supporting the development of new pedagogical approaches that train researchers to formulate and develop key research questions. 

The GERMINATION program invites proposals to design, test, evaluate and implement pedagogical frameworks, platforms and/or environments that enable participants to formulate research questions and ideas that have the potential to address critical societal challenges. In order to catalyze development of novel approaches, while simultaneously expanding the reach of pilot approaches which are already exhibiting promise, two tracks will be supported in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022: GERMINATION Innovation and GERMINATION ExpansionGERMINATION Innovation awards will fund projects to design, test and evaluate previously unexplored pedagogical frameworks, platforms and/or environments that have the explicit goal of enabling the participants to formulate research questions with potentially transformative outcomes. Projects submitted to the Innovation track must use the EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) proposal type (see PAPPG Chapter II). GERMINATION Expansion awards will fund projects that focus on development, implementation and scaling of evidence-based strategies for achieving GERMINATION goals. Projects supported under the Expansion track should focus on scaling previously piloted approaches with demonstrated efficacy to a regional or national sphere of activity, and will likely involve development of new collaborative relationships to establish networks capable of implementation beyond the pilot institution.

Only 1 proposal may be submitted by a single organization.


  • Duke Internal: July 20, 2021

  • Required Letter of Intent Deadline Date: August 27, 2021. For proposals that will be submitted to the GERMINATION Expansion track, LOI submission through FastLane is required. For proposals that will be submitted to the GERMINATION Innovation track, a research concept outline must be submitted by Email.

  • Full Proposal Deadline Date: October 29, 2021

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

Proposals may only be submitted by the following:

  • Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members. Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of US IHEs: If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus.
  • Non-profit, non-academic organizations: Independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations in the U.S. associated with educational or research activities.

There is no constraint on the role of the Principal Investigator (PI) within the submitting organization. However, the proposal must document the PI’s experience with, and commitment to, leading a culture of change and the team’s experience in mentoring academics of the category that will be involved as participants in the proposed pedagogical framework, platform or environment.

Inclusion of appropriate social science expertise (e.g., organizational psychologists and evaluation professionals) in the leadership team is highly recommended.

Individuals may participate as either PI or co-PI in only one proposal submitted to this solicitation.

If an individual is listed as PI or co-PI on more than one proposal to this solicitation, all proposals in excess of the limit for any person will be returned without review in the reverse order received.

Amount Description

Estimated Number of Awards: 8 to 10

4-5 GERMINATION Innovation awards (EAGERs) and 4-5 GERMINATION Expansion awards depending on funding availability and quality of proposals received.

Anticipated Funding Amount: $3,000,000

4-5 GERMINATION Innovation awards are anticipated; the budget for GERMINATION Innovation proposals is between $100,000 and $300,000 total for a duration of one to two years. These GERMINATION Innovation awards will be made using the EAGER proposal type. 4-5 GERMINATION Expansion awards are anticipated; the budget for GERMINATION Expansion proposals is up to $500,000 total for a duration of up to three years.

Funding Type





Curriculum Development
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Social Sciences

Internal Nomination

Owing to the sponsor's restriction on the number of applications that may be submitted from Duke, anyone wishing to pursue nomination should submit the following materials as one PDF.

  • NSF biosketch of PI.
  • Abstract, containing:
  • Project title.
  • Team members: 1) The name and departmental affiliation of the Principal Investigator (PI). 2) The name(s) and departmental affiliation(s) of the Co-PI(s) and all senior personnel. 3) The names(s) of any other (non-lead) participating institutions or organizations, including all sub-awardees. (Note: Provide what you know currently.)
  • 1-page Project Synopsis: Provide a brief summary of the project, including how it is expected to contribute towards achieving the goals of the GERMINATION program. (Note: This summary should align with whether you are applying to the Expansion or Innovation track.)

Please submit internal materials through My Research Proposal. (Code ILN):


Instructions for creating an account (if needed) and submitting your materials:

Internal Deadline

July 20, 2021

External Deadline

August 27, 2021