University of Southern California


NSF-18-513: Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program: Instrument Acquisition or Development

Slots:                                                     Beginning with this competition, each performing organization is now limited to a maximum of three proposals in revised “Tracks” as defined below, with no more than two submissions in Track 1 (Track 1 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $100,000 and less than $1,000,000) and no more than one submission in 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.)

Internal Deadline:                        Contact the Office of Research if interested.

LOI:                                                        Not required.

External Deadline:                          Submission Window: January 1 – 22, 2020

Award Information:                        Type: Standard Grant

Estimated Number of Awards: 150

Anticipated Amount: $75,000,000

Cost Sharing:

Consistent with the America COMPETES Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-69), 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 the cost-sharing requirement and cannot include it. National Science Board policy prohibits voluntary committed cost sharing. The 30% cost-sharing requirement applies to only the portion of the total project cost budgeted to non-exempt organizations, including those participating through subawards. When required, cost-sharing must be precisely 30%. See section V.B. for specific information on cost-sharing calculations and the solicitation text for definitions of organizational types used for the MRI program.

Cost sharing is required. Please see the link below and refer to Section V, Part B for more information.

Submission Process:                     PIs must submit their application as a Limited Submission through the Office of Research Application Portal:

Materials to submit:

Link to Award:                        

Who May Serve as PI:                   

There are no restrictions or limits. 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.


The goal of the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program is to increase access to shared-use/multi-user instrumentation for scientific and engineering research and research training. MRI is intended to be a capacity-building program that builds research capabilities across diverse institution types (institutions of higher education and not-for-profit scientific/engineering research organizations). MRI advances the National interest by providing U.S. organizations with instrumentation that opens new opportunities to advance the frontiers in science and engineering research and research training.


The MRI Program provides for state-of-the-art instruments through acquisition from vendors and development of next-generation research instruments that advance the state-of-the-art in science and engineering research. For development proposals the Program seeks to leverage the strengths of private sector partners to build instrument development capacity at MRI submission-eligible organizations.


MRI supports instrumentation across NSF’s Directorates and Divisions. The Program focuses on multi-user/shared instrumentation that often supports research needs across disciplinary boundaries. The MRI Program is intended to provide flexibility to the research community to select the most appropriate NSF Division(s) to advance their shared-use instrumentation needs.


An MRI proposal may request support for the acquisition or development of a research instrument or components that when combined serve as an integrated research instrument. An MRI-supported instrument is intended to serve multiple users both in research and in the training of the next generation of instrument users and/or developers. 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.


MRI-supported instrumentation is, in general, too costly or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs. An instrument acquired or developed with support from the MRI Program is expected to be operational by the end of the award period to enable the research/research training activities committed to in the proposal.


The MRI Program does not typically fund common, general-purpose ancillary equipment that would normally be found in a laboratory and/or is relatively easily procured by the organization. The Program does not support research, education or outreach activities that are enabled by the requested instrumentation, nor does MRI support requests for multiple independent instruments that serve to outfit a general-purpose laboratory or research environment. MRI also does not support instrumentation used primarily for science and engineering education courses and outreach, or enables research that is primarily outside of NSF-supported fields of science and engineering; however the instrument’s use in those activities may occur at a secondary level and serve as broader impacts.


The MRI Program welcomes substantive and meaningful partnerships for instrument development, including partnerships between the academic and private sectors. MRI proposals involving partnerships with applicability to other NSF investments are also encouraged. Such proposals are expected to create innovative advances with wide scientific or commercial impact. Investigations of commercial impact should not be included in MRI proposals but support for such investigations may be sought through, for example, the NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Team program (; as MRI development projects mature, applications to this program are strongly encouraged.


An MRI research instrument need not be physically located in a conventional laboratory setting, nor does an instrument need to be “physical” at all. MRI continues to support distributed/networked instruments and cyberinstrumentation that is not appropriate for support through other NSF programs.

Applicants seeking to acquire new equipment for USC Core Laboratories may request cost-share funding from the core instrumentation fund via a companion proposal, up to $200,000.  MRI pre-proposals will be reviewed separately from core instrumentation proposals.   All other MRI proposals (e.g., non-core proposals and development proposals) must seek cost-share support from other sources, such as schools, departments or centers.

To be considered for selection:

  1. The proposal must be submitted by the faculty member who directs the already established core laboratory in which the equipment will be installed.
  2. The core facility must be represented in USC’s Plan for Science and Technology Facilities. For this solicitation, we will not be accepting cost-share requests for Genomics or Biorepositories, as the Science & Technology Plan for both areas is still under development.

Applications seeking to establish a new core facility must obtain pre-approval to apply.

Contact the Office of Research at or at 213-821-8194 for more information.

Visit our Institutionally Limited Submission webpage for updates and other announcements.