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Fact Sheet
National Science Foundation

October 14, 2014

Congress established the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes." With an annual budget of $7.2 billion (fiscal year 2014), NSF funds discovery, learning, innovation and research infrastructure to boost U.S. leadership in all aspects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and education. In contrast, other federal agencies support research focused on specific missions, such as health, energy or defense.

Vision, Goals.  NSF's Strategic Plan for 2014-2018: Investing in Science, Engineering, and Education for the Nation's Future states the Foundation's vision: "A Nation that creates and exploits new concepts in science and engineering and provides global leadership in research and education." The plan presents three strategic goals: Transform the Frontiers of Science and EngineeringStimulate Innovation and Address Societal Needs Through Research and Education, and Excel as a Federal Science Agency.  

Research and Education Priorities. NSF supports basic research and education in all scientific and engineering disciplines. We are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. NSF invests in transformational research to catalyze breakthroughs in national priorities including robotics, clean energy, nanotechnology and cybersecurity. We also support these National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) activities: National Nanotechnology Initiative; Networking and Information Technology R&D; and U.S. Global Change Research Program, and NSF-wide investment areas such as: Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science, Engineering and Education; Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability; Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace; and Cyber-Enabled Materials, Manufacturing and Smart Systems. NSF is also committed to developing a highly capable and diverse science and engineering workforce that is prepared to drive discovery and innovation and provide global leadership in the years ahead. Broadening participation by underrepresented groups in science and engineering is a longstanding NSF commitment. 

Results. Through the merit review process, we fund the best ideas and best people in science and engineering. NSF-supported advances include: Doppler radar, the Internet, Web browsers, bar codes, magnetic resonance imaging, ink jet printers, computer-aided design systems, artificial retinas, tissue engineering and other technology-based innovations that spur economic activity and improve the quality of life of all Americans.

  • In FY 2013, an estimated 299,000 people (researchers, postdoctoral fellows, trainees, teachers and students) were supported directly by NSF;
  • To date, 214 Nobel Prize winners, including one of the 2014 Nobel laureates in chemistry and the Nobel laureate in economics, received NSF support at some point in their careers.

Research Infrastructure. NSF supports a research infrastructure that provides multi-users with advanced capabilities for measuring, observing, manipulating and experimenting across the broad science and engineering enterprise. Our portfolio, developed and managed in cooperation with U.S. and international partners, includes research vessels, astronomical observatories, particle accelerators, seismic observatories, U.S. research stations in the Antarctic, unique ecological research sites, large datasets including long-term survey data, and advanced cyberinfrastructure including cutting-edge computational and communications networking capabilities. Among NSF's recent investments: 

  • The research vessel Sikuliaq, a next generation, global class, ice-capable, research vessel, completed preliminary acceptance trials in the Great Lakes in February 2014. The ship will allow researchers to work in ice-covered waters not previously accessible on a routine basis and play an essential role in our understanding of the Arctic Ocean system and how it is changing. The R/V Sikuliaq--an Inupiat word meaning young sea ice--was built with the first and largest single award made by NSF using Recovery Act funds.
  • The Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) is a long-term program to provide 25 to 30 years of sustained ocean measurements to study climate variability, ocean circulation and ecosystem dynamics, air-sea exchange, seafloor processes, and plate-scale geodynamics. The system will provide a permanent presence in the ocean with advanced sensors and platforms and near real-time interactive capability.
  • The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is a precedent-setting, nationwide, multi-disciplinary infrastructure that will generate snapshots of ecosystem health by measuring ecological activity from strategic locations throughout the United States. Some of NEON's data collection and educational operations are already underway and others will begin incrementally until NEON becomes fully functional in 2017. 
  • The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, currently under construction in Maui, Hawaii, will be the world's premier ground-based solar observatory when it is completed in 2019. Formerly the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, DKIST was renamed in honor of the late Hawaii senator at a ceremony in December 2013. The state-of-the-art instrument will provide the sharpest views ever taken of the solar surface, and enable astronomers to glean new insights into solar phenomena and develop a better understanding of how our nearest star works.
  • The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will be a wide-field optical telescope facility that will collect nearly 40 terabytes of multi-color imaging data every night for 10 years, producing a long-lived dataset. LSST will produce the deepest, widest-field sky image ever, and issue alerts for moving and transient objects within 60 seconds of their discovery. Developed jointly by NSF and the Department of Energy, the facility will enable advances in our understanding of dark matter and help researchers characterize properties of dark energy. LSST data will be widely accessible and include discovery opportunities for K-12 students and citizen scientists of all ages.

Organization. As an independent federal agency, NSF does not fall under any cabinet department. NSF's activities are guided by the 25-member National Science Board, which also serves as a policy advisory body to the President and Congress. NSF is headed by a Director who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

NSF program activities are organized by seven directorates and one program office: the Biological Sciences; Computer and Information Science and Engineering; Education and Human Resources; Engineering; Geosciences; Mathematical and Physical Sciences; and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorates; and the Office of International and Integrative Activities. Internal operations--including salaries and expenses for about 1,400 permanent staff--account for approximately 6 percent of NSF's overall budget.


Media Contacts
Dana Topousis, NSF, (703) 292-7750, dtopousi@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2015, its budget is $7.3 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 48,000 competitive proposals for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/



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