NSF: Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI)

An MRI proposal may request support for the acquisition or development of a research instrument or components that when combined serve as an integrated research instrument. An MRI-supported instrument is intended to serve multiple users both in research and in the training of the next generation of instrument users and/or developers. MRI provides support to acquire critical research instrumentation without which advances in fundamental science and engineering research may not otherwise occur. MRI also provides support to develop next-generation research instruments that open new opportunities to advance the frontiers in science and engineering research.

MRI-supported instrumentation is, in general, too costly or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs. An instrument acquired or developed with support from the MRI Program is expected to be operational by the end of the award period to enable the research/research training activities committed to in the proposal.

The MRI Program does not typically fund common, general-purpose ancillary equipment that would normally be found in a laboratory and/or is relatively easily procured by the organization. The Program does not support research, education or outreach activities that are enabled by the requested instrumentation, nor does MRI support requests for multiple independent instruments that serve to outfit a general-purpose laboratory or research environment. MRI also does not support instrumentation used primarily for science and engineering education courses and outreach, or enables research that is primarily outside of NSF-supported fields of science and engineering; however the instrument’s use in those activities may occur at a secondary level and serve as broader impacts.

The MRI Program welcomes substantive and meaningful partnerships for instrument development, including partnerships between the academic and private sectors. MRI proposals involving partnerships with applicability to other NSF investments are also encouraged. Such proposals are expected to create innovative advances with wide scientific or commercial impact. Investigations of commercial impact should not be included in MRI proposals but support for such investigations may be sought through, for example, the NSF's Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Team program (https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=504672); as MRI development projects mature, applications to this program are strongly encouraged.

Proposals for a major research instrument should describe the types of research for which they will be used. These should be in fields of science, engineering, mathematics or education research that are typically supported by NSF programs. However, as long as they are in such NSF-supported fields, the specific research projects for which the instrumentation will be used need not be funded by NSF or other agencies of the Federal government.

The MRI Program does not provide support for instrumentation to be used in medical education (such as medical school courses). Instrumentation intended for research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings or animals, is normally not supported. Instrumentation for research on animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also is not eligible for support. However, instrumentation for bioengineering research, with diagnosis- or treatment-related goals that applies engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine, while also advancing engineering knowledge, is eligible for support. Instrumentation for research in bioinformatics and biocomputing, or for bioengineering research to aid persons with disabilities, is also eligible.

Number of Applications
3 - Of these three, two are allowed in Track 1 ($100,001-$1 million) and one is allowed in Track 2 (greater than $1 million and up to $4 million).
Amount of Funding

Estimated Number of Awards: 150

Up to 150 awards are anticipated depending on the available budget and the number and quality of submissions.

Anticipated Funding Amount: $75,000,000

Track 1: Track 1 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $100,0001 and less than $1,000,000.
Track 2: Track 2 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $1,000,000 up to and including $4,000,000.

Cost sharing of 30% is required.


Applicants should consult with their Associate Deans for Research prior to internal submission to assure they meet eligibility criteria and to obtain approval of cost-share and facilitization.

Proposal submissions within the two tracks may be either for acquisition or development of a research instrument. NSF strongly values MRI proposals that seek to develop next-generation research instruments that open new frontiers of research. As a result, the MRI program seeks to support development proposals in numbers (i.e., up to 1/3 of awards) consistent with recent competitions, depending on the numbers and quality of the proposals.

The MRI program requires that an MRI-eligible organization may, as a performing organization, submit or be included as a significantly funded [3] subawardee in no more than three MRI proposals. Beginning with this competition, each performing organization is now limited to a maximum of three proposals in revised “Tracks” as defined below, with no more than two submissions in Track 1 and no more than one submission in Track 2. Any MRI proposal may request support for either the acquisition or development of a research instrument. Within their submission limit, NSF strongly encourages organizations to submit proposals for innovative development projects.

Track 1: Track 1 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $100,0001 and less than $1,000,000.
Track 2: Track 2 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $1,000,000 up to and including $4,000,000.

Note: The 30% cost-sharing requirement applies to only the portion of the total project cost budgeted to non-exempt organizations, including those participating through subawards. When required, cost-sharing must be precisely 30%. Cost sharing is required for Ph.D.-granting institutions of higher education and for non-degree-granting organizations. Non-Ph.D.-granting institutions of higher education are exempt from cost-sharing and cannot provide it. National Science Board policy is that voluntary committed cost sharing is prohibited. See section V.B. for specific information on cost-sharing calculations and the solicitation text for definitions of organizational types used for the MRI program.

[3]An unfunded collaboration does not count against the submission limit. Inclusion as a funded subawardee on a development proposal at a level in excess of 20% of the total budget requested from NSF, or as a funded subawardee, when allowed, on any acquisition proposal, will be counted against an organization's proposal submission limit. Separately submitted linked collaborative proposals count against the submission limit of each of the submitting organizations. However, if a subaward to an organization in a development proposal is 20% or less of the proposal's total budget request from NSF, the subawardee's submission limit will not be affected. For subawards within a linked collaborative proposal, the 20% threshold applies to the budget request from NSF in the proposal containing the subaward(s), not to the combined budget request from NSF for the collaborative project.

