The Brinson Foundation: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: The Brinson Foundation gives mainly to a combination of education programs and general funding for organizations the board likes, with most grantees based in Chicago. The science research program, however, is national in scope and funds narrow initiatives within cosmology, biology, and geophysics.

IP TAKE: Brinson isn't a very big funder of science research. The number of grantees is limited and unsolicited proposals are not accepted. But if you're working in one of the niches it funds, you may find an ally here.

PROFILE: In 2001, the Gary Brinson started the Brinson Foundation, a Chicago-based foundation that does a sizeable portion of its grantmaking in the Chicago metropolitan area. Brinson has not signed the Giving Pledge. But in a Founder’s Statement, he has said he is limiting the amount he leaves to his heirs because he believes excessive inheritance will hurt their initiative and self-esteem. So what he’s not leaving to his children is what the foundation gets. 

In recent years, around half of annual giving goes to education (in the areas of financial literacy, health care career development, high school/college/career success, liberty/citizenship/free enterprise, literacy, STEM for “pre-school through graduate school students or professional development for teachers” and promotion of STEM careers, and student health). The board also has a set of “endorsement grants,” comprising core support for organizations selected by directors.

An important exception to the focus on Chicago is Brinson’s science funding, where research grants are regularly awarded all across the United States and geographic location is less critical. Within the Science Research program, there are a few niches funded:

Astrophysics: This program supports the study of “celestial objects and related phenomena.”

Cosmology:  Grants are awarded for projects related to “the origin, structure and space-time relationships of the universe.”

Evolutionary Developmental Biology: A combination of “embryology, molecular and population genetics, comparative morphology, paleontology and molecular evolution” that studies the mechanics of evolution and biodiversity.

Geophysics: Broadly speaking, this area refers to “the study of phenomena in and on the Earth and its vicinity,” but Brinson’s funding seems to mainly emphasize the study of volcanoes and seismology.

Finally, there is a Medical Research program that “partner[s] with leading medical research institutions to fund promising studies conducted by junior investigators that have the potential to cultivate new, innovative clinical interventions for chronic conditions as well as highly treatable conditions which negatively impact the productivity of large segments of the population.” These grants are made mostly at the request of directors, and the program does not accept inquiries.

Annual awards hover around $50,000 and typically don't go over $100,000, and the foundation tends to support work that is not eligible for government funding, and also supports work being investigated by early career scientists. To get a broader sense of the types of organizations Brinson supports, explore its recent grants page.

The foundation is pretty stringent when it comes to where and how much it gives. Giving is metered out carefully and the foundation has a “no new net grants” policy by which “new grants will be made only as existing grants are transitioned from our portfolio and our financial resources permit.”

That said, the foundation undergoes an occasional review process to make sure grants align well with the directors’ priorities, and it continues to refine those priorities, so there is still potential for organizations to work their way in.

While it does not accept unsolicited proposals, there is an online inquiry form to determine if a group qualifies for consideration. Inquiries are accepted year-round, but check the calendar to see the schedule for awards.  

You can also contact Brinson’s staff at or by phone at (312) 799-4500 with general inquiries.