I am currently hired as a research track scientist not funded directly by the university. As part of my contract agreement, I am required to secure my own funding in order to remain hired. However, government funding has dried up drastically over the last few years, and my best and just about only shot is to seek private sponsorships. A brief conversation with the department chair has confirmed that the department doesn't really care too much about the source of funding as much as whether I can get sufficient funding or not.

Given all of this, does anyone have any suggestions for a list of private individuals or organizations willing to fund basic research in theoretical physics without any immediate practical applications? How should I go about contacting such private sponsors, and what is the proper protocol for asking them for money? It appears most funders in the private sector care mostly about getting short term commercial monetary returns from what they prefer to call an "investment" instead of funding. How can I encourage them to think about longer term benefits which might take as many as a few generations to reap?

In my experience, sarcastic remarks along the lines of Benjamin Franklin's "What's the use of a newborn baby?" or Michael Faraday's "One day you may tax it." go on very badly to people in the private sector.

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    Not all private companies are concerned only with return on investment. Eli Lilly & Co. is well known for public funding of basic research, even outside their market sector (pharmaceuticals).
    – Ben Norris
    Dec 19 '13 at 13:18
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    Note that research gifts from private companies are often much smaller than what you'll get from, e.g., the NSF (by about an order of magnitude or so).
    – Dnuorg Spu
    Dec 19 '13 at 15:53
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    Where do you want to look for funding ?? I mean, Its difficult to answer the question when the country is unknown. Dec 19 '13 at 18:36
  • We could help you, what is your email address¿ Dec 30 '13 at 18:37

Step in their shoes and figure out what they would be gaining from giving money to you. The question is not only about the benefits as such, but who will benefit. 'One day you may tax it' may be actually reasonable to a large government, but it is absolute nonsense to a private company, who will NOT be able to tax it when other companies use it. "What's the use of a newborn baby" also implies that the adult will be useful - but it will NOT be useful to the company unless they can own & control that long-future result.

In general, if you want to get industry funding for research where the results cannot be commercialized in the short term, then anyway your results have to be valuable from them in particular, rather than the whole industry including their competitors. So if it's too early to produce a commercial product/process, at the very least the end result should be some protected IP - usually patents - that would be a property of the funding organization.

If it's an investment, then take a look at how large the return benefit would be, when would that be, and how likely it is that it will/won't work out. If it's a 'sponsorship', well, sponsorships generally are a PR/marketing issue - in order for that to work out, the company needs your research and/or your name to be visible and known (not to academia but to their customers), so that they'd get some marketing benefit by their customers seeing (a lot of) their association with you and/or your research topic. It sometimes happens (for example, with high-end audio products; or IBM's Watson project is a case of such PR), but it's clearly not an option for most researchers.

An alternative might be private philantrophists - but that is based on individual relations, connections to very rich individuals, and your PR ability to convinve them that your research is so valuable to the world. Looking at how some other researchers have achieved such funding, it generally requires writing a popular book or a few of them, and years of public promotion of your research direction and ideas; that seed tends to grow into an ability to fundraise for continuing such research.


Funding from industry is generally going to be tied to the ability for them to leverage it into profit. Funding from non-profits are not always interested in making money, but they ant to be able to leverage it into profit, donations, or press. Generally you need to talk to potential finders about their interests and tailor your research to meet their needs and wants.

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