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Press Release 15-117

NSF supports new global partnerships in research and education through PIRE program

Seventeen new projects link scientists around the globe

man with computer doing eye-tracking experiment

One PIRE project will translate the science of language learning for the classroom.
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September 25, 2015

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today the latest round of innovative, international research projects that support the agency's mission--to advance the frontiers of science and engineering--and forge robust collaborations with scientific expertise around the world.

The 17 new awards, totaling more than $69 million, are made through NSF's Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) program, which began in 2005. PIRE helps catalyze strong international engagement by the U.S. science and engineering community. Projects work to generate new knowledge and discoveries; promote a diverse, globally engaged U.S. workforce; and build the institutional capacity of U.S. institutions to engage in productive international collaborations.

"By linking together researchers from around the world, PIRE allows us to leverage U.S. dollars and improve scientific outcomes," said Rebecca Keiser, head of NSF's Office of International Science and Engineering, which manages PIRE. "These rich partnerships will tackle some of today's most pressing research questions, from predicting natural disasters to understanding intricacies of the human brain."

Within NSF, PIRE is also supported by the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and all programmatic directorates. NSF support, which funds the U.S. portion of the collaboration, is leveraged by partnerships with the U.S. Agency for International Development and by counterpart funding agencies in China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, South Korea and Taiwan.

Advanced artificial muscles for international and globally competitive research and education in soft robotics (University of Nevada Las Vegas)--This project will create advanced multifunctional artificial muscles with new polymer-metal composites, which can be used in soft robotic applications. Soft robotics itself is an important emerging field in robotics, mechatronics, and automation, with many advantages over conventional robotic devices. Artificial muscles can also be transformative for millions of people with disabilities. [NSF partner agency: National Research Foundation of Korea]

Neural mechanisms of reward and decision (University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus)--A consortium of U.S. and international faculty and students will collaborate on four interdisciplinary projects, all working to advance our knowledge of brain mechanisms mediating reward and decision processes. Increasing our understanding of decision-making could ultimately lead to more effective, adaptive strategies for solving problems.

International program for the advancement of neurotechnology (University of Michigan Ann Arbor)--Understanding how our brain functions, and how it interacts with the rest of the body, is cited by many as the biggest scientific challenge of this century. This project tackles that question, working to create a holistic system for studying brain activity, by closely integrating innovative neurotechnology with novel software from leading neuroscientists. [NSF partner agency: National Research Foundation of Korea]

Translating cognitive and brain science in the laboratory and field to language learning environments (Pennsylvania State University - University Park)--This project builds on recent discoveries demonstrating that using two or more languages changes minds and brains to be more open to learning, more cognitively flexible, and more resistant to cognitive decline. The goal is to translate the science of language learning for education, and examine the contexts and consequences of language learning in the classroom and the field for an increasingly diverse population. [NSF partner agencies: China's Ministry of Science and Technology, Spain's Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, and Germany's Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft]

ExTerra field institute and research endeavor (Boise State University)--This broad geosciences consortium investigates rocks exhumed from fossil subduction zones. These rocks uniquely illuminate processes otherwise obscured beneath the surface of active subduction zones, which produce most of Earth's deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Researching them can help us better understand, forecast and prepare for such events. [NSF partner agencies: Spain's Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Germany's Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and France's Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique]

Integrated computational materials engineering for active materials and interfaces in chemical fuel production (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)--This award combines world-class experimental resources, computational facilities and expertise to solve the energy storage grand challenge. The team will focus on solid oxide electrolysis cells, which transform renewable energy into chemical energy and store it for later use. These cells are viewed as a clean, efficient path to a carbon-neutral economy; the team will work to make this technology more efficient and reliable. [NSF partner agencies: Japan Science and Technology Agency, and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science]

Research and education in active coatings technologies for the human habitat (University of Pennsylvania)-- This project focuses on Active Coating Technologies (ACTs), which have the potential to transform our habitat and disaster-response abilities. ACTs will enable the design of novel materials and properties for water collection and purification, disease transmission reduction, and efficient energy generation and storage. [NSF partner agencies: France's Agence Nationale de la Recherche and Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique]

DUST stimulated drawn-down of atmospheric CO2 as a trigger for Northern Hemisphere glaciation (University of Rochester)-- Seven U.S. and three Chinese institutions will evaluate a new hypothesis: Atmospheric dust from Central Asian deserts fertilized the North Pacific Ocean, stimulating algal productivity, which in turn drew down atmospheric carbon dioxide leading to Northern Hemisphere glaciation. A better understanding of this geologic history will help us predict and plan for current climate changes. [NSF partner agency: China's Ministry of Science and Technology]

