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Innovation Grants

The Wu Tsai Institute’s Innovation Grants support ambitious, interdisciplinary research projects to better understand cognition and explore human potential. Projects combine subfields and model systems, stimulate tool building and new techniques, and seek to link theoretical models with data collected across scales and species.

Call for Proposals

Current Status: CLOSED

Our annual funding cycles are tied to themes identified by our faculty members and linked to the Institute’s priorities. The application period for Innovation Grants is currently closed. Please check back in early 2023 during our open application period. Proposals must describe new collaborations formed for cross-cutting research that otherwise lacks funding. Proposals are evaluated by an Institute committee based on the innovation and significance of the proposed research, alignment of the research with the WTI mission, the project's ability to foster collaborative, inclusive mentoring environments, and the mix and distribution of other proposals across scientific areas and departments.

Two researchers working on an equation on a glass board Researcher reviewing microscope results on a computer screen in a dark room

2022 Grant Recipients

Identifying Neurocognitive Fingerprints of Adolescent Development

Arielle Baskin-Sommers, Ifat Levy

Adolescence is a time marked by an increase in risky and impulsive behaviors, underscoring the importance of understanding the cognitive processes that might drive these behaviors. This project applies a new statistical modeling approach to explore variability in multiple measures of cognition, from brain-based measures of network functioning to performance on neurocognitive batteries, and examines the relationship to real-world adolescent behavior. The work seeks to provide a nuanced characterization of an individual’s cognitive functioning that may underlie observed behavioral patterns of adolescence.  

Multimodal Imaging to Connect Excitatory/Inhibitory Balance and Connectivity

Stephen Strittmatter, Evelyn Lake, Zhengxin Cai, Takuya Toyonaga

The brain is organized by a set of principles whose disruption can be a sign--or even a cause--of cognitive decline. To better understand the healthy brain and what happens when disease affects the brain, we need a means of investigating these organizational principles. To this end, we use a novel neuroimaging technology which leverages the combined strengths of three complementary cutting-edge approaches: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), optical fluorescence imaging, and positron emission tomography (PET). Together these approaches allow us to gain insights into how the brain is organized in health and disease. 

Varieties of Perspective Taking

Philip Corlett, Tamar Gendler, and Brian Scholl

Human beings care about others and can intentionally adopt their perspectives. This capacity is called empathy and is held to be manipulable, perhaps in service of a more cohesive society. This project aims to uncover the basic building blocks of spontaneous perspective-taking and to relate them to higher-level measures of empathy so that we can better understand and appropriately encourage their engagement.

Domain-general Neural Algorithms for Motion Detection

Samuel McDougle and Damon Clark

The world is constantly in motion, making motion detection a crucial feature of our brain’s   
perceptual systems. Although a powerful framework has been developed for explaining how the visual system detects motion, less is known about how the brain computes motion signals on our body (via somatosensation) or, more abstractly, in dynamic sound frequencies (via audition). In this proposal, our goal is to integrate neural algorithms for motion detection across these three disparate perceptual systems.

2022 Grant Cycle

This year's proposals explored integration by connecting (or contrasting) different types of tools, data, and models across levels of analysis to identify abstract principles about how the brain generates cognition. There are many potential ways proposals can advance this goal, including but not limited to: 

Parallel acquisition - collect new datasets using two or more techniques at the same time, in the same brain or population, or during the same task or behavior Integrative extension - extend an existing dataset to a new level or analysis that helps constrain interpretation or theory-building 

Computational translation - design algorithms, models, or technologies that link and generalize neuroscience datasets through a common latent space

March 1, 2022 - Submissions deadline 

April 2022 - Decisions announced  

Early summer 2022 - Funding start date

Research should involve a new collaboration between two or more faculty principal investigators (PIs) from at least two different primary departments.

The submitting PI must be an Institute member

Faculty can only be the PI on one proposal per competition (as submitter or collaborator) and can only hold one Innovation Grant at a time. 

Applications will be evaluated by a WTI committee based on the innovation and excellence of the proposed research, the alignment of the research with the mission of WTI (to understand human cognition and explore human potential by sparking interdisciplinary inquiry), the ability of the project to foster healthy mentoring environments and a more diverse and inclusive community, and the mix and distribution of other proposals across scientific areas and departments.

Proposals are submitted through an online portal 

Formatting guidelines: 11 point Arial, Helvetica, Palatino, or Georgia font; no more than six lines per inch; 8.5 x 11” page size; no smaller than ½” margins (consult the NIH formatting guidelines for other specifications when needed)

Applications must include the following information: 

Title: Limited to 81 characters (including spaces and punctuation) 

Project narrative: 2-3 sentences describing the relevance to human cognition in plain language appropriate for a broad audience 

Project aims: One page stating the goals of the proposed research, expected outcomes, and the impact of the research on the labs and fields involved 

Research plan: Up to four pages for the Significance, Innovation, and Approach sections; no preliminary data allowed 


Budget spreadsheet: Indicate spending items by category per year (e.g., personnel, material and supplies, fees, equipment, travel); must include a column with 2-3 sentences justifying each line item which will be used to determine if expenses meet necessary and reasonable requirements 

Biosketches: Up to four pages for each PI in NIH or NSF format  
Leadership and mentorship plan: One page describing the roles and scientific responsibilities of each PI, communication plans, and process for making decisions and resolving conflicts; proposals supporting trainees (including undergraduates, postbacs, graduate students, or postdocs) must include approaches to mentoring and fostering an inclusive environment for the trainee(s)

Proposed budgets may not exceed $200,000 over two years.

Grants may be renewed for a third year as a no-cost extension or with additional funding based on significant progress, funding availability, and evidence of seeking longer-term support from other sources. 

Awarded budgets may be reduced from the proposal amount based on the availability of funds and other awards. 

Faculty salaries, tuition, and indirect costs are not allowable expenses. 

Funds must be used for budgeted purposes unless pre-approved by the institute. 

Unused funds must be returned to the institute.

Recipients of Innovation Grants will receive a grant agreement outlining terms; typical expectations include submitting grant progress reports and/or sharing data regularly, serving on committees, and participating in institute events.