How to Enter the NSF 2026 Idea Machine Competition

The National Science Foundation NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition is an opportunity for researchers, the public, and other interested stakeholders to suggest pressing research questions that need to be answered in the coming decade: the next set of Big Ideas for future investment by NSF.

Participants can earn prizes and receive public recognition. For the Grand Prize, each final winning entry will receive $26,000 and its authors (individuals or teams) will be invited to a recognition event in the Washington, D.C. area.

To enter your idea, first review all the materials on the NSF 2026 Idea Machine website.

Then submit your entry by October 26, 2018 to

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)
  • 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):
  1. What is the compelling question or challenge? (200 characters)
  2. What do we know now about this Big Idea and what are the key research questions we need to address? (4000 characters)
  3. Why does it matter? What scientific discoveries, innovations, and desired societal outcomes might result from investment in this area? (3000 characters)
  4. If we invest in this area, what would success look like? (1800 characters)
  5. Why is this the right time to invest in this area? (1000 characters)
  • Up to three key words 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 / residence requirements as described in the eligibility criteria
  • 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.

Winners will be announced in Summer 2019.

If you have questions about the NSF 2026 Idea Machine, please contact