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Perspectives of the NSF Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Dr. F. Fleming Crim, NSF Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, shares his thoughts on emerging ideas, frontier research areas, and national needs.


LSST Vista

October 7, 2014

"We find them smaller and fainter, in constantly increasing numbers, and we know that we are reaching into space, farther and farther, until, with the faintest nebulae that can be detected with the greatest telescopes, we arrive at the frontier of the known universe."
-- Edwin Hubble

Astronomy and astrophysics turned a corner when Edwin Hubble discovered nebulae beyond the Milky Way and proved the existence of galaxies besides our own and comparable in scale. Using the 100-inch Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, he opened a door to a breadth of previously unimaginable possibilities for researchers and stargazers everywhere. Ever larger and more powerful telescopes continue to push our view and understanding of the universe to new limits.

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Thinking beyond the Quadrant

August 7, 2014

Ideas from the 1997 book by Donald Stokes, Pasteur's Quadrant, have become a popular means of describing the landscape of research and innovation. A key insight in the book was that scientific discovery is not a linear continuum that leads from basic science to applied science to transformative applications. Rather, Stokes invoked a two-dimensional picture along the axes of "quest for fundamental understanding" and "consideration of use," as illustrated in the figure.

Quadrant Graphic

He identified three of the quadrants with icons of discovery: Bohr for pure basic research; Edison for pure applied research; and Pasteur for use-inspired basic research. (A friend refers to the fourth quadrant as the "chia pet" quadrant because, like the chia pet, this section is for discoveries that have neither fundamental import nor practical application.)

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The Underpinnings of Quantum Information Science in MPS

July 28, 2014

John Markoff's recent New York Times article on Microsoft's investment in quantum computing describes a topic that has been on our radar at the National Science Foundation for a good while. Fifteen years ago, the Foundation led an interagency working group on the best approach to realizing the promise of quantum information science, and the Foundation has continued to fund research at this frontier. The Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) is one part of NSF that supports the fundamental research that underpins quantum information science and associated technologies.

Quantum information science draws on one of the spookier parts of quantum mechanics, popularized in the image of Schrodinger's cat, neither alive nor dead but rather in a superposition of those two states. Quantum information science rests on those intriguing and non-intuitive ideas about entanglement and measurement in quantum systems.

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New 'Perspectives' to Share News, Comments and Insights

May 16, 2014

One benefit of leading the NSF Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences is that I hear about new science and fresh insights coming out of MPS-funded research almost every day. Because many of these developments will interest people outside the agency, we are launching a new feature on the NSF MPS web page: Perspectives. These periodic posts will highlight news about NSF-funded facilities and projects, share thoughts about topics such as budget, funding, and merit review, describe results of NSF-funded activities, and provide some perspective on issues that affect the MPS community.

One example of the sort of activity I want to write about comes from our Physics of Living Systems program in the Physics Division. They recently sponsored a three-day workshop in partnership with the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. The topic of the workshop, "Quantitative Theories of Learning, Memory and Prediction," draws heavily on . . . More

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