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The Futures Initiative is designed to enable scientists from different disciplines to focus on new questions, upon which they can base entirely new research, and to encourage and reward outstanding communication between scientists as well as between the scientific enterprise and the public.  The following information may be helpful in suggesting topics, specific instructions for which are provided below.

Futures Conferences
Futures Conferences are unique, bringing together some of the nation's best and brightest researchers from academic, industrial, and government laboratories to explore and discover interdisciplinary connections in important areas of cutting-edge research. Each year, researchers apply to attend the conference and some 100 outstanding researchers are invited to discuss ideas related to a single cross-disciplinary theme.  Participants gain not only a wider perspective on the theme, but also new insights and techniques that might be applied to their own work.  The Futures Initiative pays for all participants' travel and conference expenses.

Preconference Activities and Tutorials
Futures Conferences "begin" with a series of Webcast or podcast tutorials which take place two months prior to the conference.  The tutorials are intended to help conference attendees overcome differences in terminology used by researchers in various fields.  Attendees are strongly encouraged to view all of the tutorials online, or on CD-ROM or DVD, prior to the conference and to identify questions for a panel discussion that takes place on the first morning of the conference.

Seed Idea Challenge Teams
Conference participants spend the majority of the two-and-a-half day experience in "task groups" that address outstanding challenges or questions. Task Group topics are identified by the conference steering committee, and attendees are generally assigned to the Task Group of their choice.  Previous Task Groups have focused on topics such as:

  • Build a system that will detect disease in vivo and report back results. (See other nanotechnology task groups.)
  • How would you spend $100 million over the next five years to prevent the next pandemic flu? (See other genomics task groups.)
  • Develop a smart prosthetic that can learn better and/or faster. (See other smart prosthetics task groups.)

These groups consist of 10 to 12 conference attendees, and their composition is intentionally diverse to encourage the generation of new approaches to a problem by combining a range of different backgrounds and disciplines.  Each group is self-directed and explores the topic as it sees fit, providing a preliminary presentation to all conference attendees on day two of the conference, and presenting a final report on the last day of the conference.

Poster Sessions
Time is set aside during the conference for participants to present a poster on their most recent research so that participants have an opportunity to engage in technical discussions with fellow attendees.  Poster presentations are not required, and are often limited due to space and scheduling constraints.

Conference Steering Committee
Each year’s conference is planned by a Steering Committees selected by the NAKFI Oversight Committee, which consists of the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and Institute of Medicine (IOM).  Steering Committees are chaired by a member of NAS, NAE, or IOM, and include two additional representatives from each organization and four to six other members.

NAKFI Topics

The NAKFI Oversight Committee considers many ideas for Futures Initiative topics each year and bases its selection on each topic’s potential for engaging researchers at the intersections of science, engineering, and medical research to spark new discoveries.  Have an idea for a future NAKFI conference? Share it with us.

Futures Grants
The Futures Grants provide seed funding to Futures Conference participants on a competitive basis to enable them to pursue important new ideas and connections stimulated by the conferences.  Oftentimes, entire Task Groups (Interdisciplinary Challenge Teams), or individuals who made a connection at a networking event during the conference, apply for a grant together to further explore a line of inquiry initiated there. Grants are awarded up to $100,000.

Communication Awards
The Communication Awards are designed to recognize, promote, and encourage effective communication of science, engineering, medicine, and interdisciplinary work within and beyond the scientific community.  Each year the Futures Initiative honors and rewards individuals with $20,000 prizes, presented to those who have advanced the public's understanding and appreciation of science, engineering, and/or medicine.  These winners are honored during the Futures Conferences.