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Merck Science Prizes, Awards, Grants and Challenges

Science at the heart of everything we do

As a vibrant science and technology company, we believe in harnessing the power of science to drive human progress. From advancing gene editing technologies and discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to pushing the boundaries of digital living – Merck is everywhere. Our passion for science and technology not only drives our 62,700 employees across 66 countries but helps to empower the scientific community. This is reflected in the multitude of prizes, awards and grants that are available to entrepreneurs, scientists and students with great ideas. More details about some of these open innovation opportunities are described below:

Future Insight prize

The Merck Future Insight prize was established on the occasion of Merck’s 350th anniversary in 2018 to honour and enable pioneering scientists who are striving to solve some of the biggest challenges facing humanity.

The prize, which includes a ‘no strings attached’ research grant of up to €1 million, is given out annually in the fields of health, nutrition or energy. Each year, a bold vision of a dream product is selected in a multi-step process featuring a distinguished jury of scientific peers – including many Nobel laureates – and then communicated to the world.

Dream products must be something that cannot be realized with an established science or technology but should be reachable within the next 35 years. The prize is typically awarded to a scientist who has already made promising advances but has even greater potential to make a significant groundbreaking contribution in the future. Ideas for visionary dream products to be considered for the Future Insight prize can be submitted to the Curious – Future Insight conference Dream Board.

The first topic selected for the Future Insight prize in 2018 was pandemic preparedness. The challenge was to identify a “pandemic protector” that can secure a clinical sample of a person infected with an unknown pathogen and then produce an agent for cure or to prevent infection of others within a clinically relevant timeframe. This prize was awarded in July 2019 to Pardis Sabeti from the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, United States (US), and to James Crowe from Vanderbilt University, US, and their teams. Both prizewinners went on to make a significant impact during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to demonstrate the visionary nature of the prize.

In 2020, the prize was dedicated to the identification of a dream product in the field of multi-drug-resistant bacteria that could “cure any bacterial infection without induction of drug resistance, empowered by a one-hour diagnostic test.” It was awarded to Stefan Sieber and his team from the Technical University of Munich, Germany.

In 2021, the prize was used to identify a technology in the field of nutrition that could help to sustainably feed a growing world population. The dream product would “convert any non-edible biomass into a readily edible fully nutritional food within one day without any biohazard.” The prize subsequently went to Ting Lu and his team from the University of Illinois, US, and Stephen Techtmann and his team from Michigan Technical University, US.

In 2022, the prize was allocated in the area of energy with the search for a dream product that could “generate a high-energy-density fuel from renewable energy, water and atmospheric carbon dioxide with an overall negative carbon dioxide balance.” The prize was awarded to Tobias Erb and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany (Fig. 1).

In 2023, the prize will be allocated once again in the field of pandemic preparedness, with the goal being to identify an “early alert system that constantly monitors circulating bacteria and viruses in all areas of the world with an early warning system for newly emerging pandemics.”

Anyone can bring suitable candidates to the attention of the jury by writing to

Figure 1. Award ceremony for Tobias Erb, winner of the 2022 Future Insight prize, at the Curious2022 – Future Insight conference. Credit: Silv Malkmus.

Emanuel Merck Lectureship

This annual award with a remuneration of €30,000 was jointly established by Merck and the University of Darmstadt, Germany, in 1992. It seeks to recognize globally renowned scientists who have made significant contributions to chemical and pharmaceutical research. In each of the subsequent 17 years, the award has been granted to eminent scientists worldwide, including four who went on to receive a Nobel prize. The winners are: John Hartwig (2022) (Fig. 2), Susumu Kitagawa (2019), Jennifer Doudna (2018), Phil Baran (2017), Paul Anastas (2015), Frances Arnold (2013), Carolyn Bertozzi (2011), Axel Ullrich (2009), Sir Harold Kroto (2007), George Whitesides (2005), Samuel Danishefsky (2003), Stuart Schreiber (2000), Jean-Pierre Changeaux (1998), Manfred Eigen (1996), Jean-Marie Lehn (1995), Kenneth Wade (1994), Albert Eschemoser (1993).

