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Partnerships in Service to Society, 1994-1995 Annual Report
NSF Partnerships

NSF's partnerships have yielded enormous benefits since the Foundation's inception in 1950.

GEMINI 8-METER TELESCOPES PROJECT: ON A CLEAR DAY...

Taking advantage of some of the best natural conditions for observation on Earth, the Gemini Project is constructing two 8-meter, optical-infrared telescopes to undertake a broad range of astronomical research. The unprecedented size and imaging ability of these telescopes-more than ten times more powerful than the present generation of 4-meter telescopes-will help astronomers investigate such questions as the formation and evolution of galaxies, the origin of quasars and planetary systems, and the internal structure of stars.

The siting of the telescopes--in the northern hemisphere on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and in the southern hemisphere on Cerro Pachón in Chile--will provide complete sky coverage so that the center of our galaxy and of the Magellanic Clouds can be observed.

Groundbreaking for both sites took place in October 1994; the Hawaii site is scheduled to become operational in 1998, the Chile site in 2000. Both sites are considered superb astronomical locations, with low water-vapor content, atmospheric stability, and a high percentage of photometric nights.

The Gemini Project teams the United States in an international partnership with the United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Each partner contributes a share of the cost and receives a share of observation time on the telescopes. NSF provides 50 percent of the project's funding, making the United States the largest contributor. As is common in astronomy, the telescopes also will be available for use by the international community of astronomers.

 

ENGINEERING RESEARCH CENTERS

New knowledge almost always stimulates new ways of thinking about existing technology. NSF's 21 Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) were established to catalyze a new culture in academia by integrating education and research, and by blending university and industrial perspectives.

The Carnegie Mellon Engineering Research Center in Data Storage Systems has made advances in technology important to several disk drive manufacturers in the United States. Focusing on the simulation of recording head dynamics, Professor M. Jhon and two of his graduate students have successfully combined the effects of air bearing design, gaseous rarefaction, and surface roughness to develop a state-of-the-art head/disk interface simulation code useful in interpreting tribology information and is important to the design of the next generation of computer recording heads.

The Institute for Systems Research (ISR) at the University of Maryland, one of the original ERCs established by NSF in 1985, takes a "strategically integrated" approach to its education programs, which form a continuum from elementary school through postdoctoral study and into engineering practice. The approach is to employ this continuum to create an educational development path that: attracts pre-college students to science and engineering; enhances pre-college teachers' awareness of and ability to apply technology to effect changes in their curricula; educates and trains a new generation of systems engineers at the university level; and retrains practicing engineers, providing them with opportunities to keep abreast of rapidly changing technologies. ISR's cross-disciplinary education programs strongly complement the Institute's research activities. A CEO roundtable, in its assessment of the impact of the University of Maryland-College Park on the State of Maryland, listed the ISR as an exemplary program in its partnership with industry.

 

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATIVE BIODIVERSITY GROUPS (ICBG): TREASURES OF TROPICAL FORESTS

In the race to collect, identify, and preserve the biodiversity of tropical plant life, NSF has joined with the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Agency for International Development to establish five innovative partnerships, bringing together U.S. university researchers with pharmaceutical companies, environmental organizations, and organizations located within developing countries. The project's goals are to encourage biodiversity conservation in developing countries, promote sustainable economic activity, and discover potential new anti-cancer drugs and other therapeutic agents.

In Suriname, for example, researchers from the Missouri Botanical Garden and Conservation International are working with several Surinamese organizations to collect hundreds of species of plants and prepare extracts for testing. Back in the United States, the testing is done by participants Bristol-Myers Squibb and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The project is using a bi-directional approach, involving both random collections of flowering and fruiting plants, and work with local shamans to collect plants that are believed to promote healing. Part of this project, therefore, will assess whether shamanic lore can contribute useful findings to Western medicine. Another important part of the project is to develop legal agreements to prevent the possibility of resource exploitation in third-world countries. The aim is to ensure, through legal agreements, that the host countries, villages, and organizations taking part in the effort share equitably in the benefits of whatever drugs are discovered.

Other researchers in the five-year International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups are working in forests in Peru, Costa Rica, Cameroon, and Nigeria, as well as in arid regions in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

 

MAGIC SCHOOL BUS: THE WORLD IS THE CLASSROOM

"Science is for everyone!" says Ms. Frizzle, teacher extraordinaire and Lily Tomlin's alter ego on the Magic School Bus science show aired weekly on PBS stations.

