Undergraduate New Investigator (UNI) Grants

Program Goals

The goals of the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund are:

  • To support fundamental research in the petroleum field, and
  • To develop the next generation of engineers and scientists through support of advanced scientific education.

The Undergraduate New Investigator Grants Program is intended to initiate the research program of new scientists and engineers who are faculty members at undergraduate research institutions and to provide financial incentives for students at those institutions to become involved in research activities leading to employment or continued study in graduate school.

Undergraduate New Investigator Grants

Undergraduate New Investigator (UNI) grants provide funds for scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent careers in academia and have limited or no preliminary results for a research project they wish to pursue. The UNI grants are to be used to illustrate proof of principle, i.e., feasibility, and accordingly, are to be viewed as seed money for generating preliminary results that can be used to apply for continuation funding from other agencies.

Eligibility for a UNI grant requires that a PI is in a department without a doctoral program in the United States and that the students receiving stipends for the work to be done are undergraduates (M.S.-level students can also be supported provided one or more undergraduates are also supported from this grant). Accordingly, the research being proposed need not be high risk but it should be of publishable quality. The research opportunities afforded must be of the highest caliber, and provide a compelling educational experience for the student.  Excluded from consideration are proposals which are a mere extension of research from the PI’s graduate or postdoctoral experience. 

Award Information

  • Amount: $55,000 over 2 years
  • Estimated number of awards: ~25 each year

Nature and Scope of the Research

ACS PRF research grants are made to non-profit institutions for regularly appointed scientists whose research may be sponsored in accordance with the ACS PRF Transfer Agreement:

“The recipient (ACS) shall use all funds exclusively for advanced scientific education and fundamental research in the ‘petroleum field,’ which may include any field of pure science which in the judgment of (ACS) may afford a basis for subsequent research directly connected with the petroleum field.”

Note that fundamental research is required as opposed to applied research or methods development. When submitting an application, you will be asked to select a scientific discipline that PRF supports.

The UNI grant program is designed as a source of funds for faculty members at the inception of their careers. The principal investigator must demonstrate to the PRF Program Managers, PRF Committee members, and to the scientific or engineering community of reviewers that their research projects will generate preliminary data that can be used by the PI to seek continuation funding from other agencies. Poorly crafted proposals that are deemed to be “noncompetitive” will be denied without external review.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible as a principal investigator for a UNI grant, the applicant must be a member of the faculty of a college or university within the United States; be within the first five years of their first academic appointment as a regular faculty member; have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. (however, an application may be submitted before the degree has been awarded); and be appointed at the rank of Assistant Professor or the equivalent. In addition, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • The non-profit institution submitting the UNI proposal must certify that the person listed as a principal investigator on the cover page qualifies as a principal investigator under the institution’s policies.
  • In view of the long-standing policy of The ACS Petroleum Research Fund to give priority to support of students, the principal investigator must be eligible to serve as the formal, official supervisor of undergraduate students.
  • The term of appointment of the principal investigator must promise reasonable continuity of service. The appointment should continue at least through the period of funding requested in the UNI proposal.

Generally the above criteria are automatically met by tenure-track principal investigators. If you are not tenure-track, attach a brief statement to your application describing your appointment and include a Department Chair’s letter affirming that you meet all three of the above criteria. Finally, no co-PI can be involved but one or more collaborators can participate on the project. Read more about Eligibility, Terms and Conditions for UNI Grants.

Funding Criteria

The PRF Committee makes relative rankings of proposals and recommendations for funding on the basis of the following criteria (in order of importance):

  • Overall quality, significance, and scientific merit of the proposed research, including the extent to which it will increase basic knowledge and/or stimulate additional research.
  • Extent to which advanced scientific education will be enhanced through the involvement of students in the research.
  • Newness of the proposed research for the principal investigator.
  • Impact of PRF funding the research, including the effect on the principal investigator’s overall research program.
  • Qualifications or potential of the principal investigator and adequacy of the facilities to conduct the research.

Budget Guidelines

The PRF Committee requires that at least 40 percent of the total budget be devoted to support the education and training of students. If you have any questions about allowable budget allocations, please contact the appropriate Program Manager before submitting a proposal. For proposals that are funded, the budget becomes part of the grant agreement. Revisions to the grant budget can only be made with prior approval of ACS PRF.

  • Amount: Proposals request $55,000 for a two-year period. The total $55K budget may be divided among years according to the needs of the project. The normal ACS PRF budget year extends from September 1 to August 31.
  • Excluded Charges: No overhead, secretarial and/or administrative salaries may be charged against the grant. Funds may not be used for Tuition or to support post-doctoral associates, doctoral students, laboratory technicians, contractors, consultants, or visiting faculty.
  • Principal Investigator Stipend: To provide the opportunity for full-time research during the summer months, the principal investigator may request a contribution to summer salary, with an upper limit of $8,000 per grant year, including fringe benefits, to a maximum of $16,000. This limit does NOT change as a result of time extensions.
  • Support of Students: Total student support must be at least 40% of the grant budget.  Grant funds must be used to support undergraduate students in each year of the funded research; M.S.-level graduate students can be supported with salaries or stipends, only if undergraduates are also supported by this grant.  Field Work expenses for students including transportation, lodging, etc. may be considered student support, and must be described in the budget justification.
  • Travel: Except for field work which is budgeted separately, a maximum of $2,000 per grant year, or $4,000 total, may be used for travel in connection with the project. This limit does NOT change as a result of time extensions. Support of student travel to scientific meetings is encouraged. There are no restrictions on foreign travel.
  • Capital Equipment: Requests for capital equipment on UNI grant proposals are discouraged. However, a limited amount of capital equipment funds (≤ $5,000) may be included in the proposed budget, with justification and description of institutional cost-matching (if provided) in the budget justification.


  • A principal investigator may submit only one research proposal per meeting and may not hold more than one active PRF research grant at a time.
  • New investigators may have only three (3) UNI grant applications considered and/or one (1) UNI grant funded in their career. Thereafter, the new investigator may apply to the Undergraduate Research (UR) program.
  • A principal investigator with an active PRF research grant, including a grant on time extension, may not submit an application for a new grant.

Program Managers

  • Dr. Dean Dunn, Geology, Geochemistry/Geophysics, telephone: 202-872-4083, email: d_dunn@acs.org
  • Dr. Laura Fernandez, Surface Science and Materials Science, telephone:
    202-872-6154, email: l_fernandez@acs.org
  • Dr. William Aumiller, Physical Organic Chemistry, and Chemical Physics/Physical Chemistry, telephone: 202-872-4365, email: w_aumiller@acs.org
  • Dr. Thomas Clancy, Polymer Science, Engineering, Chemistry and Petroleum Engineering, telephone: 202-872-6093, email: t_clancy@acs.org
  • Dr. Allegra Liberman-Martin, Synthetic Organic Chemistry, and Inorganic Chemistry, telephone: 202-872-6186, email: a_liberman@acs.org

Proposal Submission

We are not currently accepting proposals for the Undergraduate New Investigator (UNI) grant program.  The Fall Submission window will be from Monday, August 12, 2024 to Friday September 6, 2024 (Considered at the May 2025 ACS PRF Committee Meeting). The Spring Submission window will be from Monday, February 10, 2025 to Friday March 7, 2025 (Considered at the October 2025 ACS PRF Committee Meeting).