Apply for the Leo Cup

Leo Cup Banner Image

In brief:

  • The Leo Cup is a $40,000 annual award for research in ocean plastics, ocean pollution and ocean change
  • Application Due Date:  September 15, 2023 by email
  • Eligibility: individuals or groups who are junior scientists (early career) and are within the School of Oceanography (see below for more details)

Do you have an idea that helps protect or restore the oceans?  If so, the Leo Cup might be for you. 

The Leo Cup is an annual competition at the University of Washington for graduate and undergraduate students to follow their passions around the theme of ocean change and to create innovative solutions that address the growing issues of ocean plastics and pollution, and the resulting impacts on climate.  Named in honor of Leo Maddox, and funded by the Leo Maddox Family, the Leo Cup is open for applications each summer. The annual awardee is announced in early fall at the School of Oceanography’s annual Convocation Ceremony.  The Leo Cup is the top research prize in the School and is one of the only high-value research opportunities available nationally for undergraduates or graduate students to pursue their ocean pollution-related passions and solutions independent of their faculty advisors.

About the Leo Cup: Formation and Intent

The Leo Maddox Family and the School of Oceanography encourage students to turn their knowledge into action.  As an eight-year program, the Leo Cup was established in June 2021 to honor the life of Leo Maddox , and to carry forward his love for the ocean and his vision to free it from pollution, especially plastics. The intent of the Leo Cup is to empower young scientists to pursue innovative solutions that address the growing issues of ocean plastics and pollution, and their impacts on climate, while honoring Leo’s passion for the ocean and his determination to protect it. Growing up, Leo’s favorite expression was, “let’s do something about it.” The Leo Cup empowers students to move beyond studying and give them the resources “to do something about it.”

By establishing the Leo Cup, the Leo Maddox Family seeks to support the School of Oceanography’s prominence as a global leader in oceanographic research and education by providing the next generation of scientists and leaders with the resources to tackle the growing challenges posed by ocean plastics and pollution.  In addition to helping students turn their ideas into realities, the Leo Cup aims to help students’ grow their networks by connecting them with like-minded individuals who share their commitment to addressing these issues.

How much is the Leo Cup?

In 2023, the Leo Cup will award $40,000 to an individual student or a group of students. There is only one award given per year.  Funds may provide stipends for students to execute their idea, cover fieldwork expenses, project-related travel, research support, and support to pursue additional project funding over a longer time frame.

Am I eligible to apply for the Leo Cup?

Individuals applying for the Leo Cup must be enrolled in the Oceanography major at the University of Washington, in any capacity: Undergraduate major, Masters student or Ph.D. candidate. 

Group entries must be composed of a minimum 50% students in the above categories, but may also contain students from elsewhere a UW, and may include post doctoral associates and assistant professors on the team.

How to apply for the Leo Cup

Your Application

The application consists of the following parts;

  • the main application form,
  • a description of the proposed work and how it relates to the goals and intent of the Leo Cup, Please read the Leo Cup announcement story for information about the background and purpose of the Leo Cup.
  • a copy of the main applicant's UW transcripts,
  • two letters of recommendation from faculty in the College of the Environment here at the UW,
  • a financial budget in spreadsheet form that included salaries, supplies, travel and the total amount requested (you do not have to request the entire $40k). Justify each component so that the review committee knows how you intend to spend the money and why you need it in each category.
  • a Gantt chart outlining the timeline of the project. You can download an Excel add-on here.

Please download the application form, complete it and email the completed form and all your application materials to Michelle Townsend (

Suggestions for Reference Writers

The most effective reference writers are individuals who can provide detailed and specific information about how the applicant's ideas meet the criteria for the Leo Cup, while also speaking to the applicants scientific preparation.  If you have been asked to submit a reference letter, we request that you provide the following information in your letter:

  • Please limit your letter to two pages or less.
  • Please tell us how long you have known the applicant, and in what capacity. Please be as specific as you can; generic letters tend to be easily identifiable and will not serve the applicant well.  If you are the applicant’s research supervisor, please comment on the originality of their research statement, and what role, if any, you played in assisting the student with the application.
  • The reference letter should include comments on the applicant’s potential to contribute substantially in the area of marine pollution and climate change given the resources and time requested.

Please submit your signed letter on letterhead, as a PDF file to Michelle Townsend (

Application Review Process

The annual application deadline for the 2023 Leo Cup is September 15, 2023. No late submissions are allowed.  The review team consists of three faculty from the School of Oceanography including the director (who acts as chair of this committee), one past awardee of the Leo Cup, and one administrative staff member from the School of Oceanography.  Applications are reviewed and ranked individually by each committee member. Then the committee meets to discuss the applications and determine the awardee.  Cup recipients are contacted in advance if there are questions about how the cup will be spent or how the proposed work will be performed in alignment with the intent of the Leo Cup, and then a public announcement is made at the school's annual fall Convocation event.

The award will be distributed through the School in the form of a budget number, and spending will adhere to UW guidelines.  

Awardee Recognition

Annual awardee(s) are recognized in the first-floor lobby of the Ocean Sciences Building, etched into the placard under the Leo Cup.

Previous Awardees, Biographies and Outcomes