Profile area "Exploration"

With the profile area "Exploration", the Foundation wishes to encourage creative, daring and curious researchers to advance "out-of-the-box" ideas and venture into previously unexplored research territory. The aim here is to promote risk-laden research involving unorthodox questions and experimental approaches to solving major science-driven challenges and to generate new knowledge without defined exploitation contexts. It is clear that it is part of such projects that they run a high risk of failure and unexpected findings.

The profile area aims to

  • expand worlds of knowledge by promoting excellent basic research in all disciplines;
  • enable experimentation by creating new research spaces where innovative and risk-laden research ideas are explored;
  • generate visionary impetus for science by acting in the sense of a future laboratory paving the way for new research topics and methods and establishing previously untapped or emerging fields of research;
  • swim ahead of the wave by taking a pioneering role as a funding agency, developing and testing new and innovative funding formats, selection processes and topic identification procedures.

Impulses for future research topics: "NEXT"

Within the profile area "Exploration", the funding framework "NEXT" aims to address topics and research approaches that, on the one hand, exhibit a high degree of knowledge potential and future relevance, but, on the other hand, are currently not or not sufficiently pursued scientifically. The funding framework is the overarching umbrella for various calls on different thematic areas which are all intended to stimulate the scientific landscape and to direct the focus to what could be "next” as the title of the framework indicates. 

The foundation would like to develop the "NEXT" calls for proposals in close cooperation with the scientific community. Send us your suggestions for suitable topics using our suggestions form.

In an interview, Hanna Denecke, leader of the "Exploration" funding team, and Tobias Schönwitz, funding officer for the NEXT program, explain how we are paving the way for new topics and research methods under the NEXT funding framework.


Activities and funding opportunities

The following funding initiatives are currently assigned to the profile area "Exploration": 

With the "NEXT – Neuromorphic Computing" call, the Volkswagen Foundation is offering an ideation workshop followed by the opportunity to submit proposals for cooperative research projects. These should be characterized by an integration of different perspectives and approaches for neuromorphic or unconventional computing and go well beyond the current state of research.

The "Open Up - New Research Spaces for Humanities and Cultural Studies" initiative follows on from the "Original - isn't it?" Funding program. Now two to three researchers should jointly pursue original approaches.

The Volkswagen Foundation’s scoping workshops are for scientists who want to take a step beyond their current research activities and think about the future of their field of research. 

Within the profile area "Exploration", the Foundation supports groundbreaking and risky research ideas with high scientific relevance in the funding offer "Pioneering Research – Exploring the Unknown Unknown". 


For more general information on the profile area, please contact Dr. Hanna Denecke, who heads the funding team. For information on individual funding opportunities, please contact the responsible funding manager (see the respective initiative).

Background: The new funding strategy

In the early months of 2021, the Volkswagen Foundation began implementing a realignment of its funding strategy. Central to this strategy are the three profile areas "Exploration", "Social Transformations" and "Understanding Research – Evaluation and Science Practice". In the contexts of all three areas, new or further funding initiatives are being developed in an ongoing process. For more information on the strategy and the funding guidelines, see "The new funding strategy".