On Thursday, UC Berkeley introduced a fellowship program, the Heising-Simons Faculty Fellows program, to fund innovative research brought forth by faculty in the physical sciences departments.
The funding, which amounts to $1 million per fellowship over the course of five years, was provided by the Heising-Simons family fund and will give campus faculty members the chance to conduct basic science research in the pursuit of discoveries, according to a UC Berkeley press release.
As an institution that has consistently produced “cutting-edge” research in the past, UC Berkeley plans on using the program to encourage early and mid-career faculty in the physical sciences to seek ideas despite potential setbacks, according to the press release.
“We want to pursue visions, but they take a lot of years to actually set up and devise. That’s one of the reasons why Heising-Simons is giving fellows five years to try,” said Frances Hellman, dean of the campus division of mathematical and physical sciences. “We’re super excited. It feels like it’s such a moment of joy when a funder comes along and gives us this vote of confidence in our young to mid-career faculty.”
Hellman said for most of the research done on campus, the fellowship teams consist of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates. If chosen, the fellows will have five years to freely pursue their ideas.
According to the press release, two of the $1 million awards will be provided each year for the next six years.
Hellman noted that the fund also acts as an encouragement for faculty members who desire to pursue research that they would normally have difficulty obtaining funding for elsewhere.
“It’s a very big deal. It will enable them to do some amazing work,” Hellman said. “I think it’s a remarkable program. It’s this process of empowering faculty to try bold and new ideas.”
Maria Hjelm, assistant dean of development for the division of mathematical and physical sciences, echoed many of Hellman’s sentiments. According to Hjelm, federal funders supporting major research ideas have become more conservative in their funding as they desire guaranteed outcomes and breakthroughs.
The basic science research being conducted by faculty at UC Berkeley proves to be far riskier, Hjelm noted, but the very nature of this research and the funding that supports it could lead to “paradigm-shifting discoveries.”
“The kind of research Berkeley is very famous for is this kind of downstream or curiosity-driven research,” Hjelm said. “The results aren’t always known, but they lead us to translational discoveries.”
According to Hjelm, interested faculty will have to create a research proposal before presenting their idea for funding.
Noting the importance of discovery research, Hjelm said she is very excited to see what will come of the research that is conducted as there is always more to be uncovered.
“There can be no high-risk high reward research absent support and encouragement for those who engage in and lead those efforts,” said Randy Katz, campus vice chancellor for research, in an email.