NSF 2026 Idea Machine

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

The NSF 2026 Idea Machine is a competition to help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering. Participants can earn prizes and receive public recognition by suggesting the pressing research questions that need to be answered in the coming decade, the next set of “Big Ideas” for future investment by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It's an opportunity for researchers, the public and other interested stakeholders to contribute to NSF's mission to support basic research and enable new discoveries that drive the U.S. economy, enhance national security and advance knowledge to sustain the country's global leadership in science and engineering.

Deadline: Oct. 26, 2018

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

  All contestants (including individual entrants and all team members) must be at least 14 years of age on September 1, 2018, and be:

  • U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or
  • Residing legally in the U.S. on September 1, 2018.

  Only one entry per individual or team is permitted.

  • A contestant may submit an entry as an individual or as a member of a team, but not both.
  • A contestant may only be on at most one team.

  Entries are welcomed from amateurs and professionals alike.
  High-school teachers are encouraged to enter on behalf of their classes.
  Entries may be submitted by individuals or by teams comprised of up to five individuals, one of whom must be designated as the team leader.

Amount Description

  Grand prize: Each final winning entry will receive a cash prize of $26,000 and its authors (individuals or teams) will be invited to a recognition event in the Washington, D.C. area.

  • If the winning entry was submitted by a team, the cash prize will go to the team leader, who will be responsible for sharing the prize with other team members.
  • If the winning entry resulted from a formal collaboration during stages 2 and 3 among the authors of multiple original, essentially identical entries, the cash prize will be divided among the authors / team leaders of the multiple original entries.

  Each of the entries recommended by the Blue-Ribbon Panel for final consideration by NSF (approximately six) will receive an honorable mention at the winner recognition event.

  Each author (individual or team member) of the entries selected by the Blue-Ribbon Panel for virtual interviews (approximately 12) will receive a cash prize of $1,000.

  All authors (individual and teams) of each of the entries invited to submit video pitches (approximately 30) will receive thank-you letters from NSF leadership.

  The authors of the top, approximately 100 entries will receive public recognition by having their Ideas posted on the Idea Machine website.

Funding Type



Grad/Prof Students


Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Social Sciences

External Deadline

October 26, 2018