Submission Eligibility

Proposals may only be submitted by organizations located in the United States, its territories or possessions, as follows. (Campuses or organizations that plan to submit a proposal through the Sponsored Projects Office of other campuses or organizations should contact NSF to discuss eligibility as early as possible and at least six weeks before submitting such a proposal.)

  1. Institutions of higher education (Ph.D.-granting and non-Ph.D.-granting), acting on behalf of their faculty members, that are accredited in and have their main campus in the United States, its territories or possessions. Distinct academic campuses (e.g., that award their own degrees, have independent administrative structures, admissions policies, alumni associations, etc.) within multi-campus systems qualify as separate submission-eligible institutions.

  2. Not-for-profit, non-degree-granting domestic U.S. organizations, acting on behalf of their employees, for example (but not limited to) independent museums and science centers, observatories, research laboratories and similar organizations that are directly associated with the Nation's research activities. These organizations must have an independent, permanent administrative organization (e.g., a sponsored projects office) located in the United States, its territories or possessions, and have 501(c)(3) tax status.

  3. To facilitate access to unique instrumentation for a broad user base of U.S. scientists and engineers, and to encourage collaboration and sharing of state-of-the-art instrumentation, the MRI program accepts proposals from consortia of organizations. Consortium proposals may be submitted as follows:

3a. Legally incorporated, not-for-profit consortia that include two or more submission-eligible organizations as described in items (1) and (2) above may submit proposals on behalf of the consortium. The cover sheet must clearly indicate the consortium nature of the proposal in the title. Such a consortium is one with an independent administrative structure (e.g., a sponsored projects office) located in the United States, its territories or possessions and have 501(c)(3) status.

3b. Submission-eligible organizations as described in items (1) and (2) above may submit, as part of their limit, proposals on behalf of consortia. The cover sheet of such a proposal must a) clearly indicate the consortium nature of the proposal in the title, and b) it must identify both a PI and co-PI(s) from at least two MRI submission-eligible organizations (items 1 and/or 2 above) as lead investigators in the consortium. These consortium proposals may also include as partners other U.S. organizations that are not eligible to submit MRI proposals.

For-profit commercial organizations, especially U.S. small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering research or education, are eligible for instrument development support through subawards/subcontracts as private sector partners with submitting organizations; they may not submit proposals. Such partnerships must be substantive and meaningful, and build capacity for instrument development within MRI submission-eligible organization(s). Title to the resulting instrument should be retained by the MRI-eligible performing organization(s).

Prospective PIs may contact the cognizant MRI program officer regarding organizational eligibility, and for information on other NSF funding opportunities for instrumentation; see also Section IX for a list of related NSF programs for research instrumentation.

Organization Categories

All MRI-eligible organizations belong to one of the following three categories:

  1. Ph.D.-granting institutions of higher education are accredited colleges and universities that have awarded more than 20 Ph.D or D.Sc. degrees in NSF-supported fields [2] during the combined previous two academic years. Additionally, any organization that awards Ph.D. or D.Sc. degrees in NSF-supported fields is considered to be a Ph.D.-granting institution if the only degrees it awards in NSF-supported fields are post-Bachelor's degrees.

  2. Non-Ph.D.-granting institutions of higher education are accredited colleges and universities (including two-year community colleges) that award Associate's degrees, Bachelor's degrees, and/or Master's degrees in NSF-supported fields, and have awarded 20 or fewer Ph.D./D.Sc. degrees in all NSF-supported fields during the combined previous two academic years.

  3. Non-degree-granting organizations are those that do not award Associate's degrees, Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees, and/or Ph.Ds. or D.Sc. For the purposes of the MRI program, non-degree-granting organizations also include institutions of higher education that award all of their degrees outside of NSF-supported fields.

Please review NSF's Guide to Programs for NSF-supported fields of science, mathematics and engineering at https://www.nsf.gov/funding/browse_all_funding.jsp.

Submission Process

Step 1

Materials detailed below should be submitted as a single PDF attachment to an email sent to Stephanie Endy at stephanie.endy@case.edu before 5pm on October 26, 2018.

  1. A cover letter of no more than 2 (two) pages containing the following:

    • Indication whether this is a track 1 or track 2 request,

    • Indication whether this is an acquisition or development request,

    • A brief summary of the equipment request, and

    • Narrative explaining the degree to which the planned uses of the proposed instrumentation constitute exciting, ground-breaking and/or transformative research.

  2. NSF-style biosketch(es) for PI(s)

  3. A letter detailing an approved cost-share and facilitization plan, signed by the Associate Dean(s) for Research in each school from which the PI is appointed and co-signed by any other school or college providing cost share or space for the proposed equipment. Letters of intent will be returned without further consideration if this step is not fully completed at the time of submission.

Step 2

Final nominees will be notified of their selection by November 9, 2018.

Step 3

Final proposal due in the Office of Research Administration or SOM Office of Grants and Contracts by January 14, 2019.

Step 4

Funding agency deadline is January 22, 2019.


Abstract or LOI to ORA Chosen Proposal Announced ORA Final Proposal Due Date Sponsor Submission Deadline Days Until Due
10/26/2018 11/09/2018 01/14/2019 01/22/2019 CLOSED