Significant new knowledge cannot be supplied on demand – it unfolds over time, through exploration, experimentation, and rigorous debate. HHMI catalyzes discovery in basic biomedical research, generating knowledge about the structure and function of living systems at the level of molecules, cells, behaviors, and interactions, with potential to benefit humanity. We place big bets on curious and ambitious researchers, supporting them with generous and flexible funding for significant periods of time, subject to rigorous periodic scientific review. As one measure of success, to date, 28 current or former HHMI scientists have been awarded a Nobel Prize. We take our responsibility as a major supporter of discovery science seriously and look to make maximum impact, particularly at a time in which many funders are shifting toward more applied research.

HHMI will ensure that our investigators are fully able to explore new scientific territory, taking the intellectual and career risks necessary to advance our basic understanding of biology.

Rationale: The HHMI Investigator program is HHMI’s longest-running effort to sustain innovation in science. With our support, investigators build a research team and environment well suited to tackle profound science questions, with the assurance that they have adequate time, funding, equipment, peer community, mentoring, and lab and support staff. 

Approach: We will continuously work to evaluate the HHMI Investigator program and adjust the resources we offer investigators, including factors such as the terms of eligibility to become an investigator, the length of an investigator’s term, the level and nature of support provided to investigators, and the frequency and nature of investigator competitions.

HHMI will continually catalyze new research fields at our Janelia Research Campus, through tool development, discovery science, and training.

Rationale: HHMI scientists at Janelia have transformed how researchers worldwide study and understand the brain by developing and applying critical new tools, including microscopes, fluorescent sensors, and imaging dyes. Looking ahead, we believe that Janelia can break open other high-impact, challenging research areas with similarly collaborative efforts. To achieve this scientific impact, we plan to periodically change research focus as current areas mature and to actively recruit the next generation of independent scientists to help develop such new areas.

Approach: We are now operating on 15-year research cycles at Janelia. We will develop a given research area for roughly 15 years to gain traction and attract outside interest, at which point we’ll cycle to a new area of focus. This approach enables Janelia to stay at the frontier of science, advancing 1-3 research areas at any point in time. HHMI will hold open competitions to determine Janelia’s future research areas. In addition, we will emphasize recruitment of highly creative scientists who are ready to pursue an independent research career soon after graduate school.

HHMI will actively develop strategic partnerships with philanthropies and donors to invest in promising scientists and discovery science.

Rationale: There are many more deserving scientists than HHMI can fund through our programs. By partnering with other philanthropies, we can extend our successful programs and share our knowledge with individuals and organizations interested in supporting discovery science.

Approach: HHMI’s rigorous and multi-phased review process relies on an administrative infrastructure and expert reviewer network that are difficult for small or new foundations to build. We will offer select philanthropies and donors the opportunity to join us in funding select scientists or projects. We will also seek appropriate opportunities to share HHMI’s funding philosophy and approach with others.