Figure 2. John Hartwig, winner of the 2022 Emanuel Merck Lectureship, during his lecture at the Merck headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. Credit: Silv Malkmus.

Johann Anton Merck Award

The Johann Anton Merck Award, which comes with a prize of €30,000, was established in 2020. This prestigious annual achievement award recognizes outstanding scientific preclinical research accomplishments in the biopharmaceutical strategic focus areas of Merck. Prior recipients of the award are Stephen Jackson (2022) (Fig. 3), Burkhard Becher (2021) and Caroline Dive (2020).

Figure 3. Stephen Jackson (right), winner of the 2022 Johann Anton Merck Award, and Belén Garijo (left), chair of the executive board and chief executive officer of Merck, during the award ceremony at the Curious2022 – Future Insight conference. Credit: Julian Huke.

Merck Innovation Cup

The Merck Innovation Cup was established in 2011 and invites students to join Merck for a one-week summer camp where they receive training and lectures on how research and development (R&D) works within a global science and technology company (Fig. 4). Teams are asked to build a full project and business plan based upon their own original idea within one of several scientific areas, and then pitch it to a jury on the final day. The team with the most convincing innovative project ideas wins the Merck Innovation Cup along with a prize of €20,000. The best ideas may be implemented by Merck, with the opportunity to secure permanent employment within the company’s R&D department.

Figure 4. Participants of the 2022 Merck Innovation Cup. Credit: VPS Media.

Heinrich Emanuel Merck Award

This award, which comes with a prize of €15,000, honours scientists who are developing innovative analytical methods in chemistry with new applications that aim to improve human life. Winners in previous years were: Valerie Gabelica (2022), David Alsteens (2019), Francesco Ricci (2017), Petra Dittrich (2015), Aaron Wheeler (2012), Luisa Torsi (2010), Alexander Makarov (2007), Yoshinobu Baba (2004), Jonathan Sweedler (2002), Norman Dovichi (2000), Renato Zenobi (1998), Jed Harrison and Andreas Manz (1996), Aviv Amirav (1994), Scott Bidlingmeyer (1992), Reinhard Nießner (1990), Masataka Hiraide and Otto Wolfbeis (1988).

Merck Nature Science in Shorts Award

This award was established in 2022 and seeks to recognize the importance of creating scientific communication that is consumable by the general public. Scientists are asked to create an engaging one-minute video that explains their research findings in an informative yet creative way. The creators of the ten favourite videos each receive a prize of €5,000.

ACS award for creative work in synthetic organic chemistry

In cooperation with the American Chemical Society (ACS), Merck has sought to honour scientists for outstanding work in the field of synthetic organic chemistry with this award since 1957. Each year, recipients are celebrated at a national award banquet that is held in conjunction with the ACS National Meeting. The award has become an early identifier of the most promising chemists in the world, with several past laureates having gone on to receive a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Examples include 1983 awardee K. Barry Sharpless from the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, US, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 “for his work on chirally catalysed oxidation reactions” and the 2010 awardee Ei-ichi Negishi (Purdue University, West Lafayette, US), who was honoured later in the same year with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his achievements in organic synthesis.

ACS award in inorganic chemistry

In cooperation with the ACS, Merck seeks to honour scientists for their outstanding work in inorganic chemistry. Winners are each year selected based upon their research in the preparation, properties, reactions or structure of inorganic substances. Recipients are recognized at the national award banquet in conjunction with the ACS National Meeting. Established in 1960, the award has earned a reputation for its early recognition of some of the most promising chemists in the world. Several past laureates have gone on to receive a Nobel prize in chemistry, including 1996 awardee Richard R. Schrock (MIT, Cambridge, US), who received a Nobel prize in 2005 “for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis” and 1981 awardee Henry Taube (Stanford University, US), who received a Nobel prize in 1983 “for his work on the mechanisms of electron transfer reactions, especially in metal complexes.”

