UNI & UR Grants Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the difference between Undergraduate Research (UR) and Undergraduate New Investigator (UNI) grant proposals?

UNI proposals are limited to faculty researchers in the first three years of their first appointment as an Assistant Professor, in a degree-granting department that does not award doctoral degrees. After a researcher enters their fourth year, they must submit a UR proposal. UNI “starter grants” are considered separately from UR grant submissions by “established” faculty (i.e., those past the first three years of their first appointment as an Assistant Professor).

Q. Are there any limitations to PRF proposals?

All submissions must comply with ACS PRF requirements (i.e., proposals must be directly petroleum-relevant, fundamental and not applied research, and a new research direction) to be considered for funding by the PRF Committee.

Q. What is “fundamental petroleum science”?

PRF grants only support research into the chemistry and geology of “petroleum, natural gas, coal, shale, tar sands, and like materials.” Applied research is outside the scope of the PRF Trust Agreement, because no PRF-supported research may be turned into profit. Accordingly, any research “of interest to the petroleum industry” is not considered for support by the PRF Committee.

Q. What is the funding rate for PRF proposals?

PRF funding rates depend upon the fiscal returns of the ACS PRF endowment, and on the number of proposals received. For the past decade, we have been able to fund the highest 20 percent of submissions, as evaluated and ranked by ten discipline-specific panels of the PRF Committee.

Q. What do you mean by “new research direction” and “seed money?”

The PRF Committee intends that all ACS PRF grants support a “new research direction” by a Principal Investigator – that is, a topic which is not the logical extension of a PI’s previous research. Proposals to ACS PRF request “seed money” support to generate the “proof-of-concept” data set that is required for a proposal to another agency that provides “continuation research” support.

Q: How much of a “new direction” must my UR proposal be, to be considered?

UR grants seek to support new ideas or aspects, which represent non-incremental advances from a PI’s previous work, consistent with the goals, resources and environment of the PI’s or other UR institutions. Proposals for incremental extensions of current or previous research by PI would likely not be competitive and could be returned without review.

There are few “red flags” that strongly suggest that the proposal is not enough of a “new direction”:

  • Title is the same as or very similar to a previous journal article by PI
  • Applicant has previous external funding for the work
  • Bibliography is mostly applicant’s citations

Applicants wondering if their ideas might be viewed as incremental extensions of previous work are strongly encouraged to contact the relevant Program Manager for advice prior to submission.

Q: What are illustrative examples of acceptable UR “new directions?”

  • A PI has extensively studied the use of a specific transition metal catalyst to synthesize aromatic compounds. The new proposal used the same catalyst to make some other aromatic compounds. This would not qualify as a UR “new direction.” On the other hand, if the researcher proposed a kinetics or modeling study to determine the mechanism of catalytic action and/or a spectroscopic study to determine the active site of the catalyst, such proposals would likely be considered different enough to qualify as UR “new directions.”
  • A synthetic polymer chemist synthesized a new shear-stable, ultra-high molecular weight polymer. PI proposed a collaboration with a chemical engineer to determine the rheology of low levels of this polymer in turbulent fluid flow. The “line-of-sight” petroleum relevance is better understanding of shear-stable petroleum materials. (In this example, the collaboration leads to a “new direction.”)
  • PI’s current work involves using quantum mechanics to explore the gas-phase structures, energies and spectra of diradicals produced from heteroaromatic oil shale compounds. PI proposes using molecular dynamics to understand the condensed phase mechanism for the aggregation of the (non-model) constituents of asphaltenes. This would qualify as a UR “new direction.”
  • PI’s current research involves steroselective nucleophilic addition to electrophilic oxocarbenium ions. PI proposes extending this work to explore the nucleophilic addition to electrophilic nitrogen analogs (iminium derivatives). PI makes a strong case in the proposal that the effort and challenges required in altering the electrophilic component were non-trivial and could enable the synthesis of whole new classes of heterocyclic molecules. The Program Manager accepts the PI’s argument and sends the proposal out for review.
  • The PIs past work in fluvial sedimentology and sediment transport has been based on numerical and laboratory modeling of stratigraphic architecture. The new work proposed will be a field-based study. The PI will focus on constraining timescales of sediment storage in alluvial rivers to better understand petroleum reservoir characteristics. This would be considered a “new direction.”
  • The PI has a solid track record in field studies of outcrop-scale fracture distributions. In order to extend this research to reservoir-scale properties, the PI proposes a primarily laboratory-based project that will carry out a series of rock mechanics experiments on larger-scale samples, or lithologies characteristic of uncommon reservoirs. This is considered a “new direction” because of the use of rock deformation instrumentation and also the focus on brittle processes at a different scale.