The University of Chicago and the Marine Biological Laboratory established the Lillie Research Award program to provide funding for scientists to develop novel, collaborative projects based at the MBL. The Frank R. Lillie Research Innovation Awards are named in honor of the early 20th-century embryologist who served as the MBL’s second director and as chair of UChicago’s Department of Zoology.
Frank R. Lillie was a student at both the MBL and UChicago under Charles O. Whitman, the MBL’s founding director, who also served as the founding chair of Zoology at UChicago. Lillie became a faculty member at the University of Chicago in 1900 and remained there until his death in 1947. In addition to his role as Zoology chair and MBL director, Lillie later served as Dean of UChicago’s Division of Biological Sciences. Present in Woods Hole every summer for 55 years, Lillie was instrumental in developing the MBL as a preeminent biological laboratory. “We have laid the principle of cooperation at [the MBL’s] foundation,” Lillie said, “and we have attempted to build it into every one of our activities.”
Awards were open to teams of collaborators from the entire MBL research community and required a PI with a primary appointment in the MBL resident research program and a PI from the University of Chicago or Argonne National Laboratory. Awards were open to individuals of faculty-level principal-investigator rank.
Lillie Awards support up to two years of pilot research at $125,000 per award. They were intended to bring together interdisciplinary MBL and UC teams for a project that represents a new collaborative area of inquiry for the investigators. The goal was to stimulate “blue sky” thinking by investigators that have the potential to lead to significant external funding with a consortium of collaborators working together on a big problem.
Lillie Award teams were designed to be able to develop their projects over a period including two or three successive summers, working in residence as a team at the MBL, in addition to continued progress on the project during the traditional academic years in between MBL visits.