In its first season, the program garnered an Emmy award for Ms. Tomlin, a 1994 Parent's Choice Gold Medal, five CINE Golden Eagles, and a host of other prestigious awards and nominations. As many as three million young viewers may tune in each week to watch the Magic School Bus transform itself into a spaceship, submarine, or blimp as it transports the program's class on a wild science ride.

In addition to the television show, more than one million children have visited the hands-on Magic School Bus Traveling Exhibits and more than 100 museums have staged events using Magic School Bus Activity Trunks. These events boosted attendance to record levels at participating children's museums and science centers. Twelve million Magic School Bus books are in print, and 25,000 children participated in a "rescue the Magic School Bus" story-completion contest.

Funded by NSF and Microsoft Home, and produced by Scholastic Productions, the Magic School Bus has gathered numerous youth-serving organizations into a partnership effort, including Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ASPIRA, Girl Scouts, Girls Incorporated, 4-H, the National Urban League, and YouthALIVE!

This unique project-built on the collaborative efforts of media producers, museums, youth-serving organizations, and a major publisher-has proven itself highly successful in motivating children's interest in science, introducing youth to science concepts and ideas, and inspiring positive attitudes toward science and education among students and teachers.

 

DIGITAL LIBRARIES RESEARCH INITIATIVE

Six universities are spearheading research projects aimed at developing new technologies for digital libraries. These vast libraries are storehouses of information located around the world and linked through the Internet. A joint initiative of NSF with the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA, the effort grew out of increasing need for and ability to deliver network-based systems and services capable of providing diverse communities of users with coherent access to large, geographically distributed stores of knowledge, These libraries could have a profound impact on business, professional, and personal activities.

Project Alexandria at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will develop a digital library providing easy access to large and diverse collections of maps, images, and other forms of spatially-indexed information. A project at the University of Illinois' new Grainger Engineering Library Information Center in Urbana-Champaign will be centered around journals and magazines in the engineering and science literature. The Informedia project at Carnegie Mellon University is developing new technologies for search and retrieval involving extremely large data collections. One innovation under development is "video skimming," which will allow accelerated viewing of video and audio sequences without the usual accompanying distortions. Other projects are being developed at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University.

Each project brings together multidisciplinary teams of researchers and diverse user groups; more than 60 organizations have formed partnering relationships with the universities, including major U.S. computer and communications companies, schools and colleges, libraries, publishers, local government and state agencies, and profes- sional associations. The goal is to advance dramatically the means to collect, store, organize and use a variety of information and knowledge sources in electronic forms over high-speed networks.

 

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CENTERS

There are only 24 of them, but NSF's Science and Technology Centers (STCs) have earned a reputation for cutting-edge innovation in partnerships of university, government, and industry researchers. Established in 1989, the goal of STCs is to engage in cutting-edge, multidisciplinary research that requires a center-mode approach because of the complexity of the problem.

The Southern California Earthquake Center, for example, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles has formed partnerships with a variety of local, state, and federal agencies that are involved with studying and responding to earthquakes. The Center also consults with the insurance industry concerning the "quake-worthiness" of residences and businesses. Because earthquakes remain a topic of continuing concern in Los Angeles, the Center has undertaken an aggressive program of outreach and education to keep the public informed as more is learned about earthquake science and engineering.

Three other STCs have as their mission the understanding of natural phenomena related to the geosciences. The Center for Clouds, Chemistry, and Climate at the University of California, San Diego, in La Jolla encourages an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the role of clouds and chemistry in global climate change. In partnership with the Stephen-Birch Aquarium-Museum at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Center has developed museum exhibits and a far-reaching teacher education program. The Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms at the University of Oklahoma studies meteorological phenomena and forecasting. And, the Center for High Pressure Research at the State University of New York at Stony Brook probes fundamental properties and processes of the earth, using high-temperature and high-pressure techniques.

Return to Annual Report Contents   Return to Annual Report Contents


The 1994-1995 Annual Report originally was published as a special section of the July/August 1996 issue of Frontiers.

Return to July/August 1996 Frontiers home page   Other Contents of July/August 1996 Frontiers
Visit Other Frontiers Issues page   Other Frontiers Issues
Visit Other NSF Publications page   Other NSF Publications
Visit Office of Legislative and Public Affairs page   Office of Legislative and Public Affairs

 

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