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Research Matters

Limited Submission: Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI)

The MRI program supports the acquisition or development of a multi-user research instrument that is, in general, too costly and/or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs.


The Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program serves to increase access to multi-user scientific and engineering instrumentation for research and research training in our Nation’s institutions of higher education and not-for-profit scientific/engineering research organizations. An MRI award supports the acquisition or development of a multi-user research instrument that is, in general, too costly and/or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs.

MRI provides support to acquire critical research instrumentation without which advances in fundamental science and engineering research may not otherwise occur. MRI also provides support to develop next-generation research instruments that open new opportunities to advance the frontiers in science and engineering research. Additionally, an MRI award is expected to enhance research training of students who will become the next generation of instrument users, designers and builders.

An MRI proposal may request up to $4 million for either acquisition or development of a research instrument. Beginning with the FY 2018 competition, each performing organization may submit in revised “Tracks” as defined below:

  • Track 1: Track 1 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $100,0001 and less than $1,000,000.
  • Track 2: Track 2 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $1,000,000 up to and including $4,000,000.

The MRI program will NOT support proposal requests that include the following:

  • Construction, renovation or modernization of rooms, buildings or research facilities. This category refers to the space where sponsored or unsponsored research activities (including research training) occur, whether “bricks-and-mortar”, mobile, or virtual;
  • Large, specialized experimental facilities that are constructed with significant amounts of common building material using standard building techniques. In general instruments can be decoupled from the structure or environment that contains them;
  • General purpose and supporting equipment; this category includes (but is not limited to) general purpose ancillary computers or laboratory instruments. Supporting equipment refers to basic, durable components of a research facility that are integral to its operation (e.g., fume hoods, elevators, laboratory casework, cryogen storage systems, general-purpose computational or data storage systems). It also includes supporting facilities such as vehicle charging stations.
  • Sustaining infrastructure and/or building systems. This category includes (but is not limited to) the installation of or upgrades to infrastructure related to the supply of power, ventilation, water or research gases, routine multi-purpose computer networks, standard safety features, and other general purpose systems (e.g., toxic waste removal systems and telecommunications equipment.)
  • General-purpose platforms or environment. This category may include (but is not limited to) general purpose fixed or non-fixed structures as well as manned or unmanned vehicles, the purpose of which is to host, support or transport an instrument, which is not an integral part of the research instrument and/or which can be re-purposed for non-scientific uses.
  • Instrumentation used primarily for science and engineering education courses.

Please read the full program announcement linked above before preparing your internal application.

Award Amount

  • Upper $4,000,000
  • Lower $100,000

Anticipated type of award is Standard Grant. The estimated number of awards is 160. Anticipated Funding Amount is $75,000,000. Proposals submitted in response to this program solicitation will be competing for up to $75 million, pending availability of funds and numbers/quality of proposals, with approximately 1/3 of the available MRI funding expected to support Track 2 awards. NSF strongly encourages MRI proposals that seek to develop next-generation research instruments that open new frontiers of research; therefore up to 1/3 of the MRI awards are expected to support instrument development in either track; therefore within their submission limit organizations are encouraged to submit proposals for innovative development projects.

Cost-sharing of precisely 30% of the total project cost is required for Ph.D.-granting institutions of higher education and for non-degree-granting organizations. Non-Ph.D.-granting institutions of higher education are exempt from cost-sharing and cannot include it. National Science Board policy is that voluntary committed cost sharing is prohibited.


