NSF announces next topics for the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program


April 7, 2021

The NSF Directorate for Engineering plans two new topic areas for the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program in fiscal year (FY) 2022. These topics were developed with input from the research community during fall 2020.

Brain-Inspired Dynamics for Engineering Energy-Efficient Circuits and Artificial Intelligence 
New neuroscience discoveries have led to insights about the fundamental challenges facing artificial intelligence (AI) and engineered learning systems more generally, including how to achieve the unparalleled energy efficiency, computational flexibility, and robustness of biological intelligence, how to achieve continuous learning necessary for adaptive autonomy, and how to extract rich semantic information from only a few data points.

The Brain-Inspired Dynamics for Engineering Energy-Efficient Circuits and Artificial Intelligence (BRAID) EFRI topic will build on recent advances in neuroscience to stimulate and transform innovations in AI and engineered learning systems. The anticipated capabilities arising from this program will include features of intelligence associated with humans and other complex living systems not achievable using current machine learning solutions.

The BRAID topic will encompass three focus areas — theoretical neuroscience, brain-inspired circuit design, and algorithmic learning — that will reciprocally, cooperatively, and ethically advance foundational knowledge for future advances in engineered learning systems.

Engineered Living Systems 
The convergence of engineering, biology and materials sciences is providing unprecedented opportunities to integrate living cells and organisms into systems capable of performing tasks that are not accessible to existing engineered systems, such as self-replication, self-regulation, self-healing and environmental responsiveness.

The Engineered Living Systems (ELiS) EFRI topic will foster research to advance the design, fabrication, manufacturing and modeling of engineered systems that incorporate living materials in order to address societal needs, with a focus on sustainable engineering. The potential transformative outcomes of this new EFRI topic will be to address national and global societal challenges such as sustainable and robust built environments, continuous monitoring of emerging contaminants and pathogens in the natural and built environment, and biomining for critical minerals and metals.

Essential to both these topics will be a consideration of the ethical, legal, and social implications of the proposed research.

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 2021 budget of $8.5 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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