NSF Fiscal Year 1999 Budget Request OverviewThe National Science Foundation requests $3.8 billion for Fiscal Year 1999, a 10 percent increase over FY 1998, to invest in nearly 20,000 research and education projects in science and engineering. This investment, part of the President's Research Fund for America, is motivated by a clear vision of how science and technology can shape our future as a nation and drive progress, productivity and innovation across our society.
The discovery 100 years ago of the electron led to a broad range of industrial technologies. The transistor—first developed 50 years ago—was foremost among these, as it ushered in what has become the "information revolution." Today, 3 million transistors can fit on a chip no larger than those first fingernail-sized individual transistor devices, with cost-savings of a similar scale. The future holds the possibility of even greater gains. NSF's investments in nanotechnology and "thin films" are expected to help generate a further 1,000-fold reduction in size for semiconductor devices, which will make computers, telecommunications and other advanced technologies even more powerful, more portable, more affordable, and more useful.
Technology is beginning to live up to its promise in education. NSF today invests in a number of efforts that give students at all levels the chance to witness the leading-edge of science and engineering. Writing in the July 28, 1997 issue of Business Week magazine, a teacher from Lamar County, Georgia credited these NSF-supported activities with helping to "show rural kids...that they can become scientists." The students "get to know working researchers. They read their journals on line, have their questions answered, and watch researchers on closed-circuit TV from such places as Antarctica [and] aboard aircraft flying in the stratosphere.
This winter, a team of researchers is living on an icebreaker that is frozen into the pack ice in the Arctic Ocean, drifting with the ice floes as a floating science station. The project is part of a set of activities known as SHEBA (Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean), which pulls together data and information on how the sun, clouds, air, ice, and ocean interact and affect the annual melting and refreezing of the Arctic ice cap. This has long been a major uncertainty in climate models, and the SHEBA project has already helped to fill what one observer termed "embarrassing holes" in our understanding of climate change.
More and more practical benefits are emerging from science and engineering "at the extremes." Just over 30 years ago, researchers discovered a hot-water-loving microbe living in the thermal pools and geysers at Yellowstone National Park. The unique properties of this "hyperthermophile" were key to the development of the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, the so-called Swiss army knife of molecular biology that has led to DNA fingerprinting, enzymes for non-polluting detergents, and a myriad of state-of-the-art materials.
These striking examples speak to the priorities and directions contained in NSF's FY 1999 Budget Request. The request is built upon NSF’s strength—a broad base of research and education in science and engineering that enables people and ideas to flourish. This strength is derived from the agency’s effective use of merit review to identify the most promising ideas and most capable researchers and educators. NSF’s investment strategy also emphasizes focused emerging areas that hold great promise both from a research and education standpoint and as drivers of economic growth and societal benefit.