  • Proposals may only be submitted by organizations located in the United States, its territories or possessions, as follows:
    • Institutions of higher education (Ph.D.-granting and non-Ph.D.-granting), acting on behalf of their faculty members, that are accredited in and have their main campus in the United States, its territories or possessions. Distinct academic campuses (e.g., that award their own degrees, have independent administrative structures, admissions policies, alumni associations, etc.) within multi-campus systems qualify as separate submission-eligible institutions.
    • Not-for-profit, non-degree-granting domestic U.S. organizations, acting on behalf of their employees, for example (but not limited to) independent museums and science centers, observatories, research laboratories and similar organizations that are directly associated with the Nation’s research activities. These organizations must have an independent, permanent administrative organization (e.g., a sponsored projects office) located in the United States, its territories or possessions, and have 501(c)(3) tax status.
    • To facilitate access to unique instrumentation for a broad user base of U.S. scientists and engineers, and to encourage collaboration and sharing of state-of-the-art instrumentation, the MRI program accepts proposals from consortia of organizations. Consortium proposals may be submitted as follows:
      • Legally incorporated, not-for-profit consortia that include two or more submission-eligible organizations as described in items (1) and (2) above may submit proposals on behalf of the consortium. The cover sheet must clearly indicate the consortium nature of the proposal in the title. Such a consortium is one with an independent administrative structure (e.g., a sponsored projects office) located in the United States, its territories or possessions and have 501(c)(3) status.
      • Submission-eligible organizations as described in items (1) and (2) above may submit, as part of their limit, proposals on behalf of consortia. The cover sheet of such a proposal must a) clearly indicate the consortium nature of the proposal in the title, and b) it must identify both a PI and co-PI(s) from at least two MRI submission-eligible organizations (items 1 and/or 2 above) as lead investigators in the consortium. These consortium proposals may also include as partners other U.S. organizations that are not eligible to submit MRI proposals.
    • The MRI Program especially seeks broad representation of PIs in its award portfolio, including women, underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities. Since demographic diversity may be greater among early-career researchers the MRI program also encourages proposals with early-career PIs and proposals that benefit early-career researchers.
  • Additionally:
    • MREFC-related Proposals: The MRI program will not accept proposals for an instrument that augments an NSF Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) project if that project is not receiving operations funding outside of the MREFC account.
    • FFRDC-related Proposals: Proposals for the acquisition or development of an instrument to be located at a facility of another Federal agency or one of their Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) must be submitted as a consortium proposal by an MRI submission-eligible organization as described in item 3(b) above. The proposal must include the facility/FFRDC (or its managing organization) as a partner in the consortium, even if the role of the FFRDC in the project is solely to house the instrument. The instruments must make unique contributions to the needs of researchers elsewhere or establish access to new multi-user facilities. The current list of FFRDCs can be found at: Preliminary inquiry to the cognizant MRI point of contact should be made before preparing a proposal for submission.

Selection Criteria

Instrument Acquisition Proposals.

  • The extent to which the instrument is used for multi-user, shared-use research and/or research training.
  • Whether the management plan demonstrates sufficient commitment and technical expertise for effective scheduling and usage of the instrument.
  • The organization’s commitment to ensuring successful operations and maintenance over the expected lifetime of the instrument.
  • Whether the research to be enabled is compelling and justifies the instrument request.
  • Whether the budget request is appropriate and well justified.
  • if student involvement is in the form of direct support for operations and maintenance of the instrument, reviewers will be asked to evaluate the involvement in terms of both instrument needs and the training of the next generation of instrumentalists.
  • For instrument acquisition proposals of $1 million or above, the potential impact of the instrument on the research community of interest at the regional or national level, if appropriate.

Instrument Development Proposals:

  • The appropriateness of submission as a development proposal.
  • The need for development of a new instrument. Will the proposed instrument enable enhanced performance over existing instruments, or new types of measurement or information gathering? Is there a strong need for the new instrument in the larger user community to advance new frontiers of research?
  • The adequacy of the project’s management plan. Does the plan have a realistic schedule that is described in sufficient detail to be assessed? Are mechanisms described to mitigate and deal with potential risks?
  • The availability of appropriate technical expertise to design and construct the instrument. If direct support for student involvement in development efforts is requested, reviewers will be asked to evaluate the involvement in terms of both project needs and training the next generation of instrumentalists.
  • The appropriateness of the cost of the new technology.

Limitation Details

The MRI program requires that an MRI-eligible organization may, as a performing organization, submit or be included as a significantly funded subawardee in no more than three MRI proposals with no more than two submissions in Track 1 and no more than one submission in Track 2

If you are interested in submitting for this program, you must first submit an internal application to according to the required instructions below.

Internal Applications must include the following:

  • A cover page listing
    • The name of this funding opportunity and title of your proposal
    • The proposal’s Track (Track 1 or Track 2)
    • Your name, UGA position, home department, email, and UGA contact information
    • Collaborator names, positions, and institutions (if any)
    • Indicate whether or not you have submitted to this program in the past. If so, please provide a copy of the review at the end of the internal application.
  • A maximum three-page description of the need and rationale for the instrument, including the total cost
  • A brief (less than a page) summary of total costs that includes the total amount of and source for any cost share
  • One paragraph describing why this proposal should be UGA’s submission (i.e., why it will be the most competitive for this program)
  • Curriculum vitae

Internal Selection

Limited Submission announcements often generate multiple competing proposals.  UGA reviewers judge proposals as they would in any peer review process, so PIs are urged to put their best foot forward.  Along with typical criteria, reviewers will evaluate internal proposals based on their fit with the sponsor’s articulated goals and criteria.

Internal Submission Instructions

The above internal application materials should be submitted via email as a single .PDF file to by the internal deadline listed above.


Please submit questions regarding the internal competition to

For questions directly related to this program, please contact the following program officers:

Randy L. Phelps


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