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Pilot Projects Program

Request for Proposals

The NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology at Northwestern University is a place where mathematical scientists and developmental biologists intensely work together on a broad range of questions arising from investigations into the biology of animal development. The Center is also a place that stimulates new collaborative research directions, and as such, supports exploratory pilot projects by investigators outside of the Center. The Center has the capacity to support up to two pilot projects each year.

The application submission deadline for the second funding period is March 31, 2020.

Description of Program

Pilot projects should be high-risk high-reward research, interdisciplinary in nature, and be working at the interface of developmental biology and mathematics. Each project is funded for 12 months with up to $40,000 direct cost support. Funds can be spent on supplies, services, and salary/stipend support. However, funds cannot be used to support student tuition, faculty salary support, or capital equipment. As this award is funded through the Simons Foundation, indirects are capped at 20%. A one year cost extension is allowed for up to 25% of award. There are no renewals.


Applicants must be an independent investigator(s) who is tenure track faculty at an academic institution located within a 160-mile radius* of Northwestern University. Ongoing research activity in either developmental biology or applied mathematics/physics is a criterion.

*The 160-mile radius does include many colleges and universities located within Michigan. We are not including Lake Michigan with the radius.  Please contact Tiffany Leighton Ozmina to confirm that your college or university is included within the radius.

Preference is given to projects that include new collaborations between biological and mathematical sciences. Each application must include two or more applicants composed of an experimentalist and a theorist or mathematical scientist. At least one applicant must be from outside of the Center. Although all such academic researchers are eligible, priority is given to applicants who are from minority-serving institutions.


Awardees are expected to submit a progress report two times during the funding period: six months and twelve months after funding has begun. Awardees are expected to attend the Annual Center Symposium held in October and give a talk on their project. All papers and conference presentations resulting from the funded work are expected to acknowledge the Center award. Finally, all publications and new external funding that result from this award should be communicated to the Center administration for tracking purposes.


Submission Deadline: March 31, 2020 (Third Funding Period)

Second Funding Period: July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021

To submit your application, send it as an email attachment to the Center Administrator, Tiffany Leighton Ozmina at . Please write in the Subject line: Pilot Project Application

Materials required for submission:

  • Project Description. No longer than 2 pages (11 Arial, 0.5” margins), an additional page may be used for references and includes:
    • Background/ Significance
    • Objectives
    • Approach
    • Timeline
  • Detailed Budget using NIH PHS398 form
  • Budget Justification
  • NIH Biosketches & Other Support for Key Personnel
  • Facilities

All materials must be submitted as one file in PDF format with your last_first name as the filename. Formatting of documents should be in 11-point font, single-spaced, with 0.5-inch margins. Embedded figures are acceptable.

If you plan on submitting a proposal with lead investigators from separate institutions, please provide a single project description, then for each institution provide one detailed budget and one budget justification. The total project budget should not exceed $40,000 in direct costs. Northwestern will issue and manage all subcontracts.

For further questions about the Pilot Projects Program, please contact Tiffany Leighton Ozmina at .

Would you like to share this opportunity? Here is a pdf for easy emailing. QBio Pilot Projects_Ad 2020

First Funding Period of Pilot Projects
Applications were due September 10, 2018
Funding Period: October 1, 2018 – September 30, 2019

Two teams of investigators were each awarded $40,000 in pilot project funding by the NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology to initiate new research projects in quantitative developmental biology. Funding was awarded to Northwestern University investigators Christian Petersen (Molecular Biosciences) and Madhav Mani (Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics) for their project Adult Regeneration and the Formation of Cartesian Tissue Axes. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign investigators Xin Li (Cell and Developmental Biology) and Dave Sihai Zhao (Statistics) received funding for their project Computational Reconstruction of Gene-Gene Dynamics in Temporal Patterning of Drosophila Medulla Neuroblasts from Single-Cell RNA-Seq.

Second Funding Period of Pilot Projects
Applications were due March 31, 2019
Funding Period: July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020

Two teams of investigators were each awarded $40,000 in pilot project funding by the NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology to initiate new research projects in quantitative developmental biology. Funding was awarded to the University of Illinois – Chicago investigators Ankur Saxena (Biological Sciences) and Jie Liang (Bioengineering) for their project Quantitative Pattern Recognition and Behavior Prediction of Olfactory Neurogenesis. University of Michigan investigators David Lubensky (Physics) and Jianping Fu (Mechanical & Biomedical Engineering) received funding for their project Mechanical Regulation of Fate Patterning in Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Colonies.

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