The Israel Science Foundation (ISF) is Israel's predominant source of
competitive grants funding basic research. Its roughly $60 million annual
budget funds more than 1,300 grants a year, providing 2/3 of all such funds. Every year,
more than 10,000 expert reviewers from Israel but most from abroad are involved in
peer-reviewing the scientific merit of the submitted proposals. The ISF awards grants
in all fields of:
· Exact Sciences and Technology
· Life Sciences and Medicine
· Humanities and Social Sciences
to Israeli researchers at Israeli universities, other institutions of higher education, research and medical centers. Most funds (96%) are provided by the Government
of Israel via the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) of the Israel Council
for Higher Education.
The ISF's roots stemmed from a modest 1972 allocation of the Israeli government to
the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to establish a Basic Research
Fund (BRF) which, even after a decade of operation, had an annual budget of
only about $400,000 a year. In comparison, Israel's binational grants programs
with the U.S. and Germany, founded at about the same time, each had budgets
10-20 times that size. The idea that Israel needed a major national science
foundation was long time in coming.
In 1986, at the request of the prime Minister at the time, Mr. Shimon Peres,
the Israel Academy, under the leadership of Prof. Joshua Jortner,
issued a landmark report documenting the emerging crisis in Israeli basic
research and a masterplan which called for substantial increases in national
funding. That same year, the C. H. Revson Foundation (USA) issued a report
by Prof. Alex Keynan which reached similar conclusions. In a remarkable spirit
of cooperation, the Israel Academy, the PBC and the international philanthropic
community then began to tackle the problem jointly. The Academy founded an
Endowment Fund for Basic Research with the help of the C. H. Revson
Foundation; and the PBC also decided to vastly increase its annual allocation
to the BRF. Within a single decade, these initiatives increased the BRF's
budget 10-fold. In 1992, the BRF reconstituted itself as the Israel Science
Foundation (ISF), now a legally independent non-profit organization.
Although its growth is temporarily stalled by a broader budgetary crisis in
Israeli higher education, the ISF budget is expected to expand, and double itself
over the next five years, according to the 2007 Shochat report.
The core of the ISF is its highly successful competitive grants program for individual researchers. Each proposal must first pass a mail review by 6-8 highly specific, world-class experts, and then broader review by a discipline-specific Professional Committee (peer review
panel). Only about 35% of the proposals are funded, all graded as outstanding
and excellent. Actual grant amounts depend on reviewer assessments of both scientific excellence and need.
The ISF also supports a variety of newer programs designed to help keep
Israel within the international competition, in forefront areas of modern science. ISF
equipment grants contribute up to half the full cost of the expensive (up to
$1.5 million) state-of-the-art equipment systems. ISF Centers of Excellence
grants of up to $1.5 million each, spread over four years, support multi-
institutional, multidisciplinary initiatives in fields of Israeli research
strength. ISF workshops showcase the latest ISF research results, while
providing Israeli scientists personal contact with world leaders in their fields.
The ISF also helps the Israeli scientific community exploit major new
opportunities as they arise. For example, in conjunction with the Israel
Academy, the ISF acted to ensure Israel's participation in developing the crucial
ATLAS detector for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment at the European
Center for Nuclear Research (CERN). The LHC is seeking the Higgs boson,
the proposed source of all mass. The ISF also administers Israel's highly
innovative FIRST program (see link).
The ISF continues to innovate, introducing new programs almost every year. This, together with the continually rising number of ISF grant applicants and grantees, require a consistently growing ISF budget. It is our hope, that despite recent difficulties in the national funding of Israeli higher education (including academic research), this trend will continue, so that the ISF can expand Israeli academic research and research infrastructure.