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NSF Awards $55 Million in Grants to Study Biocomplexity in the Environment

NSF PR 01-81 - October 17, 2001

Media contact:

 Cheryl Dybas

 (703) 292-8070


Program contact:

 Marge Cavanaugh

 (703) 292-8002


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $55 million in research grants to scientists, engineers, and educators to discover the relationships between living things and their environment.

Explains NSF Director Rita Colwell, "Earth is a living, ever-changing planet, with interconnecting threads everywhere. Complexity is a defining characteristic of these threads. All levels of biological organization are more than the sum of their parts. Understanding how complex systems develop from the interactions of living things and their environment is critical to an understanding of how our planet supports life."

Investigations of biocomplexity in the environment, says Colwell, provide science a more complete understanding of natural processes, of human behaviors and decisions in the natural world, and of ways to use new technology effectively to observe the environment and sustain the diversity of life on earth.

Scientists, engineers, and educators must work in teams across diverse fields, says Colwell, that go well beyond biology to include, for example, physics, systems engineering, mathematics, economics, and geochemistry on studies that extend from the submolecular to changes in the world’s climate. "The biggest, most exciting scientific questions are now at the interfaces of traditional disciplines, such as biological chemistry, computational ecology, and environmental genetics," she says.

This special competition, called Biocomplexity in the Environment: Integrated Research and Education in Environmental Systems 2001, is the third phase of a multi-year effort supporting full research projects and smaller exploratory projects, workshops and planning activities. In the competition, 32 research projects and 41 exploratory projects were funded, with support from all NSF research directorates and offices.

Four subcategories of awards were made: Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH); Coupled Biogeochemical Cycles (CBC); Genome-Enabled Environmental Science and Engineering (GENEN); and Instrumentation Development for Environmental Activities (IDEA).

Research project topics include: modeling the interactions among urban development, land cover change, and bird diversity; coupling rhizosphere biogeochemical cycles to plant growth under differing levels of carbon dioxide; meta-genome analysis of extreme microbial symbiosis; and developing instrumentation to measure the emission and transport of biological aerosols into the atmosphere.

Exploratory projects include: sustaining multiple functions for urban wetlands; simplification and recovery of soil biocomplexity following agricultural cultivation and forest logging; complementary development of new chemical sensor and probe microscopy techniques for environmental research in hydrothermal ecosystems; and developing portable devices to map the distribution of arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh.


For a complete list of research and exploratory projects, see: http://www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/be/ere_be-competitions.html


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