Research Corporation for Science Advancement: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: Much of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s (RCSA) grantmaking focuses on the intersection of teaching and research, and its focus areas are chemistry, physics, astronomy, or work that “interfaces” with those areas. Several awards are open only to prior awardees who are now at a more advanced stage in their careers.

IP TAKE: This private foundation is after transformative breakthroughs and edgy work. Unlike some of the larger foundations, RCSA gives out many small- and medium-sized grants across a wide geographic range, so this is a great place to start for early-stage academics to make inroads.

PROFILE: The RCSA has been around since 1912, taking income from patents filed and channeling it back into scientific advances. RCSA was founded by inventor Frederick Cottrell, and at the time this was quite a unique form of philanthropy. The foundation boasts more than a dozen Nobel laureates among its past awardees.

Its substantial annual giving goes to three competitive awards that go to early career scientists, undergrads, and forward-thinking researchers.

Today, RCSA is all about fostering innovative forms of physical science research - more specifically, “chemistry, physics, astronomy, and science that interfaces with these disciplines, for example biochemistry and biophysics.” it gets there by targeting young scientists with high-risk/high-reward projects. It’s also a big believer in the union of education and research, so much of its funding goes to undergraduate research, researchers with enthusiasm for teaching, and partnerships between high school educators and academics.

How do you get on board? One of its main programs is the Cottrell Scholar program, which has a combined focus on research and teaching. Grantees must demonstrate excellence in both research and instruction, and are expected to continue collaborating and sharing ideas with fellow scholars. Areas of focus here include chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Eligibility for this $100,000 award is limited to “tenure-track faculty members.” Grantseekers should keep a close watch on RCSAs website here, as eligibility requirements are subject to change.

Additional awards come out of the Career Advancement Awards (CAA) program. The TREE (Transformational Research and Excellence in Education) Award, the LEAD (Leadership Enrichment And Development) Award, and the SEED (Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery) Awards. Eligibility for these prizes is limited to “Cottrell Scholars who are at least six years beyond receiving a CSA.” Depending on the award, funding goes to support additional research, travel to promote one’s scholarly work, and leadership development opportunities. TREE awards come in at $20,000; LEAD awards are up to $25,000; while the SEED Award is $$50,000 for research projects and $25,000 for education activities.

For CSA Scholars who have earned tenure within 5-10 years after receiving their award, there is the highly prized FRED Award (named for Fred Cottrell himself). FRED Awardees in the “early stages” of a major research project are given $250,000 in support for conducting potentially transformative, “exceptional high risk/high reward research.”

For scholars who want to take on transformation at the teaching level, the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative, which is “a cross-disciplinary network of Cottrell Scholars who work in improve undergraduate and graduate science education at colleges and universities across the country.” This prize comes in at $25,000 but eligibility is limited to Cottrell Scholar conference attendees only.

After several decades of supporting successful research activities at primarily undergraduate institutions through the Cottrell College Science Award (CCSA) program, CCSA has been consolidated with Cottrell Scholars.

Separately, RCSA’s Scialog program invites teams of researchers to take on a specific research challenge, then gathers awardees together to discuss progress and exchange ideas at an annual conference.

Lastly, through its partnerships, the foundation has teamed up with three organizations to offer additional awards.

Working with the German-American Fulbright Commission (GAFC), RCSA has created the Cottrell-Fulbright Scholars Program. This award is “modeled after the RCSA Cottrell Scholar Award Program” that will award two or three scholars whose “innovative research and teaching plans [show] high potential for transformative impact.”   

Then there is the Science Philanthropy Alliance. RCSA joined with heavy hitters like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Simons Foundation to found the SPA with the goal of “increasing private investment in fundamental research by an additional $1 billion annually within five years,” especially with an eye towards supporting young scientists to “take the risks appropriate to discovering nature’s deepest secrets.”

Finally, the foundation has also teamed up with three national organizations who “share [their] commitment to supporting science.” With the National Academy of Sciences, RSCA offers a biennial Award for Scientific Discovery “to recognize an accomplishment or discovery in basic research within the past five years.” This award totals $100,000 - half in the form of a cash prize, and the other half going to support the recipient’s research.

On a smaller scale, RCSA and the American Chemical Society give a $10,000 award split evenly between the awardee and his/her institution to recognize a chemistry professor whose research has received wide acclaim and directly benefited undergraduate students in their own work. A similar award is offered in conjunction with the American Physical Society.

Want to know more about RCSA’s grantees? The foundation’s awards database is a great place to start.

Unlike some of the more exclusive science funders, this foundation gives out many small- and medium-sized grants to several different researchers. The awarded institutions are all over the map, and there’s plenty of opportunity for less-established or lower-profile academics looking for a boost in their careers.

RSCA accepts unsolicited grant applications, but be sure to review the foundation’s Summary of Awards, which details application deadlines and award amounts.

Questions about a program or award? If you don't find the answer on the website, the foundation suggests you contact a program officer for more information.


  • Silvia Ronco, Senior Program Director
  • Richard Wiener, Senior Program Director