Alfred R. Bader Award for Student Innovation

This award seeks to recognize the creative work of graduate students who study synthetic organic chemistry. Since 2005, it has celebrated the big ideas of up-and-coming chemists from around the world, whose work is expected to accelerate progress in synthetic organic chemistry.

Merck Compound Synthesis Challenge

Since 2018, Merck has hosted the Compound Challenge. This competition seeks to identify the best submitted synthetic route for a given small molecule as determined by the number of synthesis steps, obtained yield, achieved purity, and feasibility of subsequent steps not performed. Anyone from around the world can register. Those who have successfully registered for the challenge will receive the structure of a small molecule and submit their proposed synthesis route within 96 hours. All submitted routes are then anonymized, with all registered participants assigned to evaluate part of these anonymized routes in a randomized manner. Based on the evaluation by participants, Merck then selects the top ten evaluated routes to participate in the synthesis phase of the challenge. The selected routes will then be tested in a wet lab, with participants who propose the best route, based upon the criteria determined above, winning a prize of €10,000. Prior winners are teams from: Yale University, US (2021), University of Nottingham, United Kingdom (UK) (2021), California Institute of Technology, US (2020), Max-Planck-Institute für Kohleforschung Dortmund, Germany (2020), University of Bristol, UK (2019) and Max-Planck-Institute für Kohleforschung Dortmund, Germany (2019).

Merck Research Grants

Each year, Merck gives members of the scientific community the opportunity to participate in a series of research grants that seek to stimulate innovative research in challenging areas of future importance. Grants of up to €500,000 per year for up to three years are available in annually specified areas.

Advance Biotech Grant Program

Merck understands the unique challenges that emerging biotech companies can face in the quest to advance the next generation of drugs to market. That is why we have developed our Advance Biotech Grant Programs, which occur on regular basis in different regions of the world. Each programme allows grant recipients to receive a range of free products and services.

Global Grants for Medical Education

Merck provides grants to support Independent Medical Education (IME) and Continuing Medical Education (CME), Fellowships and Treatment Guidelines to foster the advancement of medicine and healthcare, address recognized gaps in healthcare knowledge, and improve patient care.

Curious – Future Insight conference

The Curious – Future Insight conference brings together some of the world’s brightest scientists and innovators to solve the challenges of today and enable the dreams of a better tomorrow. The conference, which has quickly become one of the world’s leading gatherings on science and technology, was initiated by Merck at the occasion of its 350th anniversary in 2018. The event triggered the birth of a global movement in support of science and technology. The Future Insight e.V. association, which is open for organizations and individuals from all over the world to join, carries the flame and organizes the bi-annual event together with hundreds of partners. The association’s logo symbolizes the amalgamation of the iron rule of science with the golden rule of ethics to create a bright and peaceful future. The next event, the Curious2024 – Future Insight conference, will take place in July 2024 (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Logo of the Curious2024 – Future Insight conference.

Darmstadt Science Declaration – Make Science Not War

The Darmstadt Science Declaration is a call to all nations, societies and organizations around the world to devote more resources to the peaceful advancement of science and technology. The official paper of the full declaration was published in 2018 in the Angewandte Chemie. Scientists and non-scientists all over the world are cordially invited to join the global movement and sign the declaration.

In addition to these special programmes, Merck also offers a multitude of opportunities to enter bilateral collaborations and alliances with academic researchers, start-up and biotech companies and other technology pioneers. Often the most exciting breakthroughs are reached when people with different backgrounds join forces. We invite scientists to participate in our open innovation programme to make great things happen together.


Ulrich A.K. Betz, Vice president, Innovation


Merck KGaA, Frankfurter Strasse 250, 64293 Darmstadt, Germany.


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