Principal investigator

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Donald Brownlee, principal investigator from the University of Washington, flashes victory signs to celebrate the successful arrival of Stardust material at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

A principal investigator (PI) is the lead scientist or engineer for a particular well-defined science (or other research) project, such as a laboratory study or clinical trial.

In the context of federal funding from agencies such as the NIH or the NSF, the PI is the person who takes direct responsibility for completion of a funded project, directing the research and reporting directly to the funding agency.[1][2] For small projects that incorporate 1-5 people the PI is typically the person who conceived of the investigation, but for larger projects the PI may be selected by a team to obtain the best strategic advantage for the project.

In the context of a clinical trial a PI may be an academic working with grants from NIH or other funding agencies, or may be effectively a contractor for a pharmaceutical company working on testing the safety and efficacy of new medicines.

Certification for principal investigator

The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) provides a certification, specific to physician investigators and principal investigators.[3] ACRP offers the designation "Certified Physician Investigator (CPI)".

Additional training and support tools for a PI exist in the form of the Principal Investigators Association. A not-for-profit corporation, "PIA communicates and promotes best practices and continuing professional education for garnering financial support" while also encouraging proper use of "monetary, material, and personnel resources."[4]


  1. "NSF Grant Policy Manual, 210f, "Definitions: Principal Investigator"". National Science Foundation. July 2002. Retrieved 10 January 2022. 
  2. "NIAID Glossary of Funding and Policy Terms and Acronyms". National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 18 April 2011. Archived from the original on 10 January 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2022. 
  3. "Association of Clinical Research Professionals - Certification". Association of Clinical Research Professionals. Retrieved 10 January 2022. 
  4. "Principal Investigators Association Mission". Principal Investigators Association. Retrieved 10 January 2022.