Synthesis of optical materials for bioapplications: Research, education, recruitment and outreach (University of California-Riverside)-- This project will further development of a transparent cranial implant – the so-called "Windows to the Brain" platform--to replace portions of the skull. This would allow for non-invasive neuro procedures, improving our ability to diagnose and treat neurological disorders, such as traumatic brain injury and stroke. The PIRE links one of America's few research-intensive Hispanic Serving Institutions and premier institutions in Mexico. [NSF partner agency: Mexico's Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia]

U.S.-East Africa research and education partnership: Cassava mosaic disease - a paradigm for the evolution of insect-transmitted plant virus pathosystems (North Carolina State University)-- Plant DNA viruses have emerged as leading pathogens that threaten crops worldwide. This PIRE establishes a research and training partnership between the U.S. and East Africa to study Cassava mosaic disease, which is endemic to Africa and severely limits the production of a major food crop across the continent. Agriculture is increasingly a global enterprise; finding solutions to food security problems will depend on research partnerships such as this, which explore the basic science of how plant DNA viruses evolve and what limits their ability to adapt over time. [NSF partner agency: U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)]

Coastal flood risk reduction program: Integrated, multi-scale approaches for understanding how to reduce vulnerability to damaging events (Texas A&M University)-- Coastal floods continue to be the costliest and most disruptive natural hazard worldwide. Flood risk and associated losses can only be understood and eventually reduced through interdisciplinary, international investigation. By drawing upon knowledge from multiple disciplines and the experience and expertise of partner institutions in Texas and the Netherlands, this PIRE team will pursue comprehensive, multiscale studies that cover both surge-based and precipitation-driven flood problems. [NSF partner agencies: Germany's Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, France's Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, National Research Foundation of Korea and USAID]

Taming water in Ethiopia: An interdisciplinary approach to improve human security in a water-dependent emerging region (University of Connecticut)-- This project interweaves social science, geosciences and engineering to create new models for water forecasting. It focuses on Ethiopia's Blue Nile Basin, with results that could be applied around the world. Water forecasting is a crucial need, as water availability becomes increasingly inconsistent due to urbanization, climate change and other factors. The project will study and improve decision making under uncertainty. [NSF partner agencies: Germany's Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. France's Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, National Research Foundation of Korea and USAID]

Global relay of observatories watching transients happen (California Institute of Technology)-- This collaborative network of astronomers and telescopes is dedicated to the study of short-lived cosmic transients and near-earth asteroids. The network includes a relay of telescopes, which enables extended night-time viewing. The research will aim to answer questions such as: Where in the universe are heavy elements synthesized? What are the final fates of stars? Where are small-earth asteroids? [NSF partner agencies: Germany's Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Taiwan's National Science Council, and India's Science and Engineering Board]

Halting environmental antimicrobial resistance dissemination (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)-- This project addresses antimicrobial resistance, an emerging threat around the world. The research will focus on quantifying how wastewater treatment processes affect different aspects of antimicrobial resistance and how wastewater treatment plants and the receiving environment interact to affect the spread. The team will also develop and test novel approaches to stop the spread of antimicrobial resistance originating from wastewater treatment plants. [NSF partner agency: India's Science and Engineering Board]

Building extreme weather resiliency and global community resiliency through improved weather and climate prediction and emergency response strategies (University at Albany, SUNY)-- Globally, flooding impacts over 96 million people per year, mostly within developing countries. In the U.S., floods cause an average of $8.2 billion in damages annually. This consortium will work to better quantify trends in weather extremes on a regional scale and investigate the efficacy of decision-making and the emergency management response with probabilistic weather and impacts information of extreme weather events. [NSF partner agency: Taiwan's National Science Council]

Promoting urban sustainability in the Arctic (George Washington University)--The purpose of this project is to promote greater urban sustainability in the Arctic to lessen human impact on the larger environment. The research will improve the ability of policymakers to promote sustainability by providing tools to measure progress, identify areas of most urgent need, select best practices, examine opportunity costs and determine where external actors can have the greatest impact. [NSF partner agencies: Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, Academy of Finland and National Research Foundation of Korea]

Crafting optimal learning in science environments (Michigan State University)-- This project aims to enhance secondary science teachers' skills in promoting engaging classroom activities. The team will measure the academic, social, and emotional learning of students in secondary science classes, and investigate the effects of a new form of science instruction, modeled after the new Next Generation Science Standards. [NSF partner agency: the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation and the Academy of Finland]


Media Contacts
Jessica Arriens, NSF, (703) 292-2243,

Program Contacts
Cassidy Burke, NSF, (703) 292-2464,
John Tsapogas, NSF, (703) 292-7799,
Cassandra M. Dudka, NSF, (703) 292-7250,

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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gif of moving artificial muscle
One of the PIRE projects will research a twistable artificial muscle technology and soft robotics.
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students in field analyzing rocks
Another PIRE project will investigate fossil subduction zones, the source of deadly natural hazards.
Credit and Larger Version