Distinguished Investigators

2021 ADI Open Calls

2021 Allen Distinguished Investigator (ADI) Open Calls

We are excited to announce three 2021 Allen Distinguished Investigator (ADI) initiatives. Up to 11 awards will be made for up to $16.5M total funding to support pioneering research in 1) Micropeptides, 2) Neural Circuit Design, and 3) Mammalian Synthetic Development. 

We are seeking Letters of Intent (LOIs) by April 15, 2021 for the three initiatives. Selected LOIs will be invited to submit full proposals to be considered for an ADI award in 2021. Details on the individual calls as well as answers to frequently asked questions can be found below.  

We welcome submissions from researchers across all career stages, from Assistant Professors and similar positions onward. We look forward to reading your innovative and ambitious project ideas.

The submission windows have closed.



Micropeptides and small proteins' role in immune systems

Download Call Announcement (.PDF)





Neural Circuit Design

Evolutionary principles in neural circuit design from less explored neuroscience models and systems






Mammalian Synthetic Development

Advancing understanding and the potential of mammalian synthetic development

Download Call Announcement (.pdf)

Download LOI Template (.docx)




Frequently Asked Questions

Program questions 

What is the Allen Distinguished Investigator program? 
The Allen Distinguished Investigator (ADI) program supports early-stage research with the potential to reinvent entire fields. Grants range between $1 million and $1.5 million over three-year terms to individuals and scientific teams. More than 90 Allen Distinguished Investigators have been awarded since 2010. Read more about the ADIs on our website

What is the goal of the ADI program? 
The program seeks to have a lasting impact on the direction of research, aiming to serve as a catalyst upon which future research is founded. This program seeks to enable scientists to take risks with new ideas and approaches, and strongly believes in interdisciplinary approaches that allow scientists to look beyond their own disciplines, and to explore approaches with colleagues in other disciplines in order to bring new perspectives to challenging problems where traditional approaches within a discipline may be ‘stuck.’ The program is especially interested in approaches that are unlikely to receive funding from traditional government sources, including methodological and technological advances that are often necessary complements to scientific advance and often difficult to fund through traditional sources. This program encourages and supports researchers including novel methodological, theoretical and technological elements in their proposals. 


Topic questions 

Is my idea eligible? 
The Frontiers Group’s policy does not allow us to comment on ideas or drafts in advance of the submission deadline.  

May I submit an LOI on a similar topic? 
No. LOIs are only considered for the topics stated. However, the approach you take need not be traditional. We encourage creative and ambitious approaches. 

Is there a preferred subtopic or approach beyond what is described in the LOI? 
No. Preferences are not given based on any scenario. LOIs that best fit the call’s stated Purpose will be selected. 


Eligibility questions 

Who is eligible to apply?
The principal investigators (PIs) must have independent research programs (e.g., tenured or tenure-track faculty or similar positions) at the time of proposal submission, however other members of the team do not need to have this qualification. All personnel must be affiliated with an eligible institution. We believe that diverse perspectives are vital to science and welcome LOIs from researchers who are members of underrepresented groups and/or have followed less-traditional career paths.

Is the opportunity open to international researchers? 
Yes. Both US and international researchers may apply through institutions that conduct charitable activities.

What institutions are eligible?  
Nonprofit institutions with current 501(c)(3) Public Charity status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), government entities, IRS-recognized tribes, and other organizations that conduct charitable activities are eligible. Applicants may not be private foundations as defined in Section 509(a) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Is there a recommended number of researchers on projects? 
No. Although collaborations are welcome there is no preference to the number of researchers on a project. We recommend no more than three PIs. 

What are the leadership guidelines for ADIs? 
We ask that, if awarded, the leader commit a minimum of 20% effort to the ADI research activities. On projects with multiple PIs, the 20% effort is distributed amongst the leaders. We ask that the individual PI’s levels of effort sum to at least 20%. 

Are multi-institution projects allowed? 
Yes. The Frontiers Group will accept one application for multi-institution projects provided that, if awarded, one institution acts as the lead and receives and manages all grant monies. Although sub-awards do not require our consent, each sub-award must be made in compliance with the requirements of the grant agreement including our policy of no indirect costs. 


Submission questions

How many LOIs may I submit? 
You may participate as a PI on up to two LOI submissions total per call.  

Does it cost money to submit an LOI? 
No. There is no cost to submit an LOI. 

How can I submit my LOI? 
We recommend that you use the template provided to prepare your LOI. We require that all submissions be in English on 8 ½ x 11-inch sized paper, using Arial, 11-point font, single spaced, with 1-inch margins top, bottom, left, and right. Submissions must consist of the following sections: cover page, project description, and PI biography. We require that you save your submission as a single PDF and upload it through the call’s submission portal. More information on submitting your LOI can be found in the call announcement. 

What information should I include on my cover page? 
The cover page should include the proposed project’s research title, PI(s) who would lead the project, and the PI’s institution affiliation(s) and contact information. There is no page limit for this section. We recommend 1–1½ pages maximum length. 

What information should I include in my project description? 
The project description should provide an overview of the project that you are submitting for consideration. We recommend that you include information such as how your project responds to the Purpose of the call; the relevance or timeliness of your proposed project; your project’s primary goals and/or milestones; the potential impact of your project; and how your approach(es) and/or team is particularly suited to complete your proposed project. No specific information is required. The page limit for project description is 1 page. The page limit does not include a figure or references.  

May I include references?
Yes. You may include up to five references at the end of the project description. References would not count toward the 1-page limit. 

May I include a figure? 
Yes. You may include up to one figure at the end of the project description. A figure would not count toward the page count. 

What information should I include in my PI biography? 
Please feel free to tell us anything that you would like reviewers to know about yourself. We recommend that you provide a holistic description of your scientific activities to-date. The narrative may include your career milestones; key scientific discoveries; awards; teaching, mentoring and outreach activities; community building and inclusivity efforts; significant moments in your career growth; career challenges; and/or other information about why you are particularly suited to undertake your LOI project. No specific information is required. The page limit for a PI biography is 1 page. Please include one biography for each PI.  

May I include links in my PI biography?
No. We ask that all biography submissions follow the template provided. 

Is a budget narrative or budget outline required for the LOI?
No. No budgetary information is required. The research to be described is expected to fall within the range noted in the LOI, and those asked to submit proposals will then supply detailed budgetary information.

Does the LOI require institutional approval?
No. Institutional approval is not required for the LOI. 


Review questions

What is the review process for the LOI?
LOIs are confidentially reviewed by a panel of experts tailored for the topic, and this panel will make recommendations to the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a division of the Allen Institute, which acts as the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s agent and subject matter expert, provides counsel and supports the administration of the awards. The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation has the final decision on the award. Please refer to the LOI announcement for the number of LOIs that will be invited to submit full proposals for consideration. 

Who will review my LOI?
Reviewer identities as well as correspondence, evaluations and deliberations are kept confidential. This policy enables advisors and evaluators to provide their honest impressions independent of outside influence. Past awardees may be asked to act as future evaluators and advisors. 

What is the timeline for review?
We anticipate that decisions on the LOIs will be made by the end of May 2021. 

Will you provide reviewers comments/feedback on my LOI?
No. We do not provide feedback on LOIs.