National Science Foundation 2026 Idea Machine Competition

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National Science Foundation 2026 Idea Machine Competition

The National Science Foundation is now accepting applications for 2026 Idea Machine Competition to help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering. This competition is open U.S. citizens or permanent residents or residing legally in the U.S. on September 1, 2018.

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).

Who May Eligible:

  • 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
  • Be residing legally in the U.S. on September 1, 2018.
  • Entries are welcomed from amateurs and professionals alike.
  • High-school teachers are encouraged to enter on behalf of their classes.

How to Apply & Competition Rules:

To win the competition you need to do register through the given link:


  • 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 may be submitted by individuals or by teams comprised of up to five individuals, one of whom must be designated as the team leader.
  • An Idea Machine entry constitutes an agreement to adhere to the rules and stipulations set forth by the contest sponsor, NSF.
  • Any entrant or entry found in violation of any rule will be disqualified.
  • Entries must not advertise or promote a commercial product visually or orally.
  • Each individual or team entrant certifies, through submission to the contest, that the entry is his / her own original, creative work and does not violate or infringe upon the creative work of others, as protected under applicable intellectual property law.
  • The following individuals are not eligible to participate in this contest:
    • Employees of NSF, including but not limited to those with career, temporary, term, or VSEE (Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator) appointments;
    • NSF contractors;
    • Fellowship holders working at NSF, e.g., NSF/American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellows and Einstein Fellows;
    • Others working at NSF, e.g., Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignees;
    • Idea Machine judges;
    • Family members of, persons living in the same household as, and anyone who has a financial relationship with: employees of NSF (including but not limited to those with career, temporary, term, or VSEE appointments), NSF contractors, Fellowship holders working at NSF, others working at NSF (e.g. IPAs), and Idea Machine judges; and
    • Federal employees working within the scope of their employment.

Submission Requirements:

  • You must provide the following information for your entry:
    • Title of your Big Idea
    • Each author’s name, occupation, affiliation/place of employment (if applicable), city, state, and country of residence, and email address. For team entries, the first name listed should be that of the team leader
    • Scientific, engineering, or STEM education research interests or areas of expertise of the author(s)
    • The narrative that addresses the five questions listed below. The answer to each question must fit within the specified character limits (including punctuation and white spaces):
      • What is the compelling question or challenge? (200 characters)
      • What do we know now about this Big Idea and what are the key research questions we need to address? (4000 characters)
      • Why does it matter? What scientific discoveries, innovations, and desired societal outcomes might result from investment in this area? (3000 characters)
      • If we invest in this area, what would success look like? (1800 characters)
      • Why is this the right time to invest in this area? (1000 characters)
    • Up to three keywords describing the Big Idea
    • Up to three publication/citation references (optional)
    • Consent to NSF’s use and display of the submitted information and contestants’ names and likenesses
    • Confirmation that all individual and team entrants meet the age and citizenship/residency requirements as described in the eligibility criteria; and
    • A signed parent/guardian permission form for entrants younger than 18 years of age.
    • A checkbox will be available for teachers to indicate that they are submitting an entry on behalf of their high-school classes.


  • 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.

Application Deadline:

All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 26, 2018.

Apply Now

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