The Challenge Fund FAQs

The IOP is committing £10m over four years to support innovative ideas - here's everything you need to know.


What is the IOP Challenge Fund?  

The IOP Challenge Fund is a commitment of £10m over four years from the IOP to support activities that will help deliver the IOP’s strategy ‘Unlocking the Future’.

The Fund seeks to maximise the societal and economic benefit of physics by supporting innovative ideas, programmes and partnerships that accelerate and sustain large-scale change.

The Fund is part of the IOP's operating budget that we have turned into a competitive funding stream.

How does the Fund work?  

The Fund has two ways of working:

  1. Responsive: where the IOP responds to ideas that come in from potential partners. This work can address any or all of the aims and ambitions set out in the IOP strategy ‘Unlocking the Future’.

  2. Directive: where IOP makes a specific call for proposals on a particular theme. The first of these is ‘Physics careers’, and others will follow in the coming weeks and months.

Who can apply to the Challenge Fund? 

Any UK or Ireland-based organisation, including charities, NGOs, businesses or government organisations (though we will not fund government organisations) working alone or in consortia. However, potential partners should be able to contribute further funding or in-kind support to the proposed project.

How is funding awarded? 

The Fund can provide support through grant funding, awarding contracts or direct investment. This is a flexible approach so that the most appropriate model can be employed for the selected projects.

What kinds of activities can I propose?

Proposals for responsive funding can be for any activity that will help to meet any or all of the aims and aspirations of ‘Unlocking the Future’. Directive calls may be more specific about the kinds of activities that will be considered.

What are the key selection criteria?  

The key criteria for selection are that proposals must be:

  • innovative and demonstrate potential for sustained national impact;

  • supported by credible evidence;

  • responsive to the aims and ambitions set out in ‘Unlocking the Future’ in news ways or at a scale not currently supported by existing funding streams; and

  • accessible, inclusive and seeking to increase participation from under-represented groups.

How much funding is available? 

The total amount committed by IOP to the Challenge Fund is £10m, to be spent over four years. This is not the total value of the work of the Challenge Fund, as the aim is to leverage in funding and support from other sources, including partners. In fact prospective partners are expected to bring some additional funding or support in kind.

Funding through the Fund will be for amounts of £100,000 or more.

What is the expected level of co-funding?

There is no minimum or maximum level of contribution required and it can take the form of direct finance or a contribution of resources from the organisation(s), or a contribution from a third-party funder or consortium.

What should I do if I have an idea that requires less than £100,000? 

Other IOP funding streams remain open, including our large and small grants funds. Ultimately we will align some of our funding streams so that organisations can build up to an application to the Challenge Fund.

How do I apply?

In the first instance, send us a Concept Note outlining your idea and an indication of the amount of funding or value of support sought. We do not expect many proposals to progress beyond the first stage, so this stage will be as light-touch as possible.

Those ideas that progress beyond the Concept Note stage will enter a detailed application process in which the next stages are a full application form and interviews.

What activities will be funded under the ‘Physics Careers’ call for proposals?  

The ‘Physics Careers’ call for proposals invites applicants to develop and deliver a project to boost skills and employment in new innovative sectors such as clean energy. The overall aims are to develop a workforce that will support the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ whilst helping to mitigate some of the impacts of Covid-19 on employment.

More specifically the project will ensure that those aged 16 through to graduates and those in work-based training programmes have access to high-quality, accessible careers information for academic and technical routes, and opportunities for skills development that are grounded in and accurately reflect the future needs of the UK and Irish economies, illustrating where and how a physics qualification (school, further education or higher education) can support employment.

This would require a combination of outputs such as high-quality careers information and advice; skills development programmes; advocacy with government, regulators and higher education institutions to enable training courses; and partnerships with industry bodies and organisations to promote careers.

What other themes will there be for directive funding under the Challenge Fund? 

We are planning to run calls on the following themes, which will be announced in the coming weeks and months:

  • A pilot programme working with industry, higher education and further education to create more opportunities for apprentices and technicians in physics-based roles;
  • Global leadership and strategic priorities in the physical sciences for the UK and Ireland; and

  • Mitigating the long-term impacts of Covid-19 on the physics community.