Catalyst Award

REVISED: May 19, 2020

Key Dates for 2020:

Applications to the CBC’s Catalyst Award program are invited twice a year (spring and fall submission rounds). Please note that the online proposal submission closes at 5:00 PM on the day listed for each submission round.

Application Round Proposal Submission Deadline
(@ 5:00 PM)
Expected Decision Anticipated Start Date
Round 29 (Spring 2020)
February 21, 2020 June 1, 2020 October 1, 2020

Request for Applications:

The Catalyst Award Program was initiated in 2006 and has enabled Chicago scientists to pursue cutting-edge, high-risk/high-reward research. The program is designed to stimulate ground breaking research that could not be achieved without collaboration among CBC scientists. The Catalyst Award Program provides funding of up to $250,000 total for one- or two-year new inter-institutional collaborative research projects that address fundamental questions of biological and biomedical research that are high-risk, innovative and transformative. The Catalyst Award does not support on-going, incremental research or NIH-ready projects that could be funded by traditional extramural granting mechanisms. Catalyst awards provide a unique opportunity for ground-breaking research through collaboration among research teams composed of Principal Investigators (PIs) from at least two CBC Institutions (Northwestern, UChicago and UIC). Collaborations involving junior faculty members are given special consideration. Catalyst proposals should include a plan for obtaining future support and describe in detail how the teams will be established and enhanced through a collaborative process.

The research funded by the Catalyst Award program is unlike that funded by conventional funding agencies that require substantial preliminary data and tend towards the conventional. Preliminary data are not required for the Catalyst Award. The design of the program allows innovative discoveries that would go unfunded to be funded, providing an edge for CBC scientists as they compete for federal dollars.

The criteria by which applications will be reviewed will prioritize high-risk/high-reward and scientific merit by the CBC Catalyst Review Board (CRB), which is composed of senior scientists from each of the CBC institutions. Applicants are encouraged to talk with past and current Catalyst Award recipients and reviewers. A list of all Catalyst awardees and abstracts from funded applications can be found on the funded awards webpage and a list of current CRB members can be found on the CRB webpage. Applicants are encouraged to take advantage of these resources prior to submission of their Catalyst Award proposals since applications not approved for funding are not eligible for resubmission to the Catalyst Award program.

Please note, Catalyst funds cannot be used for correlative studies associated with ongoing clinical trials.


  • Applicants must be tenured or tenure-track faculty with research programs at Northwestern University, The University of Chicago, and/or University of Illinois at Chicago, who will jointly engage in collaborative research.
  • Research proposals must have PIs from at least two of the CBC universities.
  • Multiple applications can be submitted from each institution.
  • There is no expectation that Catalyst Awards will be distributed evenly among the CBC institutions.
  • Proposals should show both innovation and scientific merit.
  • Research teams must be a new collaboration and the members cannot have existing joint publications.
  • Research teams should not be funded for closely related research activities.
  • Research projects described in Catalyst applications cannot be under review at federal funding institutions/agencies.
  • A PI may participate in only one application per round, and investigators who already have Catalyst funding are not eligible to re-apply during the term of their award.
  • If a project is primarily translationally focused, please review the CBC Accelerator Award program RFA, as this could be a more appropriate funding mechanism.

Available Funding:

  • Grants can range up to $250,000 for use over 1-2 years. Please note that the three CBC institutions have waived all indirect costs.
  • Catalyst Awards are one-time awards, with no expectation of continuation or renewal by the CBC.


All proposals MUST be prepared according to the guidelines listed below. All pages and documents listed below should be assembled into a SINGLE PDF document (portfolios will NOT be accepted) in the order listed. Name the PDF file with the last names of all PIs listed on the proposal (e.g. smith_williams_jackson.pdf). Proposals not conforming to the above guidelines will NOT BE ACCEPTED.

