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What does “FQxI” stand for? What’s the deal with the x?

The F, Q, and I in our acronym FQxI come from the first letters in the “Foundational Questions Institute.” The x symbol is widely used in science to represent the “unknown quantity” and originally stood in for “physics and cosmology”—the subjects of FQxI’s focus, at the Institute’s inception, in 2006. Since then, FQxI’s focus has expanded to incorporate a wider range of topics; but FQxI’s specialty remains investigating unknown quantities.

What is FQxI’s mission?

FQxI catalyzes research and outreach primarily on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology. FQxI supports high-risk, high-reward science—in particular new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of physical reality that lie beyond the remit of conventional institutional support and funding. FQxI strives to make science more effective and equitable in all its efforts. 

FQxI provides grant programs and other support to qualified researchers and outreach specialists in certain areas of physics, cosmology, and related fields to investigate cutting-edge questions dealing with the nature of the universe, reality, and how we perceive it. FQxI also shares the latest news, articles, blogs, podcasts, videos, and other content about foundational questions to increase interest in this work among scientists and outreach specialists, as well as the general public.

“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.

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.

Don’t the non-profit institutions that ultimately train, approve, and support FQxI researchers have a stake in keeping the current system of science 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.

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.

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

FQxI grants are mainly distributed via grants comparable in value and scope to those awarded by the U.S. federal government. We also support various other programs, awarding Fulcrum Grants (low-hassle grants having a relatively small monetary value, for FQxI Members only), Conferences, public competitions (essay and video), and online forums for discussion of papers, theories, and essays. 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 a mainstream audience through QSpace.

A list of past Large Grant (now Zenith Grant) Awardees may be found here.

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 the general public.

What types of research does FQxI support?

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 (or outreach in these areas), which would otherwise go unperformed due to lack of funding.

What kind of programs does FQxI run?

Zenith Grants: (Open to all eligible candidates.) Funding is provided as research grants to theorists and experimenters in support of personnel, equipment, travel, workshops, and experiments; some funding also targets projects that effectively disseminate information about foundational questions. We also fund a small number of outreach specialists through these grants. Proposals are subject to a standard competitive process of expert peer review similar to that employed by national scientific funding agencies and will target research unlikely to be otherwise funded by conventional sources.

Fulcrum Grants: (Open to FQxI Members only.) Regular rounds of Fulcrum Grants are available via a streamlined application process for travel, lecture programs, workshops, and other small projects initiated by FQxI Members.

QSpace: (Open to all.) FQxI’s online platform hosts engaging content to increase public understanding of known and future discoveries in the foundational sciences and the potential implications for our worldview. 

Competitions: (Open to all.) The Institute will support essays and other competitions, with a number of prizes awarded for a variety of subjects, with the purpose of identifying and supporting pioneering thinkers and stimulating interesting and innovative thinking on foundational questions.

Events: (Varies; most events are for Members and special invitees) FQxI runs events regularly on foundational topics.

Who can apply to FQxI’s programs?

Although we’re based in the US, FQxI is an international organization. The majority of FQxI’s grantmaking about half has been awarded to non-US institutes.

Who can apply/participate in FQxI’s programs:

  • Our competitions are open to everyone, not just scientists.
  • Our Grant programs are open to researchers (theorists and experimentalists) and outreach specialists whose work is related to the RFP topic. However, funds are only distributed to organizations that are non-profit organizations or equivalent to this (e.g., this includes a majority of academic institutes worldwide). There is an equivalency determination process for those institutes not certified as a nonprofit.
  • Our Fulcrum Grants program is open to FQxI Members only.
  • Our events and meetings are currently invite-only due to limited resources, although we will often stream or post videos/talks to share with all who are interested.
  • QSpace is open to everyone.

Why can I only apply for a grant with a nonprofit or equivalent organization? What about at government labs? What if I’m an independent researcher not associated with an institute?

As a private operating foundation, US laws dictate how FQxI can distribute its grant funding. In the RFPs and applications, we stipulate that grants are given to non-profit organizations or equivalent entities. In very special cases, there is a lengthy and tedious expenditure responsibility reporting process available to for-profit entities or other private operating foundations. This is too costly a venture for a foundation based on a cost-effective model as a virtual institute. Thus FQxI only focuses on giving to charitable organizations and entities. Most international universities qualify for funding since they are usually set up by the government for educational, not profit, purposes. There is a due diligence process for non-US institutions that can sometimes be lengthy.

Independent researchers and outreach specialists have often found universities that will give them visiting rights to accept the grant or non-profits that will oversee the grant for them. If you are applying for a grant and having difficulty figuring this out, please contact us.

What is FQxI’s overhead policy for grantees?

FQxI Grantee Overhead Policy: Indirect costs cannot exceed 15% of the direct costs.

Does FQxI support full-time research?

