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  • Description

    Solicitation: CDAC Discovery Challenge RFP & Application_FY21

    Funding Amount: Up to $250,000

    Pre-Proposal Deadline: November 2nd, 11:59pm CT

    The Discovery Challenge is a new seed funding program at the Center for Data and Computing (CDAC) that accelerates the research-to-impact process through the development of research-based, use-inspired data science technologies and tools. It focuses on cutting-edge data science and AI research and solutions that can be developed and piloted on a short timescale. The Discovery Challenge also requires the inclusion of external collaborators from industry, nonprofit organizations, or other external stakeholders that can provide critical input and accelerate the transition of research into practical use.

    Program Goals

    1. Accelerate the development of transformational AI & data science research and technologies that deliver high impact results to society, 
    2. Deepen cooperation and information sharing between potential end users such as industry, government entities, nonprofit/civic or healthcare organizations
    3. Position projects to successfully scale and secure future large-scale sponsored research funding. 

    Why This Challenge?

    The guiding rationale of the Discovery Challenge is that societally relevant research requires engagement with experts across disciplines– as well as multiple kinds of stakeholders, including the end users of such outputs. However, identifying, engaging with, and creating solutions for interdisciplinary challenges that also benefit (and don’t inadvertently harm) stakeholders is a non-trivial task that often requires matchmaking, stakeholder engagement, and a plan for coordination. 

    In addition to seed funding, project teams will become major research initiatives at the Center for Data and Computing, benefiting from access to CDAC lab space, computing resources, corporate engagement, and technical research staff. 

    Apply Here

  • Application

    Please review the RFP for a preview of the application questions.

    Application Process

    The application process will include two phases:

    1. Proposers will submit a short preliminary proposal (~ 2 pages) 
    2. Up to 5 finalists will be selected to advance to the second phase of the competition and submit a full application (~ 6 pages). Finalists will work with technical advisors from CDAC and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to strengthen their proposals, identify long-term funding, and secure additional project partners before submitting final applications.

    Application Timeline

    • Pre-Proposal Deadline: November 2nd, 2020, 11:59pm CT
    • Finalists Selected: Late November
    • Project Development: Winter 2020
    • Full Proposal Deadline & Proposer’s Day: January 4th, 2021
    • Award Announcement: Spring 2021
    • Earliest Project Start Date: March 1st, 2021

    Review Criteria

    Proposals will be reviewed by the CDAC Steering Committee using the following scoring rubric (0-3 points per criterion).

    • Intellectual Merit: Advances research innovation in the fields of data science or artificial intelligence.
    • Impact: Data Science research and solutions driven by a specific and compelling societal problem or stakeholder need; approach delivers impressive impact with both breadth and depth. 
    • Interdisciplinary: Includes a diverse set of disciplines and experts appropriate to solve the problem area. 
    • Partnerships: Strong and appropriate connections with external stakeholders such as industry, civic organizations, or government entities.
    • Sustainability: A clear plan to leverage CDAC support to attract additional funding sources to support the project’s long-term efforts beyond the 24-month project period. 
    • Feasibility & Deliverables: Rapid ability to produce innovative prototypes, tools, software or other deliverables within the project period. Proposers must identify the deliverables to be produced and describe how those outputs will benefit society– including the metrics that will be used to assess impact.

    Due to the volume of applications we receive, we will be unable to provide reviewer feedback on applications that are not funded.

    We look forward to your application. Please use the link below to apply:

    Apply Here

  • Eligibility

    Eligibility Criteria 

    • Principal Investigator must have PI status at UChicago. Please find more information about UChicago PI eligibility and policies here
    • Each application must have at least one PI from the University of Chicago and at least one co-PI from a different unit within the University of Chicago (e.g., departments, divisions, schools), and/or from the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago (TTIC), Argonne National Laboratory, or Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Collaborations that involve the Argonne or Fermi researchers are especially encouraged. 
    • Proposals that advance to the finalist round must include non-funded collaborators from industry/government/civic organizations that are documented with letters of collaboration. 
    • Applicants may submit more than one application, with the same or different collaborative teams, provided that each application is scientifically distinct.
    • Current members of the CDAC Steering Committee are eligible to apply, provided that they recuse themselves during the review and voting on their proposal. 

    Apply Here

  • FAQ

    For further questions, please contact Julia Lane at

    • What is the application timeline?

      Pre-proposals are due Monday, November 2nd at 11:59pm CT. Proposals that are selected as finalists will advance to the second phase of the competition and will be required to submit full proposals by Monday, January 4th. Awards will be announced in the spring, with the earliest project start date on March 1st.

    • Where do I apply?

      All applications will be coordinated through the University’s funding portal, InfoReady. Use UChicago credentials to log in. The pre-proposal application, open to everyone, is available here. Only selected finalists will be able to submit full proposals.

    • Beyond funding, what are the benefits of participating in the Discovery Challenge?

      Grant recipients will benefit from a suite of resources designed to help projects scale: 

      • Identification of follow on funding: assistance in developing customized, long-term plans for securing external funding in subsequent stages of the project. 
      • Interdisciplinary networks: access to our network of academic, civic, government, and industry connections. 
      • Community: Engagement with the University data science community through invite-only events, talks, and receptions for all award recipients.
      • Communications: amplification of research results through our website, news articles, and events. 

      Technical Staff & Computing Resources: access to technical data engineers and software developer staff and access to the CDAC/CS computing cluster.

    • Does the proposal have to include AI and data science research? Or, either/or?

      The proposal is required to include research from either the fields of AI or data science.

    • What are the budget guidelines for the opportunity?
      • Award funds should ideally be used to fund student researchers. 
      • Budgets may not exceed $250,000.
      • Please use the budget template provided (under “Competition Files” on the right margin of the application portal) to complete your 24-month budget, and upload the completed version here.
      • Projects that intend to hire research personnel, such as postdoctoral researchers or other professional (non-student) research assistants, must include a line item for salary and fringe benefits in the project budget. 
      • Postdoctoral, graduate or undergraduate researchers will only be funded to the extent that they are working on CDAC Discovery Challenge projects.
      • Support from CDAC may not be used for:
        • Faculty salary support, course reduction, academic leave, or summer salary.
        • External (non-UChicago) collaborators.
        • The purchase of equipment at institutions other than UChicago. 
        • Indirect costs*.

      * Awards that include collaborators from Argonne or Fermi, may include indirect costs in the requested budget where required by the national lab.

    • Can grantees use award funds for contractors or services?

      Using award funds for contractors or services are permissible if the expertise or service is not available at UChicago. However, proposals that use a contractor or service for a critical component of the research project may not be competition. For example, projects that use a contractor to provide the AI or data science expertise needed in the project are not competitive.

    • Many “larger funding opportunities” from major foundations like Ford, MacArthur, etc. do not have open calls for the large-scale funding opportunities CDAC is trying to help PIs obtain. Are proposals, therefore, limited to topics/areas that only have large public open-call funding opportunities?

      No, we welcome proposals from a variety of topics across the field of data science, not only those that are aligned with a specific, open call for funding. However, applicants should articulate their plan for long-term funding and sustainability in their application. Proposals should address how will this project continue and scale beyond the Discovery Challenge project period.