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News | July 14, 2020

DoD Announces Recipients of the Newton Award for Transformative Ideas during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Department of Defense announced $650,000 in funding to 13 recipients of the Newton Award for Transformative Ideas during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“We were blown away by the overwhelming response and the ingenuity and creativity in the proposals we reviewed,” said Dr. JihFen Lei, acting director of defense research and engineering for research and technology. “We look forward to seeing where the development of these ideas leads us.”

The award, named in honor of Sir Isaac Newton’s achievements in mathematics, optics, and gravitation during the Great Plague of London in 1665, sought “transformative ideas” to resolve challenges, advance frontiers, and set new paradigms in research of immense potential benefit to the DOD and the nation at large during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The award challenged researchers to propose novel conceptual frameworks or theory-based approaches that utilized analytical reasoning, calculations, simulations, and thought experiments. The competition was open to affiliated researchers from degree-issuing institutions of higher education accredited in, and having a campus located in the U.S., its territories and possessions, as well as researchers from University Affiliated Research Centers.

Lei noted the solutions developed could revolutionize both civilian and military science.

“Some of the questions to be explored include how self-assembly occurs for living and non-living structures, or whether a mathematics of complexity could be developed,” said Lei. “How does complexity emerge during brain development? Will we solve the black hole information problem? How can we design sensors with microbes? What does stochasticity really mean? What are the limits of Newton’s 2nd law? Can we achieve table-top thermonuclear fusion? How does epigenetic cell memory work? Can we develop ultra-compact laser amplification?” she said.

DOD received 548 proposals for the Newton Award. These proposals came from 184 institutions spread across 41 states and the District of Columbia. Forty-one of the proposals came from historically black colleges and universities or other minority-serving institutions. Proposals spanned topic areas ranging from applied mathematics and quantum physics to the social sciences and disease ecology, and were reviewed by subject-matter experts in the DOD, other US government agencies, and the academic community.

The selected projects will be led by researchers at Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Syracuse University, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, San Diego, the University of Central Florida, the University of Michigan, and the University of New Mexico.

Each project will receive $50,000 over a six-month period of performance, and Newton Award recipients will brief the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering leadership at the end of the award period of performance. Additional Newton Award recipients may be announced as funds become available.

For a list of the Newton Award funded projects, click here.

To learn more, visit

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) is responsible for the research, development, and prototyping activities across the Department of Defense. OUSD(R&E) fosters technological dominance across the DOD ensuring the unquestioned superiority of the American joint force. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter: @DoDCTO