Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Engage the public with STFC’s science, technology and facilities

Apply for funding to engage the public with STFC-supported science, technology or facilities.

You must work for an organisation that:

  • is based in the UK
  • has audited accounts.

Proposals must include a researcher in an STFC-funded area.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £125,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Your project will last approximately 36 months.

Who can apply

Host institution

Organisations that apply must be based in the UK.

STFC can only fund organisations that have audited accounts. If this does not describe your organisation, you must work in partnership with an organisation that can receive the funding on your behalf.

Applicant eligibility

Almost anyone can apply for a Nucleus award, including:

  • grant funded researchers
  • STFC scientists and engineers
  • facility users
  • schools
  • museums
  • science communicators
  • universities
  • colleges.

The principal applicant must be eligible to apply on behalf of the organisation that would hold the award.

Every application must include a researcher in an STFC-funded area of science or technology. While these researchers often play an active role in delivering the engagement activities, this is not mandatory. They may act as an adviser on the scientific content.

If applicants have any questions about applicant eligibility, please contact the Public Engagement team: and we will advise on how you may proceed.

Previous applicants

Applicants may apply for a Nucleus award for any new idea or evolution of a project that has been previously supported by an STFC Spark award. Resubmissions of previous applications that can demonstrate that feedback received during the peer review process has been addressed.

Applicants seeking funding for the continuation or further development of a programme previously funded by an STFC Nucleus award should apply for a Legacy award.

What we're looking for

Scheme remit

STFC Nucleus award holders undertake high quality programmes of public engagement that inspire and involve target audiences with stories of STFC science, technology and facilities. Award holders may also use Nucleus awards to create and sustain public engagement networks that develop communities of practice.

Engagement programmes

Proposed engagement programmes must either:

  • clearly focus on the remit of the STFC science programme
  • clearly and demonstrably align to the science and technology work of STFC’s national and international laboratories and facilities.

STFC’s remits are:

  • astronomy
  • solar and planetary science
  • particle physics
  • particle astrophysics
  • cosmology
  • nuclear physics
  • accelerator science.

Nucleus awards will not be awarded unless there is a strong and demonstrable link between the proposed activities and STFC science and technology.

Network and capacity building programmes

Nucleus awards may also be used for activities that are dedicated to developing community networks or capacity building in public engagement. This may be the sole purpose of a Nucleus award, or an application may combine engagement activities and networking into a coherent package.

Nucleus awards and STFC’s Wonder initiative

The Wonder initiative is about giving under-served communities an equal voice by listening, understanding, and responding to what people want to know about science and technology. Wonder marks a long-term commitment by STFC public engagement to move our focus towards audience-driven public engagement with under-served communities in the most socio-economically deprived areas of the UK. Financial support through Nucleus awards will become an important part of the Wonder initiative.

The target audience for Wonder is defined according to indices of multiple deprivation. Specifically, STFC are interested in supporting audience-driven engagement that works with audiences, particularly those eight to 14 years old and their families and carers, from the 40% most socio-economically deprived areas of the UK.

STFC defines the 40% most socio-economically deprived areas of the UK as those areas listed in the bottom two quintiles of the indices of multiple deprivation for the respective part of the UK.

Applicants are explicitly invited to submit Nucleus awards that work with the Wonder target audience.

We encourage applications that propose engagement with audiences considered to have low ‘science capital’.

Applicants may choose which audiences to engage with and the methods of engagement. These must be outlined in the proposal.

Nucleus awards will not be awarded for the sole purpose of authorship and publication of books and novels, though proposals in which the production of a book is an output of a wider programme will be considered.

Linking to the STFC public engagement strategy

Applicants should use their proposal to clearly explain how their Nucleus award will further the aims of the STFC public engagement strategy.

Applications that highlight the social, ethical, and economic benefits of research are welcomed.

Applicants are encouraged to propose novel or innovative approaches towards engagement as part of their Nucleus award, as long as these are demonstrably well-planned and have clearly defined audiences.

STFC focuses heavily on evaluation and applicants must provide a clear evaluation plan showing details of how the outputs, outcomes and impacts of the Nucleus award will be captured and evaluated.

We require applicants to report on the outcomes of their Nucleus award in line with the STFC Public Engagement Evaluation framework, which describes our approach towards effective engagement. We suggest that applicants should familiarise themselves with the framework and consider how it could be used to evaluate their engagement programme from its inception. Applicants are reminded that evaluation costs can be included within the overall budget.

Funding available

The Public Engagement Nucleus award scheme falls under the full economic costs framework. Therefore, all costs that contribute to the full economic cost of the proposal should be included under the cost headings as shown in the ‘applying for a grant’ section of the STFC Research Grants Handbook. As the Nucleus award scheme has no capital budget, applicants cannot request funds under the equipment heading.

