NSF provides support for large, multi-user facilities which meet the need for access to state-of-the-art research facilities that would otherwise be unavailable. Support includes funding for staff and support personnel to assist both scientists and engineers in conducting research at the facilities. Support for these unique national facilities is essential to advance U.S. research capabilities required for world-class research. NSF supports the following facilities:
In FY 1998, Congress appropriatied $70 million through the MRE account for the South Pole Station Modernization Project. In FY 1999, NSF requests $22 million to continue this effort. Other projects funded through the MRE account in FY 1999 will include: $20 million to upgrade Polar Support Aircraft to meet Air Force safety and operability standards; $22 million for the first year of construction of detectors for the international Large Hadron Collider; and $9 million for the continued design and development of the Millimeter Array. Additional information regarding these projects can be found in the MRE section.
Further, $21 million is requested in FY 1999 through the MRE account to construct the Polar Cap Observatory (PCO) in time for the upcoming 2001 Solar Maximum. In FY 1998, NSF is proceeding with generic design and engineering activities associated with PCO funded at up to $5 million through the R&RA account.
Funding for the construction of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) was completed in FY 1998. In FY 1999, $20 million is requested through the R&RA account for LIGO operations, as it enters a projected three year instrumentation commissioning phase.
The FY 1999 total of $49 million for Advanced Networking Infrastructure (ANI) includes $11 million of facilities funding as part of a $25 million NSF total for the interagency Next Generation Internet initiative. These facilities will focus on advanced, high performance network connectivity between a wide range of academic institutions. The $74 million requested for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (ACI) in FY 1999 will allow the first full year of implementation of both high-end and nationwide partner activities in the Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program. Particular attention will be paid to the partner sites to create enabling technologies, applications technologies, and education, outreach, and training to broaden and accelerate the research community’s ability to utilize the advanced computational capabilities provided by all PACI sites.
FY 1999 support for facilities associated with the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) includes funding for the second and final year of the scheduled mid-life refit of the ODP drillship JOIDES Resolution. This two year project totals $6 million and is necessary to extend the life of the ship.
An FY 1999 increase of $4 million is requested for the National Astronomy Centers and will be shared between the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatories (NRAO). NOAO’s increase of $2 million will provide: continued support for operations and maintenance of telescopes; ongoing support of the Global Oscillation Network (GONG); and support for the development of instrumentation for the new Synoptic Optical Long Term Investigation of the Sun (SOLIS) project. NRAO’s increase of $2 million will provide support for the operation and maintenance of radio telescopes such as the Very Large Array (VLA) and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), and will support the development of instrumentation for the Green Bank Telescope recently upgraded in Green Bank, West Virginia.
An increase of $7 million is requested in FY 1999 for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). This increase will focus support on global change research, the U.S. Weather Research Program and the National Space Weather Program. In addition, the primary building housing NCAR will begin a three-year refurbishment; FY 1999 support for the refurbishment will be at least $2 million.
Among other facilities, NSF will provide funding for the third year of a five year upgrade of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at Michigan State University, support for the operation and maintenance of the newly upgraded Cornell Electron Storage Ring (CESR) at Cornell University, continued support for operation of the Gemini Observatories, and increased support to establish a sixth research hub for the National Nanofabrication Users Network.
Examples of performance highlights for facilities include:
Advanced Computational Infrastructure: NSF’s investment in supercomputer centers has fostered fundamental advances in our understanding of science and engineering and in the application of computing, communications, and information technologies to important national problems. One major accomplishment has been the dramatic expansion of the use of high-end computing in more disciplines, making possible a major paradigm shift in the acceptance of computational science as a full partner in the scientific method. Without access to high-end computational capability, many important discoveries in fields including chemistry, biology, oceanography, and meteorology would not have been made. In addition, the Supercomputer Centers contributed to the education of our nation’s children in many ways. By the end of FY 1998, the new Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure program, the successor to the original Supercomputer program, will be substantially in place. The two partnerships, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California at San Diego, have replaced their major computing systems with up-to-date architectures allowing a significant increase in overall capacity. The partnering work in enabling and applications technologies is well underway and is planned to grow rapidly during FY 1999. The program, drawing upon advanced high-performance networking capabilities, will continue to supply both the hardware and software infrastructure needed by the scientific and engineering research communities.
Advanced Networking Infrastructure: Over the past decade, the Advanced Networking Infrastructure (ANI) program has invested about $250 million to develop computer networking for research and education. This networking infrastructure, originally intended to connect academic researchers nationwide, laid the basis for the current Internet. Because of the tremendous growth of the Internet, it is estimated that these NSF funds have been matched ten-to-one by other organizations from both the public and private sectors. These extraordinary investments fundamentally changed the way that research is conducted in many areas of science and engineering by enabling almost instantaneous communications among researchers and educators worldwide. Dramatic changes have also resulted in the use of networking for other societal purposes. Since 1995, the NSF-vBNS high performance testbed has made possible an expanding array of experiments in high performance networking by extending vBNS access to almost 100 research universities.
