NSF National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes

Please see the full solicitation for complete information about the funding opportunity. Below is a summary assembled by the Research & Innovation Office (RIO).

Program Summary

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has advanced tremendously and today promises personalized healthcare; enhanced national security; improved transportation; and more effective education, to name just a few benefits. Increased computing power, the availability of large datasets and streaming data, and algorithmic advances in machine learning (ML) have made it possible for AI research and development to create new sectors of the economy and revitalize industries. Continued advancement, enabled by sustained federal investment and channeled toward issues of national importance, holds the potential for further economic impact and quality-of-life improvements.

The 2019 update to the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, informed by visioning activities in the scientific community as well as interaction with the public, identifies as its first strategic objective the need to make long-term investments in AI research in areas with the potential for long-term payoffs in AI. The National AI Research Institutes program enables longer-term research and U.S. leadership in AI through the creation of AI Research Institutes.

This program is a joint government effort between the National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), U.S. Department of Education (ED) Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Defense (DOD) Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD (R&E)), and IBM Corporation (IBM).

This program solicitation expands upon the nationwide network established by the first 18 AI Research Institutes to pursue transformational advances in a range of economic sectors, and science and engineering fields. In this round, the program invites proposals for institutes that have a principal focus in one of the following themes, detailed in the Program Description:

  • Theme 1: Intelligent Agents for Next-Generation Cybersecurity
  • Theme 2: Neural and Cognitive Foundations of Artificial Intelligence
  • Theme 3: AI for Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry
  • Theme 4: AI for Decision making
  • Theme 5: Trustworthy AI
  • Theme 6: AI-Augmented Learning to Expand Education Opportunities and Improve Outcomes


CU Internal Deadline: 11:59pm MST December 13, 2021

Sponsor Preliminary Proposal Deadline: 5:00pm MST January 14, 2022

Sponsor Full Proposal Deadline: 5:00pm MST May 13, 2022

Internal Application Requirements (all in PDF format)

  • Project Description (3 pages maximum): Provide a description of the challenge that engendered the proposal and the importance of specific aspects of this challenge that you aspire to solve. Include timeliness of addressing this problem. Discuss why the National AI Research Institutes program is particularly suited to support this effort. Discuss the long-term strategic goals and potential impact of an Institute. State the overall vision and long-range research goals of the Institute. Describe the proposed research areas/themes, how this plan both advances foundational research and leverages use-inspired research, and how these efforts will be integrated in service of the Institute's research vision. Provide a five-year timeline for the implementation activities. Clearly specify the areas of foundational AI research in which significant new knowledge or methods will contribute to an understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their implementation in machines, why those areas are selected, and the institute's unique capabilities to advance and disseminate those outcomes to the broader AI research community. Convey how those advances benefit from and contribute to the related sectors in the chosen use-inspired research context. If the Institute plans include the development of shared research facilities, describe plans to build, manage and sustain such facilities.
  • Lead PI Biographical Sketch (3 pages maximum): follow NSF formatting requirements: https://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/biosketch.jsp 
  • Budget Overview (1 page maximum): A basic budget outlining project costs is sufficient; detailed OCG budgets are not required.

To access the online application, visit: https://cuboulderovcr.secure-platform.com/a/solicitations/6665/home


An individual may be designated as senior personnel (which includes but is not limited to PI or co-PI) on at most one preliminary proposal, and at most one full proposal to this solicitation. In the event that an individual exceeds this limit, proposals will be accepted based on earliest date and time of submission, i.e., the first compliant preliminary or full proposal will be accepted, and the remainder will be returned without review.

Limited Submission Guidelines

An organization may submit no more than two preliminary proposals to this solicitation as lead institution. An organization may submit up to two full proposals that correspond to preliminary proposals reviewed under this solicitation. In the event that an organization exceeds these limits, preliminary proposals will be accepted based on earliest date and time of preliminary proposal submission, i.e., the first two preliminary proposals will be accepted, and the remainder will be returned without review. A full proposal that does not correspond to a preliminary proposal reviewed in this program will be returned without review.

Award Information

NSF plans to make approximately 7 Institute awards. NSF plans to make approximately one Institute award in each of themes 1-5, and one award to each of the two tracks listed in theme 6.

Institute awards will be made for between $16,000,000 and $20,000,000 for four to five years ($4,000,000 per year on average). Proposals outside this range may be returned without review. Estimated program budget, number of awards and average award size/duration are subject to the availability of funds.

Review Criteria

In addition to the National Science Board merit review criteria, reviewers will be asked to apply the following criteria when reviewing proposals submitted to this solicitation:

  1. Advance foundational AI: How well does the proposed Institute contribute new knowledge or methods toward understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their implementation in machines?
  2. Conduct use-inspired research: How well does the proposed Institute leverage the use-inspired research context to both advance AI and drive innovations in related sectors of science and engineering, segments of the economy, or societal needs?
  3. Strategic impact: What is the potential for the Institute to make a lasting strategic impact beyond its research outcomes? Specifically,
    • How will the proposed Institute actively nurture and grow the next generation of talent?
    • To what extent is the proposed Institute activity comprised of a multidisciplinary group of scientists, engineers, and educators appropriate to the project?
    • How well does the proposed Institute leverage multiple organizations to create significant new research capabilities in new centers of AI leadership and create a network for broadening participation from underrepresented groups and diverse institutions?
    • How well does the proposal exhibit plans to operate as a nexus point for collaborative efforts to engage externally and add to a diverse Institute that is more than just the sum of the parts?