The maximum value that may be sought by organisations covered by full economic cost is £125,000 and the maximum payable by STFC is £100,000.

For non-full economic cost organisations, the maximum that can be applied for (and awarded) is £100,000.

Other than the restrictions outlined below, there are no set restrictions on the type of costs that may be applied for. For example, contributions to salaries, cost of materials, and travel and subsistence are eligible.

What the scheme will not fund

The following costs are ineligible for support through Nucleus awards:

  • projects where the target audiences are not primarily within the UK
  • fees or honoraria to people already in paid employment to visit or give talks at schools, societies and so on where such activities would reasonably be undertaken as part of their normal duties
  • costs for hardware or equipment over the individual value of £10,000
  • infrastructure funding or costs for building construction and maintenance
  • projects where it is clear that the whole project would go ahead irrespective of STFC support
  • retrospective funding, including those projects with a start date after the closing date but before the funding decisions are announced
  • contingency funds.

For applicants from or for schools, note the following ineligible costs:

  • programmes of formal education
  • school trips to CERN and trips to other laboratories, observatories and science venues unless they are intrinsic to a wider public engagement project.

Nucleus awards for new digital content

Ongoing issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic could make traditional engagement modes more challenging than they have been in for previous Nucleus awards funding opportunities.

For this opportunity we are continuing to be receptive to applications that consider the appropriateness of remote and virtual methodologies for enabling effective two-way engagement as a potential focal area for their work. We are also continuing to be less stringent regarding the previous restriction whereby we would only consider funding digital content (for example websites, videos) as an intrinsic part of a wider engagement programme.

Where applications are focused on face-to-face delivery, applicants are encouraged to actively consider mitigation and contingency planning should the intended activity delivery not be possible due to potential issues arising as a result of COVID-19.

Applicants should take account of the current status of any restrictions at the time of submitting their application. Both STFC and the funding panel will assess these ‘in good faith’, recognising that many aspects of this may be subject to change beyond the applicant’s control.

Any application for digital content needs to include:

  • a demonstration of the ‘evidence of need’ for any proposed content, and gaps in current provision of such material
  • evidence that the target audience for any content will be involved in the design and production of such content
  • a plan to facilitate audience participation and two-way engagement
  • a plan (and budget) for keeping the content sustainable in the future
  • information on licensing in order to promote sharing and re-use of the digital content
  • acknowledgement of web accessibility rules and regulations.

How to apply

Stage one: outline proposal

You must apply through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system by 16:00 on Thursday 27 January 2022.

To create the document in Je-S you will need to select the following options:

  • council: STFC
  • document type: outline proposal
  • scheme: Public Engagement Awards
  • call name: Nucleus Awards 2022 Stage 1.

Together with the relevant Je-S application form, you will need to provide the following attachments.

Outline proposal

Maximum of two sides of A4. The outline proposal should conform to the font and margin guidelines in the Je-S help text and must include the following:

  • a short overview of the proposed Nucleus award
  • the rationale for the Nucleus award, showing how activities will contribute to meeting the stated aims of the STFC public engagement strategy
  • a description of the key personnel involved in the project with details of who is responsible for delivering the different aspects of the Nucleus award
  • a high-level justification of resources that allows reviewers to make an informed judgement on whether the resources requested are appropriate for the proposed programme
  • details of the target audiences and how they will be reached through the proposed activities
  • an outline of the evaluation approach.

Letters of support

This should be from any project partners.

Other sections

At this stage we only require minimal information for this call and request that you complete the following sections:

  • project details
  • applicants
  • resource summary
  • objectives
  • summary
  • classifications
  • previous support.

However, you will note that there are other sections that are mandatory on the scheme, for example aims and project personnel, so to pass validation please enter ‘n/a’ or ‘see case for support’ in these text boxes.

If successful at the outline stage, you will need to submit a full proposal. The full proposal submission includes expanded proposal documentation that is assessed through written peer review commentary.

In addition to the Je-S form and letters of support, you will need to submit an eight-page case for support which needs to include:

  • an overview of your track record in public engagement
  • the project rationale
  • a plan for delivery of activities
  • a plan for network and capacity building
  • an evaluation plan
  • a dissemination plan
  • a justification of the resources requested.

Stage three is a panel interview. All stage two applicants attend a panel interview that will explore their proposal in more detail.

At stage four, final funding decisions are taken on by STFC on the basis of peer review evidence from stages two and three of the process.

STFC reserves the right to decline to participate in proposals at our discretion.
Please note that applications involving STFC as a project partner are treated no differently to other applications in the peer review and funding decision process.

How we will assess your application

Process overview

Nucleus awards are assessed by a four-stage peer review process.

Stage one: outline proposal submission

Applications are discussed by a peer review panel, which invites a number of proposals to stage two of the process.

