The Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) Initiative was initially approved in 2013 by the Moore Foundation’s board of trustees for five years. The initiative aims to stimulate breakthroughs that fundamentally change our understanding of the organizing principles of complex matter in solid materials. In its first phase, the initiative supported experimental investigators, materials synthesis investigators and fellows, and theory centers, along with funding for equipment grants and community- building activities.
An external independent evaluation of the initiative’s first phase was conducted by RTI International from June 2017 through May 2018. The evaluation assessed whether the strategies pursued by EPiQS were appropriate for achieving the desired outcomes and whether these strategies were implemented effectively. Evaluators also provided insights on the initiative’s results and how these results have influenced the field of quantum materials. The evaluation integrated the findings of a panel of scientific experts who assessed the scientific impact of the initiative’s first phase and identified future opportunities in the field of quantum materials.
Lessons from the external evaluation and expert panel report include:
- The impact of research grants can be amplified through community-building efforts. While the majority of EPiQS grants are to individual researchers, the initiative has also supported the community through activities such as symposia and scientist exchange programs. The evaluators highlighted this as an effective approach for stimulating new collaborations and validated the idea that supporting community-building activities can help enhance the impact of individual scientists.
- A novel application process, combined with a thoughtful selection criteria, can yield top grantees. Evaluators concluded that the competition and selection process for investigator awards elicited proposals that are different from research likely to be funded by federal sources, particularly in the field of quantum materials. Both successful and unsuccessful applicants for EPiQS funding commented that the proposal format and requirements challenged them to think about their research in a more creative way and submit more innovative ideas. In addition, the expert panel noted that EPiQS’ review criteria identified the most potent predictors of success.
- Supporting postdoctoral researchers is an effective mechanism for growing the pipeline of researchers in the field of quantum materials. EPiQS supports postdocs at theory centers as well as the postdocs working with investigators and other EPiQS PIs. The evaluators highlighted the positive effect that this approach has had on expanding opportunities for talented young researchers to enter the field of quantum materials and launch their careers. Evaluators concluded that the support that postdocs have received from the initiative has better prepared them to become the next generation of leading quantum materials researchers.
- When making grants designed to provide researchers with unconstrained funding and increased flexibility, it’s important to clarify expectations for research outcomes. EPiQS awards are designed to provide researchers with the flexibility and freedom to innovate, and both the evaluators and expert panel noted the significant benefits and successes afforded by this approach. However, the evaluators also found that some grantees were unsure of what the foundation expected in terms of research outcomes at the end of their award. In the future, EPiQS will take additional steps to remove ambiguities that some grantees have about these expectations.
- Developing progress metrics for a basic science funding portfolio can be challenging. The evaluators identified some of the challenges involved in developing meaningful metrics for assessing the progress and impact of the initiative. Several of these challenges are due to the nature of funding basic science. For example, there is a long time-lag between EPiQS activities and their potential final outcomes, as well as difficulty determining precise attribution of outcomes to the initiative.
The external evaluation and expert panel reports were useful in identifying both successes and challenges with the initiative’s work. In addition, both reports helped validate the effectiveness of the EPiQS strategies and how they have been implemented. Findings also helped inform the design of the initiative’s second phase. This includes a restructured measurement framework and a decision to expand support for theorists outside of theory centers. Overall, both the evaluation and expert panel confirmed that the field of quantum materials is an important area for continued investment.