Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes (QLCI)

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes are large-scale interdisciplinary research projects that aim to advance the frontiers of quantum information science and engineering.  Research at these Institutes will span the focus areas of quantum computation, quantum communication, quantum simulation and/or quantum sensing.  The institutes are expected to foster multidisciplinary approaches to specific scientific, technological, educational workforce development goals in these fields.  Two types of awards will be supported under this program: (i) 12-month Conceptualization Grants (CGs) to support teams envisioning subsequent Institute proposals and (ii) 5-year Challenge Institute (CI) awards to establish and operate Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes. This activity is part of the Quantum Leap, one of the research Big Ideas promoted by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes program is consistent with the scope of NSF multidisciplinary centers for quantum research and education as described in the National Quantum Initiative Act [1].

In 2016, the NSF unveiled a set of “Big Ideas,” ten bold, long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering (see https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas/index.jsp). The Big Ideas represent unique opportunities to position our nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering leadership by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergence research. Although proposals responding to this solicitation must be submitted to the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (OMA) in the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), they will subsequently be managed by a cross-disciplinary team of NSF Program Directors.



Letter of Intent Deadline Date (required): August 3, 2020 (Letters of Intent for Round II QLCI proposals)

Preliminary Proposal Deadline Date (required): September 1, 2020 (Preliminary proposals for Round II QLCI proposals)

Agency Website

Areas of Interest

Types of Awards

Conceptualization Grant (CG) Awards: Recognizing that the four research theme areas are at different levels of technical maturity, and that the corresponding research communities are at different levels of engagement, coordination and capacity, the QLCI program offers a one-time opportunity to apply for a 12-month Conceptualization Grant (CG) prior to submitting a proposal for a Challenge Institute. Conceptualization Grants aim to support the formation of broadly convergent research teams to develop a compelling and comprehensive vision for a Challenge Institute proposal. It is expected that the prospective team members would have been involved in some form of early-stage incubation of the cross-disciplinary research underlying the potential challenge research theme.

Challenge Institute (CI) Awards: Challenge Institute awards will be funded for 5 years and will enable the establishment of Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes. The size of these awards as well as the structure of the Institute will be based, in part, on the targeted community and its research, technology and workforce development needs. Awards are expected to be cooperative agreements between NSF and the awardee institution(s). The release of funding increments will be subject to agreed-upon milestones, annual project reviews, site visits, approval by NSF and the availability of funds.

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.


Limit on Number of Proposals per PI or Co-PI:

Conceptualization Grant (CG) proposals: An individual may serve as PI, co-PI, or other senior personnel on no more than two CG proposals. In cases where an individual appears in more than two CG proposals, only the first two submitted CG proposals will be accepted; all other CG proposals involving that individual will be returned without review.

Challenge Institute (CI) proposals: An individual may serve as PI, co-PI, or other senior personnel on no more than one CI preliminary proposal (or CI full proposal). In cases where an individual appears in more than one CI preliminary proposal (or full proposal), only the first submitted CI preliminary/full proposal will be accepted; all other CI preliminary/full proposals involving that individual will be returned without review.

Note: The QLCI program will be conducted in two rounds. In Round 1, both CG and CI proposals will be accepted. Prospective teams may submit either a CG or a CI proposal, but not both, in Round 1



Amount Description

Estimated Number of Awards: 1 to 2

Estimated program budget and average award size/duration is subject to availability of funds. A PFCQC award is expected to be at the level of $1,000,000 – $3,000,000 per year. Up to 2 awards are expected in FY 2018 depending upon availability of funds and the type, scale, and variety of project ideas developed at the Ideas Lab.

Anticipated Funding Amount: $5,000,000 to $15,000,000

The total funding available for awards stemming from full proposals that will be developed in the Ideas Lab will total up to $5,000,000 to $15,000,000 for 5 years, with up to $1,000,000 to $3,000,000 in FY 2018, pending availability of funds and compelling proposals.

Funding Type





Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Social Sciences

External Deadline

August 3, 2020