The End of the Dinosaurs? Dramatic support has recently been provided for the hypothesis that a large terrestrial object slammed into earth 65 million years ago in the northwest corner of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The Chicxulub meteorite impact crater, which is found at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary, is now thought to be the result of a meteor whose impact resulted in the widespread extinctions of perhaps 70 percent of all species, including the dinosaurs. Evidence supporting the hypothesis comes from holes drilled on land in the New Jersey Coastal Plain as part of the Continental Scientific Drilling Program (CSDP) and by holes drilled in the Atlantic Ocean floor 300 miles off the coast of Florida as part of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). Analysis of cores from these holes reveal the existence of a layer of solidified spherical globules of material which was melted upon impact and ejected from the crater in a cloud of debris which traveled as far north as New Jersey in a matter of minutes. Microfossils – remains of one celled organisms – are found in the cores right up to the layer of solidified globules, where they then vanish. The existence of this "ejecta layer" shows clearly that a single impact occurred precisely at the K/T boundary time and that it coincides with the mass extinction of marine life. The cores will also provide a superb record of the biological recovery process after such a major extinction event.
Detecting a Titanic Fireball: Cosmic gamma rays are highly energetic photons that are detected when they strike the upper atmosphere. The source of these intense energy fluxes, which can be as great as all of the Sun's energy generated over its 10 billion year lifetime, is one of the outstanding puzzles in astronomy. The large number of gamma rays that penetrate the earth's atmosphere also has implications for current theories about how galaxies are formed.
Gamma ray bursts occur almost daily, but until this year very little was known about them. Improved positions provided by the BeppoSAX satellite have recently permitted NSF's Very Large Array (VLA), an array of 27 telescopes located in New Mexico, and NSF’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), an array of 10 radio telescopes spread out over the full length and width of the United States, to study the radio emission from a burster recorded on May 8, 1997, which they have continued to monitor. The radio observations have revealed the size of the fireball, estimated at 170 times the distance between the sun and Pluto. Such measurements are enabling astronomers to learn about the physical causes of these mysterious, highly energetic events.
Climate System Model Producing Unparalleled Results: NCAR's Climate Simulation Model (CSM) has made a major advance toward the goal of attaining better climate predictions. A recent NCAR 300-year climate simulation reproduced the observed global average surface temperatures without the need for applying artificial corrections. Until now, even the best climate models, after simulating a few centuries of climate, produced results that were unrealistic unless large corrections were applied. In addition, the level of the simulated surface temperature fluctuation is about the same as that observed in the real world during the past 100 years. Analyses of the details of the simulations are now providing valuable guidance for future research aimed at further improvements in climate predictions that will steadily reduce the uncertainties in interpreting the results.
Visualizing Cell Repair: Recent work involving a collaboration between geneticists, medical physicists and materials scientists may result in the establishment of a totally new research area in the damage and repair of cell nuclei. Radiation causes damage to the DNA in the nucleus of cells, which the nucleus is, to some extent, able to repair if the damage is not excessive. To understand the DNA repair processes within the nucleus, it is necessary to observe the process at sites within the damaged cell. Researchers using the Wisconsin Synchrotron Radiation Center (SRC) have established a novel method to examine the temporal and spatial nature of the repair process within an intact cell. This approach relies on synchrotron-generated soft x-rays with high intensity, a large dynamic range and very high signal-to-noise level, and uses microfabricated irradiation masks to induce DNA damage in discrete subnuclear regions of irradiated cells. The multilayer mirror beam line at the SRC is one of the only beam lines in the world with the right characteristics for these experiments, which in turn will open up a wide range of possible future experiments to address fundamental questions of cell damage and repair.
Polar Facilities and Logistics: Special facilities and logistics are necessary to support research in the polar regions. In the Antarctic, NSF manages all U.S. activities, while in the Arctic, NSF is one of twelve federal agencies supporting Arctic research and logistics.
In Antarctica, a remote, hostile environment at the end of a long logistical supply chain, NSF manages and operates research stations, research ships and field camps; a fleet of aircraft operated for NSF by DOD; and an icebreaker operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The existence of this infrastructure enables the pursuit of unique scientific research. For example, in FY 1997 NSF-funded researchers presented the first direct evidence that increased ultraviolet light (UVB) damages the DNA of Antarctic icefish eggs and larvae. The ozone hole opens up over Antarctica every southern spring, letting more UVB from the sun penetrate to the earth’s surface. The study demonstrated that icefish eggs accumulate significant levels of DNA lesions called cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers. Increases in UVB resulting from ozone depletion have previously been shown to harm one-celled marine plants in Antarctica but now it has been documented that significant damage is occurring higher up the food chain. The studies were done on cruises in waters around the Antarctic Peninsula. The next step is to explore whether the DNA damage actually hampers the animals’ ability to survive. This study shows that key members of the Southern Ocean food web (the food base for seabirds, whales, and seals) could all be vulnerable to increased UVB.
In the Arctic, field stations and large instrument facilities enable research in Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland. Support is provided through Polar Programs and other NSF Activities. Within Polar Programs increased emphasis is given to Arctic logistics, including the first over-winter presence on the Greenland Ice Sheet in the history of NSF’s Arctic Research Program. The Summit camp at the apex of the ice sheet will provide an opportunity to examine the entire annual cycle of air and snow chemistry which will ultimately help scientists better interpret climate history and how human beings are affecting climate. The goal during this first year-round occupation of Summit camp is to determine what controls the composition of air just above the ice sheet, to see how closely the composition of snow reflects that of the air, and to understand how air and snow exchange water, energy and chemical compounds through the winter.