Because of the unconventional nature of the FQxI mission and concerns that such work may negatively influence promotion and tenure decisions, we normally recommend that the DAF fund only part-time work (15% to 40%), in parallel with the scientist’s usual research rather than full-time appointments or studentships.

Does FQxI support scientists who work on “philosophical” or “metaphysical” research? Isn’t this a waste of time?

Yes, we do, and no, it’s not.

Many giants of modern science—for example, Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, and Pauli were passionately concerned with and inspired by the philosophical implications of the novel notions of reality they were engaging. Moreover, their bold discoveries expanded rigorous science to encompass many previously “speculative” or “philosophical” matters.

With this history in mind, we at FQxI believe that deeply examining the metaphysical or philosophical foundations of certain scientific questions is better than pretending that they do not exist. Thus, we happily support research that some would pejoratively refer to as “philosophical” or “metaphysical” as long as it clearly and directly connects to scientific questions within the FQxI purview.

The dearth of research into “foundational questions” is not for lack of money, but fear of degree or tenure denial. For example, many academics turn to philosophical and speculative topics after tenure. Is this a concern?

At every stage of an academic career, challenges loom: earning a degree, landing a postdoctoral fellowship or a faculty position, receiving tenure, and even finding time to do some actual research. FQxI is sensitive to—and realistic regarding—the possible adverse effects that performing foundational research may have on some academic researchers, especially those early in their careers.

On the other hand, requiring foundational thinkers to conceal their interests until tenure is desirable neither for the individual nor society: It results in an unsavory level of professional plotting and disconnects the finest minds in science, at their prime, from compelling research. By supporting part-time foundational research, FQxI hopes to minimize negative occupational hazards while maximizing the career validation bestowed by a highly competitive grant.

How are grant applications judged by FQxI?

Initial Proposals for FQxI’s RFPs are evaluated by a panel of expert reviewers appointed by FQxI, according to their relevance and impact.

  • Relevance: Proposals should be topical, foundational, and unconventional.
  • Unconventional: Our Requests for Proposals (Grant Competitions) are intended to fill a gap, not a shortfall, in conventional funding. We wish to enable research that, because of its speculative, non-mainstream, or high-risk nature, would otherwise go unperformed due to a lack of available monies. Thus, although there will be inevitable overlaps, an otherwise scientifically rigorous proposal that is a good candidate for an FQxI will generally not be a good candidate for funding by the NSF, DOE, etc.—and vice versa.
  • Impact: Proposals will be rated according to their expected scientific impact per dollar, taking all relevant factors into account, such as:
    • Intrinsic intellectual merit, scientific rigor, and originality
    • Potential for significant contribution to basic science relevant to the topic and a high product of likelihood for success and importance if successful (i.e., high-risk research can be supported as long as the potential payoff is also very high)
    • The likelihood of the research opening fruitful new lines of scientific inquiry
    • The feasibility of the research in the given time frame
    • The qualifications of the principal investigator and team with respect to the proposed topic
    • The part a grant may play in career development
    • Cost-effectiveness: Tight budgeting is encouraged in order to maximize the research impact of the project as a whole, with emphasis on scientific return per dollar rather than per proposal

After the screening of an Initial Proposal, applicants may be asked to submit a Full Proposal, and the same process is followed in more detail with a larger number of reviewers.

When is the next major grant round?

We run major grants (Zenith Grants) as and when we are able to obtain funding. Please sign up for our mailing list and watch this space for more information as and when it becomes available.

Who is a Member of FQxI? Can I become a Member?

An FQxI Member is a researcher or outreach specialist who works on topics within the purview of FQxI, has a mindset supportive of FQxI’s goals and philosophy, and has excellent credentials and significant research/outreach accomplishment and promise.

Membership of FQxI is determined by nomination from the current membership and is largely restricted to those who are active contributors to an academic community.

See more Membership FAQs here.

Can FQxI review or publish my book, paper, or theory?

FQxI does not review papers, theories, or epiphanies, so please do not send email requests for us to do so.

If you have a published book or paper, you are welcome to contact qspace@fqxi.org to share this. If it is deemed to be of interest to the QSpace audience and the timing works, we might share information on the site or via social media.

Those with papers published in peer-reviewed journals or who have a preprint on arXiv.org can contact forums@fqxi.org to request a new Forum thread be set up to discuss the paper’s findings.

Anything posted in the Forums represents the views of the author alone. By posting, FQxI is not stating that the work is accurate or that we support the views shared. Posting in our Forums or having an essay posted to the site during the FQxI essay contest does not constitute FQxI “publishing” or “reviewing” the work. To suggest otherwise is fraud.

Where is FQxI located?

We are a US-based, 501(c)3 (i.e., a nonprofit organization) private operating foundation, but we do not have a physical office. FQxI is a “virtual institute;” this model was set up in 2006 when the foundation was conceived. Even though we have grown in size and scope, this model is key to the nimble structure that allows us to put more dollars into programming and planning rather than maintaining an office space.

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