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DSF donates $4 million to fund interdisciplinary research

Credit: Isabelle Vincent/ Credit: Isabelle Vincent/

In a show of support towards the Mellon College of Science (MCS), the David Scaife Family (DSF) Charitable Foundation has donated $4 million to fund the creation of a block grant program for interdisciplinary research projects in basic science. The grant program encourages research in fundamental avenues of science using a diverse range of disciplines, in order to serve as a lens to larger, more groundbreaking projects in the life sciences and in biomedicine.

“Almost every big scientific discovery has started with basic science research, the same type of research that is being done in many of our labs at the Mellon College of Science,” said Rebecca W. Doerge, Dean of MCS, in a university press release.

The unique root of this innovative grant program lies in the opportunity it provides student researchers in MCS’ Departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Mathematical Sciences, and Physics to work with collaborators in other colleges. This helps foster greater creative thinking and innovation through an interdisciplinary approach.

“The future of science lies in fundamental, foundational research done by cross-disciplinary collaborations. The DSF Charitable Foundation is visionary in its willingness to support this type of work that will no doubt lead to the creation of tomorrow’s world-changing tools, technologies, and discoveries,” said Doerge.

According to a university press release, DSF offers four types of grants, ranging from $10,000 to $1 million. They will fund research that investigates scientific inquiries with high societal impact but also will fund efforts that simply encourage the sharing of scientific knowledge. Smaller grants of up to $20,000 will fund workshops that foster transdisciplinary collaborations; grants of up to $150,000 will support the interdisciplinary research of early career faculty and individual investigators; grants of $500,000 will help teams of scientists from multiple schools expand their current research to reach transformative levels; a “moonshot” grant of $1 million will support a high-risk, high-reward challenge that brings together scientists from different fields to collaborate on an impactful, yet difficult, scientific question.

Grant applications will be vetted by a review committee, including the Dean of MCS and Carnegie Mellon’s provost. MCS is currently accepting applications for the workshop and early career and individual investigator grants.

DSF has given nearly $9 million to Carnegie Mellon, with its largest gifts going to the creation and support of the Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology (CNAST). CNAST is an interdisciplinary research center in MCS that connects chemists, biologists, physicists, and engineers to study DNA, RNA, and peptide nucleic acids to solve real-world problems, including the diagnosis and treatment of infectious disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and cancer.

“Excellence in cross-disciplinary collaboration is a hallmark of research at Carnegie Mellon University,” said Nick Beldecos, executive director of DSF, in a university press release. “The block grant program is intended to provide investigators with broad latitude to pursue novel directions in work of this kind. We at DSF are excited to play a role in supporting research that seeks to have a transformative impact on life science and, ultimately, human health.”