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Update from the Division Director

September 15, 2017

The Division of Earth Sciences exists to support basic research in the Earth Sciences and to promote the professional development of the next generation of Earth Scientists. We do this mainly through our core programs, which are dedicated to investigator-driven basic research.  NSF also identifies focus areas, or “initiatives,” that are ripe for investigation and which may result in transformative discoveries. Current initiatives in which EAR researchers are heavily involved include INFEWS (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water) and PREEVENTS (Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events).

Director France Córdova has recently identified a number of “Big Ideas” for future investment. They are described briefly below. I call them to your attention at this early stage, so that you might think about ways that the EAR community could participate. Please let me or any EAR program officer know your thoughts.

Carol Frost
Division Director, Earth Sciences 

Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments

In the nearly seven decades since it was founded, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has played a critical role in establishing U.S. leadership in science and engineering (S&E), creating innovations that drive the nation's economy and educating the next generation of scientists and engineers.

As we look ahead to the coming decades, we must envision bold questions that will drive NSF's long-term research agenda -- questions that will ensure future generations continue to reap the benefits of fundamental S&E research.

This vision is the reason behind these 10 "big ideas." They capitalize on what NSF does best: catalyze interest and investment in fundamental research, which is the basis for discovery, invention and innovation. They are meant to define a set of cutting-edge research agendas and processes that are uniquely suited for NSF’s broad portfolio of investments, and will require collaborations with industry, private foundations, other agencies, science academies and societies, and universities.

Funding these ideas will push forward the frontiers of U.S. research and provide innovative approaches to solve some of the most pressing problems the world faces, as well as lead to discoveries not yet known.

Extended descriptions of the ideas are available at: 10 Big Ideas for NSF Investment

  • Harnessing Data

NSF proposes to develop a national-scale initiative aimed at fundamental data science research, research data cyberinfrastructure, and the development of a 21st century data-capable workforce. We must fund research, develop innovative learning opportunities, and foster partnerships.

  • Shaping the New Human-Technology Frontier

NSF would build on investments we’ve made in research in machine learning and efficient engineered systems and fund studies on how technology affects learning, human behavior, and social organizations. We will investigate how humans can shape the future of technology so that it serves to better human life.

  • Rules of Life

To understand the "rules of life" will require convergence of research across biology, computer science, mathematics, the physical sciences, behavioral sciences and engineering.

  • The Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution

NSF would invest in research that addresses the manipulation of quantum states, and the control of material-light interactions, involving physicists, mathematicians and engineers. There will be strong connections to industry, other federal agencies, and international partners.

  • Navigating the New Arctic

NSF would establish an observing network of mobile and fixed platforms and tools across the Arctic to document biological, physical and social changes, and invest further in theory, modeling and simulation of this changing ecosystem and its broader effects on the planet.

  • Windows on the Universe: The Era of Multi-Messenger Astrophysics

NSF continues to pursue evidence that would validate theories of our universe's origins and expansion. We would increase our investment in the large number of potential U.S. users, exploit the big data that observatories are producing, and increase the sensitivity of facilities. 

  • Growing Convergent Research at NSF

NSF would bring together varied disciplinary knowledge to frame challenging research questions at inception, and foster the collaborations needed for successful inquiry.

  • Mid-scale Research Infrastructure

Lowering the threshold for MREFC expenditures, with appropriate modification of processes, would increase the flexibility for excellent science to be done across the agency.

  • NSF 2050: The Integrative Foundational Fund

NSF wants to create a breakthrough scientific pathway to its centennial in 2050. With this initiative NSF would dedicate a special fund to invest in bold foundational research questions that are large in scope, innovative in character, originate outside of any particular directorate, and require a long-term commitment.

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date. Originally published Oct. 3, 2016.

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The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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