Supporting transformative research: we need this in Canada, too.

Here is the kind of thing we need more of in Canada. We do have things like Canada Research Chairs, Steacie Fellowships, and so on (though mostly these just free one from teaching), but most of the time it is a fight for very small grants that strongly focus efforts on safe, hypothesis-driven, incremental discoveries.

One from private sources:

HHMI Gives 50 Early Career Scientists a Jump on Their Next Big Idea

Fifty of the nation’s best early career science faculty will have more time and resources to focus on their boldest—and potentially transformative—research ideas with support from a new initiative from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

(See Nature)

And another one:

25 New MacArthur Fellows Announced

MacArthur Fellowships offer the opportunity for Fellows to accelerate their current activities or take their work in new directions. The unusual level of independence afforded to Fellows underscores the spirit of freedom intrinsic to creative endeavors. The extraordinary creativity of MacArthur Fellows knows neither boundaries nor the constraints of age, place, and endeavor.

One from public sources:

NIH Director’s Pioneer Award

The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Program is a unique aspect of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a high-risk research initiative of Research Teams of the Future. Pioneer Awards are designed to support individual scientists of exceptional creativity who propose pioneering – and possibly transforming approaches – to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research. The term “pioneering” is used to describe highly innovative approaches that have the potential to produce an unusually high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research, and the term “award” is used to mean a grant for conducting research, rather than a reward for past achievements. To be considered pioneering, the proposed research must reflect ideas substantially different from those already being pursued in the investigator’s laboratory or elsewhere. Biomedical and behavioral research is defined broadly in this announcement as encompassing scientific investigations in the biological, behavioral, clinical, social, physical, chemical, computational, engineering, and mathematical sciences.

(See Science)

And another:

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Are there special priorities for awards that will be made via the Recovery Act?

Funding of new Principal Investigators and high-risk, high-return research will be top priorities. With the exception of the Academic Research Infrastructure Program, the Science Masters Program, and the Major Research Instrumentation Program, the majority of proposals eligible for Recovery Act funding include those that are already in-house and will be reviewed and/or awarded prior to September 30, 2009. NSF also will consider proposals declined on or after October 1, 2008. The process for reversal of the decline decision is outlined in this FAQ document.

Yes, these support only a small number of individuals, but they also give hope that the nation’s agencies and foundations care about funding risky yet possibly transformative research.