Section 1:

  • Page 1: Title Page
    • Download the Title Page Form (revised: 05/18/2020), fill out and append as page 1 of your proposal.
    • Complete all checkboxes by selecting either YES or NO and provide information when needed.

Section 2:

  • Pages 2-4: The body of the research proposal is limited to 3 pages; append as pages 2 – 4 of your application. Include the following sections with the indicated titles and in the indicated order. Use at least size 11 font and 0.9-inch margins and standard letter paper size (8.5” x 11”).
    • One-paragraph lay-language summary of project (max. 150 words)
    • A separate, one-paragraph discussion of what makes this project high risk/high reward and groundbreaking, and answer the following questions (max. 200 words):
      • Why would this proposal not be funded by conventional sources?
      • How do you predict this research will change or modify current paradigms?
    • Proposal Statement with the following headings:
      • Description of proposed research
      • Nature of inter-institutional collaboration
      • Criteria for measuring success of the proposed project
      • Long-term funding plan for continuation beyond the Catalyst Award, including funding institution that will be solicited, grant category (i.e. R01, P series, U01) and tentative timeline.

Section 3:

  • Page 5: Relevant Cited Scientific References (not to exceed one page; please follow the NIH format)

Section 4:

  • Page 6 and beyond: 2-page budget from each participating PI.
    • By special arrangement with the Research Administration Offices at the CBC universities, it is not necessary to obtain institutional endorsement of proposals before they are submitted to the CBC. However, the CBC may share proposals with Research Administrators during the review process, and the CBC will require institutional endorsements before any final funding decisions are made. The proposed research activities and budget requests must thus be within institutional guidelines in order for a proposal to be successful. (Note: PIs may claim up to 2% effort/salary relief. Graduate student tuition and tuition remission is not allowed on CBC awards. Award funds cannot be used for correlative studies associated with ongoing clinical trials.) All expenses from a single institution should be entered on a university-specific budget form (fillable PDF) downloadable from here: NU budget form, UChicago budget form, UIC budget form. Each PI can include travel expenses of $1000/application and publication expenses of $500/PI. Additional continuation pages may be used as needed for Budget Justification.
    • The scope of work for each PI must be stated in the Budget Justification, including the research that will be carried out in the PI’s laboratory.

Section 5:

  • Continue with consecutive page numbering:
    • Up-to-date NIH Biosketch (NEW FORMAT; not to exceed 5 pages) for each PI, including current and pending funding. New blank format page with updated expiration date of 02/28/2023 and instructions can be obtained HERE.
    • Applications that are pending at national funding agencies can have no scientific overlap with this Catalyst application. Program staff will review this information to determine eligibility.

Section 6:

  • Continue with consecutive page numbering:
    • Letters of Support
    • If a research project requires special expertise that is not substantially and readily apparent in the PIs’ biosketches, a letter confirming and describing consultation with a core director or colleague recognized in that field is recommended. Please note that the CBC is not allowed to fund researchers from non-CBC institutions, but will accept their letters of support. CBC funds can be used to pay for services provided by core facilities at non-CBC institutions.

Proposal Submission:

Completed proposals MUST be submitted online. The Catalyst application submission site will close at 5:00 PM on the day indicated in the Key Dates section above. Please, designate one of the PIs as a contact person on the application. The contact person will be responsible for submitting the application.

STATUS: Round 29 (Spring 2020) Catalyst application submission is now CLOSED.

Updated: January 3, 2020
If you have questions, please contact:

Richard Morimoto Interim CBC Executive Director,
CBC Scientific Director for NU
Karen Snapp CBC Senior Associate Director
Luisa DiPietro CBC Scientific Director for UIC
Lucy Godley CBC Scientific Director for UChicago
Jola Glotzer
(Questions about the application submission webform ONLY)
CBC Communications Director


▸ Funded Catalyst Awards

▸ CBC Catalyst Award Past and Future
A perspective on the oldest, but critically important, CBC Catalyst Award program.