Research funding comes in many forms, and covers many different types of research. Funds may be used for the more traditional hard sciences, or for the so-called soft sciences, like sociology or psychology. Generally, research funding is a highly competitive areas, with different groups vying for rather limited sources of funding.
Research funding may come from the government, from individuals, or from corporations or foundations, can range in amount, from smaller micro-funding situations to enormous, ongoing funding situations for large-scale projects. Research funding is generally a large part of any country’s budget, with most nations allocating anywhere between 1% and 3% of their GDP to funding research, and certain nations, like Sweden, allocating between 3% and 4% of their budget.
In the United States there are many different organizations that offer research funding to different areas of study. The single largest provider of research funding is, without a doubt, the United States military, which funds projects across the spectrum of the sciences and social sciences. Often, research funded by the military does not have any immediately apparent military application, but the military tries to keep many different avenues of research open to explore potential applications that may not be apparent from the beginning.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is an enormous research organization, with an annual budget in excess of $3.2 billion US Dollars (USD). DARPA funds all sorts of different technological research, and has been a major driver of technological innovation since its formation in 1958, in response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik into place. Many of the projects that DARPA has funded have gone on to find civilian uses, including the backbone which would eventually give way to the modern internet.
All of DARPA’s research is undertaken by outside organizations, which petition to DARPA for funds. As a result, DARPA can be an excellent source of research funding for technologically-directed studies. DARPA has a Strategic Plan, as well as outlines of what areas they are looking to fund. They also regularly release Broad Agency Announcements, which are solicitations for bids. These solicitations can be found at the Federal Business Opportunities directory.
Other government organizations also offer funding in different areas, and many of them also list their opportunities in the Federal Business Opportunities directory. For example, research funding in the areas of health can be granted by the National Institutes of Health, while non-health-related research in the sciences is covered by the National Science Foundation. Other nations have their own, similar, organizations, which offer grants and funding opportunities along similar lines.
Many private corporations or foundations also provide research funding for areas of interest to them, usually in return for a substantial holding in any discoveries, or for the right of first refusal to buy patents outright. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, may provide research funding to groups looking at new drugs, in exchange for the chance to purchase the patents to any discoveries the researchers make. Different foundations and corporations have their own guidelines for requests for funding, which are usually available online or by calling a central directory.