All applications are initially discussed by an independent panel of peer reviewers. The peer review panel will have a range of expertise in outreach, engagement, education and communication of science and technology. The panel will also have knowledge of STFC facilities and grant funded research.

The panel selects a number of applicants to go forward to stage two of the scheme. The panel uses the stage one assessment criteria as the basis for selection for interview:

  • has the applicant clearly described the different engagement, networking and capacity building activities planned as part of the Nucleus award?
  • has the applicant clearly identified their rationale for the proposed programme and provided suitable evidence of the need for such work?
  • does the applicant detail key personnel who are going to carry out the proposed programme of work and do they have the necessary expertise to do so effectively?
  • has the applicant provided a high-level breakdown of the costs and are they appropriate for the proposed programme of work?
  • has the applicant identified the target audience(s) for their activities and how they intend to reach them?
  • has the applicant provided a credible overview of their approach towards evaluating the activities proposed?
  • is the proposal accompanied by a strong letter of support from each project partner?

We aim to advise all applicants of the outcome of their stage one application within six weeks of the closing date. Applicants who are successful at stage one will receive feedback on their application and will be invited to submit a second application, through the Je-S system, for consideration under the following peer review processes.

Applicants short-listed on the basis of their written application will be provided with feedback on any aspect of the application that the panel would like to explore further at the interview stage. Feedback will also be provided to applicants who were unsuccessful through Je-S.

STFC’s decisions are final.

Scheme flexibility

STFC intends this scheme to be flexible and reserves the right to deal with applications of unusual character and to waive any rule at its absolute discretion.

Contact details

Ask a question about this opportunity


Telephone: 07598 404139


Should applicants wish to discuss the ability of STFC to participate in their proposal, the following individuals are appropriate first points of contact for the major national laboratory sites:

Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk.


Telephone: 01793 444164

Opening times: Je-S opening times

Additional info

Scheme conditions and features

STFC Public Engagement Nucleus awards are governed by the grant conditions as set out in the Research Grants Handbook, unless otherwise stated. Applications are accepted and awards are made on the understanding that research organisations and Nucleus award holders agree to observe the terms and conditions and the scheme requirements set out in this document and any amendments issued.

Movement between institutions

Applicants must take up the award at the host institution identified in the application. STFC will not allow a Public Engagement Nucleus award holder to change their host institution prior to taking up an award.

Consideration will be given to requests during the course of an award to relocate the grant to a different institution for scientific or domestic reasons. The agreement of the institutions concerned will be required before seeking approval from STFC.

Reporting and liaison with STFC

Public Engagement Nucleus award holders will be required to provide reports of activities to the STFC Public Engagement team when requested. STFC reserves the right to request periodic information or to visit the Public Engagement Nucleus award holder. Nucleus award holders will be expected to meet with the STFC public engagement grants mentor a minimum of twice a year.

The Nucleus award holder may also be asked to attend meetings to exchange information and ideas with others undertaking STFC public engagement activities.

The Public Engagement Nucleus award holder must make all reasonable efforts, if so invited, to respond to requests for information or to attend events or activities organised by the research council concerning the research undertaken. Such events may be held after a grant has finished.

Public Engagement Nucleus award holders will be expected to attend an annual meeting of all STFC Public Engagement award holders. This may be a face-to-face or virtual meeting, depending upon COVID-19 restrictions.

Public Engagement Nucleus award holders are expected to regularly update the record of their grant using the research council reporting tool, Researchfish, in line with the STFC Public Engagement Evaluation framework. Comprehensive Researchfish returns are an essential part of STFC public engagement funding policy development.

There are additional questions for STFC public engagement grant holders. This enables STFC to easily extract data regarding the impact of the work of our Nucleus Award holders whenever required, and serves as a database of impacts (outputs, outcomes and reach) for an award holder’s own reference.

To assist with their Researchfish return, Public Engagement Nucleus award holders are also required, throughout their award, to collect data relevant to their activities in the STFC public engagement metrics spreadsheet and send it to the Public Engagement team once a year. Read guidance on how to fill in the public engagement questions on Researchfish and the metric spreadsheet.

Public Engagement Nucleus award holders will be required to provide reports of activities to the STFC Public Engagement team when requested. STFC reserves the right to request periodic information or to visit the Public Engagement Nucleus award holder. Nucleus award holders will be expected to meet with the STFC Public Engagement grants mentor a minimum of twice a year.

The Nucleus award holder may also be asked to attend meetings to exchange information and ideas with others undertaking STFC public engagement activities. The Public Engagement Nucleus award holder must make all reasonable efforts, if so invited, to respond to requests for information or to attend events or activities organised by the research council concerning the research undertaken. Such events may be held after a grant has finished.

Publication, resources and acknowledgement of support

Publications and other forms of media communication, including media appearances, press releases and conferences, must acknowledge the support received from STFC, quoting the grant reference number if appropriate.

