The National Science Foundation and making
Support for creative education and a nationwide innovation ecosystem
June 18, 2014
Discoveries often begin with the initiative of a student, a young person, an educator, an entrepreneur, or anyone with the drive to make something new. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds science and engineering research and technological innovation built on the creativity and imagination of individuals such as these.
Now, modern-day tinkerers of do-it-yourself technology, known as makers, are driving a new era of American innovation. Makers cross all age, background and skill levels, from early childhood through adulthood. They have in common the determination to see their ideas come to life.
Making has a wide appeal. Making allows people to follow their own interests, to create something uniquely theirs, and to apply the knowledge they have gained to produce products that meet societal needs. Making offers the opportunity to learn and apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge and processes, including collaboration, communication and iterative design.
NSF's early investments in fundamental technologies and techniques have helped to enable the maker movement.
For example, NSF strategic investments in additive manufacturing and computer science enabled many of the innovations underlying 3-D printing, computer-aided design, geometric modeling and embedded systems.
3-D printing alone is a keystone of making. With desktop 3-D printers, students and learners of all ages can experience firsthand the challenges and opportunities of manufacturing.
NSF also has a history of support for education within its investments in engineering research centers and science and technology centers. Education programs include out-of-school activities and challenges that engage students and teachers in the manufacturing process.
NSF supports a wide range of making, from community engagement to education and workforce development, to research on learning, to manufacturing and commercialization.
- NSF funds making-related activities across fields.
- NSF invests millions of dollars in making-related activities and research each year: To date, NSF has awarded $2.5 million in fiscal year 2014, and expects to have substantial additional investment by the end of the fiscal year.
- NSF partners with academic institutions, other federal agencies and industry to promote access to making tools, spaces, collaborators, mentors and advisors, and to study the impact on learning.
- NSF adheres to a public access policy, fostering the democratization of knowledge and resources, a core tenet of making.
The maker movement offers new opportunities for NSF to support STEM education, student retention, broadening participation, democratization of manufacturing, and new paths for innovations. NSF-funded projects continue to:
- spur innovation across a broad range of technologies, leading to the creation of small businesses.
- provide a better understanding of who participates in making, in what contexts, how and why.
- study the outcomes of making and participation in making, including the development of metrics and instrumentation.
- enhance the understanding and practice of how making can foster STEM learning.
- seek to understand how making can be leveraged to broaden participation in all areas and types of STEM interests and careers.
NSF is committed to continued engagement with the maker community. In the coming months:
- NSF will highlight opportunities to support research and education in these and other topics across the agency, building on the significant investments that it has already made.
- NSF will organize a making summit to convene researchers and practitioners, including representatives from organizations such as community maker spaces, engineering schools, libraries and museums, and manufacturers.
- NSF will continue to award making-related grants, including those to:
- Leverage existing relationships with universities and industry to encourage integration of maker activities and spaces into the school curriculum and in out-of-school environments.
- Develop technologies and kits that promote student engagement in design, advanced manufacturing and STEM.
- Broaden participation in making by individuals from underrepresented groups.
- Develop an evidence-driven knowledge base about effective learning outcomes.
Sarah Bates, NSF, (703) 292-7738, firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaron Dubrow, NSF, (703) 292-4489, email@example.com
Maria C. Zacharias, NSF, (703) 292-8454, firstname.lastname@example.org
Advanced Manufacturing: Made to Order: http://www.nsf.gov/eng/special/madetoorder/
Engineering for all: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=131735&org=NSF
Learning through making: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=131761&org=NSF
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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