Challenge Grants

The CNSI Challenge Grants provide funding to support the initiation of new large-scale and high-impact collaborations between UCSB faculty. These high-risk Challenge Grants are meant to:

  • Help UCSB faculty initiate and strengthen partnerships with academia and industry.
  • Increase flexibility, responsiveness, and the success rate for new research directions and funding opportunities.
  • Develop the next generation of scientific leaders at UCSB.
  • Incubate large multi-PI centers and programs within CNSI.

Joint programs across UC campuses, or with other Cal-ISIs – CNSI at UCLA, CITRIS, QB3 or CalIT2 – are encouraged. Proposals seeking to develop industry partnerships or industry-funded centers are also eligible.


Executive Director of Scientific Initiatives and Innovation

 Key Dates

  • Applications due: November 17, 2023
  • Award announcements: late December, 2023
  • Funding available: February 1, 2024


Program Description

The CNSI Challenge Grants focus on enabling teams to strategically plan and position themselves to compete for large center-scale funding. These awards are very flexible and may be used for a variety of purposes including travel (to foster partnerships with institutions in academia or industry), workshop development and hosting (to facilitate community ideation or engagement), and/or teaching relief (to provide time for multi-PI center proposal planning and preparation). Fund allocations to researcher salaries should not exceed 50% of the requested award and should be justified as critical for the success of the effort. These awards can support direct costs of up to $150,000 over two years, with a maximum of $50,000 in the first period of 12 months and up to $100,000 of funding in the second year, contingent on performance in the first year.

Application Process

Applications are submitted online prior to the published deadline and should include the following components:

  1. Two-page project summary and description. Project descriptions should detail:
    • Quarterly milestones for Year 1.
    • 2-year program development plan.
    • What funding agency or agencies and mechanism(s) will be targeted.
    • The potential for larger-scale funding / likelihood for long-term impact.
  2. One-page budget and justification.
    • Budgets do not need to account for indirect costs for activities at UCSB
    • Line-item budgets are sufficient
  3. Two-page NSF or NIH-style CVs for the Lead PI and Co-PIs.

Potential applicants for CNSI Challenge Grants are strongly encouraged to first consult with Tal Margalith (CNSI Executive Director for Scientific Initiatives and Innovation) before preparing and submitting a proposal.

Review Criteria

Proposals are evaluated by a committee according to the following criteria:

  1. Capabilities and diversity of the proposed team.
  2. Plan for initiation and strengthening of aforementioned partnerships.
  3. Scientific and technical merit.
  4. Potential impact for large-scale funding.
Award Conditions
  • Funding proposals submitted on topics related to, or stemming from the CNSI Challenge Grant should be submitted and managed through CNSI.
  • Changes to the proposed activities or proposed budget allocation need to be approved by the Challenge Grant program manager.
  • Progress on the Challenge Grant will be assessed regularly via a 1-page written report (every 3 months) and a brief presentation at the mid- and end-points of the project.
  • Publications resulting from Challenge Grant research or enabled by the CNSI Challenge Grant funding should acknowledge the California NanoSystems Institute at UC Santa Barbara as a funding source.
  • Details about the Challenge Grant (including personnel involved, concept, results, etc.) may be used by CNSI in support of internal or external reviews.

Q: May I transfer funds to a collaborator at another university?

A: No, Challenge Grant funding must be administered by CNSI at UCSB.

Q: Will the grant funding be unrestricted?

A: The funding for the Challenge grants is flexible, but not unrestricted. Items requiring exceptional approval or normally purchased on unrestricted funds, such as alcohol, are not allowable on Challenge Grant funding.