Resources produced as a result of any grants should acknowledge STFC (as part of UKRI) as the funding source, using the standard format agreed by funders and publishers and detailed in the additional information accompanying this grant.

In order to ensure appropriate coordination and opportunities to increase the impact of engagement, external media activity produced as a result of this award must be signed off by the STFC Media team before the activity takes place, or is published. This includes press releases, online videos and media briefings.

Award holders are responsible for giving STFC sufficient notice in advance of activities such that STFC can advise on content or build the activities of grant holders into our own communications and engagement programmes.

It is the responsibility of the research organisation, and all engaged in the research, to make every reasonable effort to ensure that the intellectual assets obtained in the course of the research, whether protected by intellectual property rights or not, are used to the benefit of society and the economy.

Outcomes and resources should be disseminated or made available to both research and more widespread audiences, for example to inform potential users and beneficiaries of the research.

Unless stated otherwise, the ownership of all intellectual assets, including intellectual property, and responsibility for their application, rests with the organisation that generates them.

STFC may, in individual cases, reserve the right to retain ownership of intellectual assets, including intellectual property (or assign it to a third party under an exploitation agreement) and to arrange for it to be exploited for the national benefit and that of the research organisation involved. This right, if exercised, will be clearly set out in an additional grant condition.

There should be suitable recognition and reward to researchers who undertake activities that deliver benefit through the application of research outcomes. The research organisation must ensure that all those associated with the research are aware of, and accept these arrangements.


It is a condition of every grant that STFC accepts no liability for the manner in which the work in connection with the grant is undertaken, and the research organisation and Nucleus award holder will be responsible in all respects for the work and the consequences of it.

Termination of awards

A grant may be terminated, or its conditions varied, at any time at the absolute discretion of STFC.

Should the Nucleus award holder leave their institution for another research organisation or an alternative type of employment, they must notify the Public Engagement team immediately. If it is not possible to transfer the grant then STFC will terminate payments from the day immediately after the Nucleus award holder leaves the host institution.

Failure to submit reports will result in termination of the award unless there are mitigating reasons.

Our expectations of our Nucleus award holders

Award holders will:

  • deliver high-quality public engagement activities during the lifetime of the award
  • raise the profile and standards of public engagement within their host organisation or professional community, including sharing best practice and developing new talent
  • champion STFC science and technology, including the impact of science and technology on society
  • regularly interact with STFC’s public engagement and communication teams, including participation in STFC networks, events and advisory structures when requested.

Terms of reference

Aims of the Public Engagement Nucleus Awards panel

The panel’s aims are:

  • to assess and make recommendations to the STFC executive for the awards in public engagement
  • to take account, as appropriate, of any strategic advice provided by STFC
  • to take account, as appropriate, of the recommendations of external reviewers and the conclusion of specialist peer review panels
  • to provide clear concise feedback to applicants
  • to advise the science board and executive as required on all issues relating to research grants including monitoring the level of funding allocated to grants per round
  • to liaise with other bodies as necessary
  • to carry out other tasks associated with peer review that the executive might require.

The peer review conclusions may be convened by the executive to include consolidated grants, contiguous groups of research requests, or research requests which are judged (on the basis of cost or propriety) with regard to the terms of reference for the panel.

Guidelines for managing conflicts of interest in the peer review process

STFC, as a publicly funded organisation, is accountable to government and the public for its actions and for the way it conducts its business which must be undertaken in a way that is transparent and guards against conflicts of interest influencing the outcome of decisions. Further information for managing conflicts as an STFC panel member can be found here.

Equality of opportunity

The STFC is fully committed to ensuring that all applicants receive equal treatment throughout the peer review process and will provide the necessary training and support to panel members and peer reviewers.

STFC policies on inclusion and diversity

STFC will keep these policies under review to ensure that its policies and practices reflect best practice and enable full compliance under the Equality Act 2010.


STFC will distribute peer review papers through a secure extranet and all information must be considered as confidential, the contents should not be disclosed. The confidential nature is intended to ensure that the contents of the proposals and reviews are not made known more widely than is necessary for proper consideration by the peer review panels. Names of reviewers are not disclosed to applicants and neither are those of the lead introducer for the proposals.

Security and data protection

Applications, independent reviews and principal investigator responses are available to panel members via the peer review extranet (STFC’s preferred method for sharing data).

Strict controls on data security and data handling are currently in place for government departments and government-funded organisations, including the research councils.

Panel members must not save data (on to laptops, discs or hard drives) and if printed copies of any of the documents are made, these must be shredded after use.

Panel membership

  • Bridget Holligan, Science Oxford (chair)
  • Pete Edwards, Durham University
  • Clare Harvey, The Ogden Trust
  • Laura Wicks, Heriot-Watt University
  • Victoria Pearson, The Open University.

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