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What types of research does FQXi support?

Within certain areas of physics, cosmology, and related fields, FQXi supports research that is foundational —with potentially significant and broad implications for our understanding of the "ultimate" nature of reality—and unconventional —rigorous yet speculative, non-mainstream, or high-risk research, which would otherwise go unperformed due to lack of funding.

"Foundational" means different things to different people. What do you mean by it?

FQXi operationally defines the term "foundational" in our Scientific Charter as referring to issues concerning the ultimate nature of the universe and how we perceive it. For example, we consider research into "the nature of time" to be foundational, but not research on miniaturizing timers.

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Wait a second: What if some of your research into "foundational" questions ends up challenging the foundations of currently prevailing paradigms in physics?

That's fine with us.

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Don't the non-profit institutions that ultimately train, approve, and support FQXi researchers have a stake in keeping the current system of physical theory the way it is?

We don't think so. After all, most scientists know that our current understanding of the physical world is a complex, interlocking network of well-tested ideas; so, a sea change at the foundation of physics would not be easy to do—since it must, at least, reproduce the finely-textured success of current physical theory. This significant challenge leads even the most daring physicists to be, in some ways, conservative.

On the other hand, this conservative tendency may mean that useful but unorthodox ideas will have difficulty finding acceptance, being hard to distinguish from other unorthodox but fruitless ideas. One purpose of FQXi is to ensure that good but unconventional ideas and thinkers flourish. Inspired by the personal history of Albert Einstein—who, having both traditional training and singular genius, knew which elements of his era's physics to embrace and which to give up—we are actively considering this problem from various standpoints. Your input is welcomed here.

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Who determines "unconventional?"

Many topics considered "unconventional" just a few years ago are deemed to be mainstream today. In fact, the history of science reveals a steady expansion of "physics" into what was previously regarded as "philosophy" or "metaphysics." A goal of FQXi is to fund research at the forefront of this expansion, which is unavoidably a moving target. Thus, for the purposes of awarding grants, FQXi will assess the term "unconventional" at the beginning of each grant-awarding process.

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What are some examples of projects suitable for the FQXi grant programs?

Funds from the Donor Advised Fund advised by FQXi are mainly distributed via grants for physics and cosmology research, each comparable in value and scope to those awarded by the U.S. federal government. We also support various other programs, including Mini-Grants (low-hassle grants having a relatively small monetary value, for Members only), Conferences, essay and other contests, and a web Forum. Finally, because general education is key to the long-term success of our scientific society, FQXi funds programs that disseminate the fruits of such research to laypeople. A list of past Awardees may be found here.

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Okay, so give us some examples.

  • A study of the possibility of time travel or of the implications of the seeming impossibility of time travel
  • A study of possibilities for life in a universe with different fundamental constants, atomic physics, or chemistry
  • Lecture series, panels, or dialogues between and by eminent scientists, concerning foundational questions in physics and astronomy, but intended for a lay audience
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