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Judging Criteria

The initial screening of all entries will use the following criteria:
 Does the idea fit within the purview of NSF, as described in the NSF Proposal and Awards Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG)?1
 Is the idea scientifically credible?
 Is the idea sufficiently ambitious in scope to be deemed a Big Idea?
 Is it a research theme, and not an individual project?
 Does it cross traditional scientific boundaries?

Entries that meet the initial screening criteria will then be judged using the following criteria:
 Potential societal and scientific impacts of addressing the challenge;
 Excitement generated by the challenge;
 Ambition and scope of the challenge;
 Originality of the challenge;
 Potential for inter-agency, international, and public-private partnerships to address the challenge;
 Timeliness of the challenge;
 Whether the challenge is beyond the scope of existing NSF programs; and
 Quality of the presentation of the entry (initial narrative; video pitch; remote interviews, as appropriate for the competition stage).

The final selection of winning entries will be at the discretion of NSF and will include consideration of additional factors such as the Foundation's current and planned investments, the unique suitability of NSF to lead research activities on the proposed Big Idea, risk / reward balance of investing in the idea, readiness of the relevant research communities to take on the idea, and the scope and scale of the idea.

1From the PAPPG: NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. NSF does not normally support technical assistance, pilot plant efforts, research requiring security classification, the development of products for commercial marketing, or market research for a particular project or invention. Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings or animals, is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support. However, research in bioengineering, with diagnosis- or treatment-related goals, that applies engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine while advancing engineering knowledge is eligible for support. Bioengineering research to aid persons with disabilities also is eligible. NSF does not have any programs involving the construction of public works in metropolitan areas, no development assistance programs, no programs requiring State plans as a condition of assistance, none involving coordination of planning in multijurisdictional areas and no programs of grants to State and local governments as defined in Section 6501(4) of Title 31 of the United States Code (USC).


The NSF 2026 Idea Machine
National Science Foundation
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