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Winners Selected for NSF 2026 Idea Machine Prize Competition


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workers at tables, Idea Machine illustration

Credit: NSF

The U.S. National Science Foundation announced the selection of four grand prize and three meritorious prize winners for its first-ever NSF 2026 Idea Machine prize competition. The awardees are being honored today at a ceremony at NSF headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

The NSF 2026 Idea Machine encouraged individuals from all walks of life, age 14 or older, to submit pressing "grand challenges" requiring fundamental research in science, engineering, or STEM education in order to inform NSF's long-term planning. Approximately 800 entries were received from nearly every state in the U.S. and from established researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, teachers on behalf of their classes, and high school and middle school students. The submitted entries went through five selection stages, including a public comment phase. A blue-ribbon panel of 12 eminent, broad thinkers recommended seven ideas for the final prizes that were found to be exciting, ambitious, creative, and highly interdisciplinary.

"This competition is an unprecedented opportunity for the public and scientific community to identify challenging questions that they would like to see the research community address," said Suzi Iacono, head of NSF's Office of Integrative Activities. "Developing and using a new mechanism like the Idea Machine ensures open exploration at the frontiers of science and engineering, encourages outside-the-box thinking, crosses boundaries in innovative ways, and promises to fill recognized gaps in our knowledge."

Each team winning a grand prize will receive $26,000. Teams winning a meritorious prize will receive $10,000. An additional prize is the opportunity to promote the progress of science and engineering by helping NSF identify possible new areas of research. Later this year, NSF will invite proposals for workshops and Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs) to engage the research community in further development of the research themes identified through the NSF 2026 Idea Machine.

The grand prize winners of the NSF 2026 Idea Machine prize competition are:   

The meritorious prize winners are:

*Academic affiliation at the time of entry submission

 


 

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