Stanford Research Development Office

W.M. Keck Foundation Research Program Guidelines

The Research Program seeks to benefit humanity by supporting projects in two specific areas (1) medical research and (2) science and engineering, that are distinctive and novel in their approach, question the prevailing paradigm, or have the potential to break open new territory in their field.

Past grants have been awarded to major universities, independent research institutions and medical schools to support pioneering biological and physical science research and engineering, including the development of promising new technologies, instrumentation, or methodologies. Keck has a stated interest in interdisciplinary research; thus, proposals may also come from a team of faculty across departments, disciplines, or schools.

Keck is interested in interdisciplinary research; thus, proposals may also come from a team of faculty across departments, disciplines, or schools. Keck is looking for “out-of-the-box” projects that push forward basic science, and are not otherwise fundable. Applicants should have unsuccessfully attempted to secure funding from conventional sources (National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, etc.) and be able to share formal or informal feedback indicating the breakthrough, high-risk nature of the project. For medical research concept papers, please note that the Keck Foundation is not interested in funding disease-specific projects.

Limited Submissions Process

This is a limited submission funding opportunity — a university-wide internal selection process is required. Up to eight concept papers may be submitted to the foundation for consideration. A total of two concept papers (one in each programmatic area) may then be selected to advance to the Phase I application process.

A summary of this funding opportunity is described below. If interested in applying, please view the internal competition details and apply on the
Stanford Funding Opportunities Limited Submissions portal

Please direct questions about the internal competition process to

Programmatic Criteria

  • Projects should focus on emerging areas of research at the forefront of science, engineering, and medicine, or have the potential to lead to breakthrough technologies in these areas. Thus, high-risk projects are encouraged, and the foundation recognizes that not all such projects will succeed.
  • Research should demonstrate a high level of risk due to unconventional approaches, or by challenging the prevailing paradigm and have the potential for transformative impact, such as the founding of a new field of research, the enabling of observations not previously possible, or the altered perception of a previously intractable problem
  • Proposals should demonstrate that private philanthropy generally, and the W. M. Keck Foundation in particular, is essential to the project’s success.
    Keck is looking for projects that might be too early stage, too high risk, or too interdisciplinary to fit with traditional agency funding mechanisms. Indeed, they look for assurance that other avenues of funding have been sought but declined, so be prepared (as you may be asked) to document denials received from federal agencies.
  • Medical Research proposals should show promise of innovative research that has the potential to impact fundamental mechanisms of human health and disease. Proposals that are too clinical in nature will not be of interest, and proposals that focus exclusively on a single disease are not likely to be funded, as the Foundation is more interested in endeavors that address more basic mechanisms/questions that will impact a number of diseases or disorders. Medical Research program awards are not limited to medical school faculty; in the past Keck medical program grants have been awarded to faculty in H&S and Engineering.
  • Projects should encourage self-sufficiency rather than continuing dependence on W.M. Keck Foundation support.
  • Keck is not interested in highly funded areas of inquiry in which there are many viable research advances, such as the BRAIN Initiative or climate change.

Concept Paper Guidelines

Concept papers should be one page, single-spaced, using 12-point font and 1-inch margins, inclusive of illustrations and references. Papers longer than a page will not be read by the Foundation; thus, illustrations are discouraged at this stage. Each concept paper should include:

  • an overview of the proposed project emphasizing any unique aspects, focused on how the research has the potential to transform the status quo, solve a previously unanswerable basic science question, and/or affect change across disciplines, and a brief description of any pilot studies, data or unpublished findings that support the idea;
  • a brief description of the key personnel and methodologies (who is involved and what are you going to do);
  • a brief justification of the need for Keck support that references any comments or feedback from other sponsors (federal agencies, other foundations) as to why the project is not appropriate for their support; and
  • an estimated budget broken down, if possible, by major areas, e.g., personnel, equipment, consumable supplies, etc. (Budgets can be rough approximations)

Faculty are free to add other details (e.g., background to put the research into perspective, description of the institution’s prominence in the field, etc.) if there’s room.

Concept Paper Suggestions

Be sure to state the major goals of the proposed research project, summarize the methodologies to be used in achieving the goals, and describe the problems that need to be solved to achieve these goals

Keck is looking to fund areas of research at the forefront of science, engineering, and medicine, or that have the potential to lead to breakthrough technologies in these areas. They are less interested in projects that they view as too "applied" or following up on prior work. Think about work that has the potential to alter the course of a field and clearly describe this potential. Be careful with how preliminary work and publications are characterized - Keck Feedback often asks, "hasn't the breakthrough already occurred, why should we fund it?"

The Foundation will want to know why Keck is an appropriate funder of this project. They are unwilling to fund work that could readily be funded elsewhere. They are willing, however, to fund high-risk, early-stage work that the government might not yet be willing to fund.

Keck is willing to fund equipment and sometimes even core facilities, but not in and of themselves. Your request should focus on the research question behind the equipment need and not seem merely to be an equipment request. That is, focus on the “grand challenge” you are seeking to solve and how you will do it, not on the technology or tool per se.

Previous Grant Recipients

For additional guidance, it is strongly recommended that interested applicants review abstracts for recent grants made by the Keck Foundation:

  • Stanford recipients- Medical Research Area
    • 2021: Karl Deisseroth & Zhenan Bao
    • 2020: Helen Blau & Sarah Heilstorm
    • 2014: Manu Prakash & Zev Bryant
    • 2013: Josh Elias
  • Stanford recipients- Science and Engineering Area
    • 2021: Jennifer Dionne, Tony Heinz, & Felipe H. da Jornada
    • 2017: David Reis, Philip Bucksbaum, Jelena Vuckovic, & Shanhui Fan
    • 2014: Mark Kasevich, Leo Holberg, & Peter Graham
    • 2010: David Goldhaber-Gordon, Soucheng Zhang, & Yi Cui

Projects Ineligible for Funding

  • General operating expenses, endowments, or deficit reduction

  • Grants to individuals

  • Public policy research

  • General and federated campaigns, including fundraising events, dinners, or mass mailings

  • Book publication and film productions

  • Conference or seminar sponsorship

  • Medical devices and translational research

  • Treatment trials or research for the sole purpose of drug development

  • Capital Projects

Grant Cycle Timeline

For Research Program Awards to be determined in December

Internal Campus Announcement Pre-application Counseling Phase I Application Deadline Notification of Invitation to Submit Full Proposal Full Proposal Deadline
October January 1 to February 15 May 1 July 15 August 15

For Research Program Awards to be determined in June

Internal Campus Announcement Pre-application Counseling Phase I Application Deadline Notification of Invitation to Submit Full Proposal Full Proposal Deadline
April July 1 to August 15 November 1 January 15 February 15

School Contacts

School School Committee Addressee In Care of:
Engineering (including Bioengineering) Howard Zebker, Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Geophysics Blythe Nobleman
Humanities and Sciences Mary Beth Mudgett, Senior Associate Dean for The Natural Sciences and Professor of Biology Sonia Josefina Barragan
Medicine Peter Sarnow and the School of Medicine Awards Committee members Chelsey Perry
SLAC Steve Eglash, Interim Chief Research Officer Charlotte Chang
Sustainability Christopher Francis, Professor of Earth System Science Alicia Middleton

University Corporate and Foundation Relations

For counseling or questions regarding the Foundation and/or concept paper requirements, please contact Brooke Groves-Anderson at 725-6250,