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University of Wisconsin–Madison

New round of Research Forward initiative opens Oct. 11, calling for projects that spark diverse collaborations

In just two years since it was launched, the Research Forward initiative is living up to goals of stimulating innovative and groundbreaking research at UW–Madison that is collaborative, multidisciplinary and potentially transformative.

Look no further for evidence of that, than a project inspired by Audrey Gasch, genetics professor and director of the Center for Genomic Science Innovation, and Mark Craven, professor of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics. They are co-principal investigators (PIs) on a Research Forward project, “An integrative Computational and Experimental System for Interpreting Genomic Variation.”

Chosen in the inaugural round of the initiative in 2021, the project is showing early signs of success and Gasch shares advice for those applying for funding in the next round of Research Forward, which opens on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

The Gasch-Craven team draws on UW–Madison’s unique strengths in data science; computational network inference; statistical, biochemical and evolutionary genomics; and high-throughput screening. Together, the team seeks to develop new computational methods to understand genotype-phenotype relationships in human patients. The primary focus is to identify genetic variants that cause rare disorders in human patients.

Gasch’s suggestion to those applying for a Research Forward grant is to look outside your lab, especially those that integrate research approaches from different disciplines, to find diverse perspectives to tackling complex research problems.

Research Forward is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE). The estimated amount of funding requested may be up to $500,000. Equipment requests are limited to a maximum of $10,000 for each year.

The on-line application instructions and a link to the application form  are available at: A cover sheet with a 400-word abstract is due Nov. 11 and the complete proposal is due Jan. 23, 2023  The initiative is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and will provide funding for 1–2 years, depending on the needs and scope of the project.

Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Steve Ackerman explains that Research Forward in intended to develop new collaborative multidisciplinary research programs, like Gasch’s, and support novel infrastructure that helps advance research programs to new levels. The initiative seeks to fund research projects that have the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study as well as projects that require significant development prior to the submission of applications for external funding.

Collaborative research proposals are welcome from within any of the four divisions (Arts & Humanities, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences), as are cross-divisional collaborations.

“I especially encourage arts and humanities faculty to think broadly about collaborative research projects that have the potential to reshape our fields of study,” says Florence Hsia, associate vice chancellor for research in the arts and humanities. “This is a real opportunity to work with colleagues in different disciplines on developing such lines of inquiry.”

With its collaborations across campus, Gasch’s project has done just that.

Organizing around the Research Forward program has supported a successful $3M grant from the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) with Craven as PI (as part of the new NHGRI flagship collaborative project called IGVF, Gasch notes.

The project also has fostered an outstanding opportunity for summer undergraduate research. The Biomedical Data Science Summer Research Opportunity Program hosts summer undergraduate students from under-represented groups for an intensive summer research experience.

“For the last two summers, we incorporated a new model in which all students work collaboratively on research supported by the Research Forward award, under the mentorship of a faculty on the project,” Gasch explains. “These experiences also contributed ongoing results for a grant application to the National Library of Medicine to support short-term trainee fellowships to expand diversity in data science.”

“Diversity is a source of strength, creativity, and innovation for UW–Madison,” says Cynthia Czajkowski, associate vice chancellor for research in the biological sciences. “ The launch of a new research endeavor provides an opportunity to broaden participation and strengthen inclusion in the UW–Madison research enterprise through the intentional adoption of best practices at the earliest stages of the new initiative.”

Research Forward applicants are asked to include a summary describing plans for the structure and leadership of their proposed Research Forward activity, including the integration of approaches designed and/or selected to support the team’s goals for a diverse and inclusive research environment.

Amy Stambach, professor of anthropology, received a Research Forward grant for her project, “Resilience, recognition and ritual: Human engagement with disease, death, and dying.”

The project aims to advance the understanding of human engagement with disease, death and dying, in order to discover commonalities and create new systems that support a more resilient and equitable world.

“Integrating researchers from the arts, humanities, biological sciences, physical sciences and social sciences, this initiative studies the interconnections between physical and cultural aspects of heath within contexts of massive ecological and social disruption,” Stambach notes. “Death is not only about the cessation of biological functions; it is also about social change and life’s values. Our vision is to create a blueprint for how societies mobilize to handle eco-social crises during times of rapid change.”

Deniz Yavuz, professor of physics, and his diverse Research Forward project team, which includes students and research interns across three departments, believes that their recent experimental results have put them in a good place to successfully attract external funding.

“This project (“Compact and Efficient Terahertz Optical Modulators”) is truly collaborative and interdisciplinary, and it has three key components,” Yavuz explains. ”It brings together laser and nonlinear optics expertise (Department of Physics), glass resonators expertise (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering), and expertise in tapered optical fibers (Department of Chemistry). Without these three key components, it would not have been possible to make progress on this project. “

For questions regarding eligibility for Research Forward or submitting an abstract or full proposal, please contact the appropriate divisional Associate Vice Chancellor for Research.

A faculty committee of subject matter experts will review the proposals to identify those that hold the most promise for meeting the goals of this initiative. The committee will then make recommendations to the OVCRGE, which will make final selections.


By Natasha Kassulke,, (608) 219-8042