Schmidt Fund to advance science through support for transformative technology

Written by
Office of Communications
Oct. 13, 2009

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, have created a $25 million endowment fund at Princeton University for the invention, development and utilization of cutting-edge technology that has the capacity to transform research in the natural sciences and engineering.

Support from the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund will be awarded through a campus-wide peer-reviewed competition under the auspices of the University’s dean for research. The first competition will be announced later this fall.

“While progress in science and engineering can be catalyzed by entirely new theoretical insights, it is more often the case that revolutionary advances spring from the arrival on the scene of new technologies that allow investigators to explore unresolved questions with new tools, or to ask previously unapproachable questions,” said Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman. “This fund will allow Princeton’s scientists and engineers to explore truly innovative ideas that need the creation or application of new technologies, including the kinds of technological breakthroughs that most funding sources are too risk-averse to support.

“We are deeply grateful to Eric and Wendy not only for providing this support, but for providing the capacity and flexibility to make investments that are likely to have the broadest and most transformative impact,” Tilghman said.

The Schmidt Fund will be used to support the invention or implementation of entirely new technologies that will have a major impact on a field of research or to acquire a piece of equipment or an enabling technology that will change the direction of research in a field. Unlike most endowments, the fund will not need to be spent evenly from year to year. The dean for research will have discretion to recommend that no grants be awarded in years when there are no sufficiently compelling proposals, and to spend down principal as well as income in years when there are many compelling ideas. Funding may be for one year or over multiple years.

Requests for proposals will be issued annually to the faculty, beginning this fall. An internal peer review committee chaired by Dean for Research A.J. Stewart Smith and composed of leading scientists and engineers on the Princeton faculty will vet all proposals, and one or more experts from outside the University will review the dean’s recommendations before they are sent to the president for approval. 

“In coming to their recommendations the peer review committee and the outside experts will be asked to weigh the overall quality and innovativeness of the research being proposed as well as its significance and likely impact on the field,” Tilghman said. “The intent is to fund risk-taking projects, understanding that with risk comes not only the potential for huge reward, but some frequency of failure. What makes this fund unique is the donors’ willingness to accept that level of risk in return for the potential of truly exciting new discoveries.”

Eric Schmidt earned a BSE in electrical engineering from Princeton in 1976 and served as a Princeton trustee from 2004 to 2008.