This document has been archived. For current NSF funding opportunities, see
About the National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent Federal agency
created by the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended (42 U.S.C.
1861-75). The Act states that NSF shall consist of the National Science
Board (NSB) and the Director and establishes NSF to, among other purposes, "promote
the progress of science” and “advance the national health, prosperity,
and welfare." The NSB establishes NSF's policies within the framework
of applicable national policies as set forth by the President and Congress
and, together with the Director, recommends and encourages the pursuit of
national policies for the promotion of research and education in science
From its first days, NSF has had a unique place in the Federal Government.
It is responsible for the overall health of science and engineering across
all disciplines. In contrast, other Federal agencies support research focused
on specific missions such as health or defense. NSF is also committed to
ensuring the Nation’s supply of scientists, engineers, and science
and engineering educators.
NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering.
It does this through grants to and cooperative agreements with more than
2,000 colleges, universities, K–12 school systems, businesses, informal
science organizations, and other research institutions throughout the United
States. NSF accounts for about one-fourth of all Federal support to academic
institutions for basic research.
NSF receives approximately 30,000 - 35,000 proposals each year for research,
education, and training projects, of which approximately 10,000 are funded.
In addition, it receives several thousand applications for graduate and
postdoctoral fellowships. NSF grants are typically awarded to universities,
colleges, academic consortia, nonprofit institutions, and small businesses.
NSF operates no laboratories itself, but it does support National Research
Centers, user facilities, certain oceanographic vessels, and Antarctic research
stations. It also supports cooperative research between universities and
industry, U.S. participation in international scientific efforts, and educational
activities at every academic level.
NSF is structured much like a university, with grants-funding divisions
for the various disciplines and fields of science and engineering, and for
science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. NSF also uses
a variety of management mechanisms to coordinate research in areas that
cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. NSF is helped by advisers from
the scientific community who serve on formal committees or as ad hoc reviewers
of proposals. This advisory system, which focuses on both program directions
and specific proposals, involves approximately 50,000 scientists and engineers
each year. NSF staff members who are experts in a certain field or area
make award recommendations; proposers get unattributed verbatim copies of
Grantees are wholly responsible for conducting their project activities
and preparing the results for publication. Thus, NSF does not assume responsibility
for such findings or their interpretation.
NSF welcomes proposals on behalf of all qualified scientists, engineers,
and educators. It strongly encourages women, minorities, and persons with
disabilities to participate fully in its programs. In accordance with Federal
statutes and regulations and with NSF policies, no person on grounds of
race, color, age, sex, national origin, or disability will be excluded from
participation in any program or activity receiving financial assistance
from NSF, or be denied the benefits of such a program or activity, or be
subjected to discrimination under any such program or activity, although
some programs may have special requirements that limit eligibility.
Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities provide
funding for special assistance or equipment to enable persons with disabilities
to work on NSF-supported projects. See Grant Proposal Guide (GPG),
Chapter II, Section D.2. for instructions regarding preparation of these
types of proposals.
NSF has Telephonic Device for the Deaf (TDD) and Federal Information Relay
Service (FIRS) capabilities that enable individuals with hearing impairments
to communicate with the Foundation about NSF programs, employment, or general
information. TDD may be accessed at 703-292-5090; FIRS at 1-800-877-8339.
Deadlines and Target Dates
Many of the programs listed in the Guide to Programs have
an established deadline or target date for the submission of proposals.
Information about most of these dates can be found in the NSF E-Bulletin,
an electronic publication available at http://www.nsf.gov/home/ebulletin/.
Individual program announcements and solicitations also carry deadline and
target date information, as do NSF division websites.
A list of all deadlines sorted by date and by program area is available
Except where a program solicitation establishes more restrictive eligibility
criteria, individuals and organizations in the following categories may
submit proposals to NSF:
- Universities and Colleges—U.S. universities and
2- and 4-year colleges (including community colleges) acting on behalf
- Nonprofit, Nonacademic Organizations—Independent museums,
observatories, research laboratories, professional societies, and similar
organizations in the United States that are directly associated with education
or research activities.
- For-Profit Organizations—U.S. commercial organizations,
especially small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering
research and education. An unsolicited proposal from a commercial organization
may be funded in cases where the project is of special concern from a national
point of view; where special resources are available for the work; or where
the proposed project is especially meritorious. NSF is interested in supporting
projects that couple industrial research resources and perspectives with
those of universities; therefore, it especially welcomes proposals for cooperative
projects involving both universities and the private commercial sector.
- State and Local Governments—State educational offices or
organizations and local school districts may submit proposals intended to
broaden the impact, accelerate the pace, and increase the effectiveness
of improvements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education
at K–12 and postsecondary levels.
- Unaffiliated Individuals—Scientists, engineers,
and educators in the United States and U.S. citizens may be eligible for
that the individual is not employed by or affiliated with an organization,
Unaffiliated individuals should contact the appropriate program before
they prepare a proposal for submission.
- the proposed project is sufficiently meritorious and otherwise
complies with the conditions of any applicable proposal-generating document;
- the proposer has demonstrated the capability and has access to
any necessary facilities to carry out the project; and
- the proposer agrees to fiscal arrangements that, in the opinion
of the NSF Grants Office, ensure responsible management of Federal funds.
- Foreign Organizations—NSF
rarely provides support to foreign organizations. NSF will consider proposals
for cooperative projects involving
U.S. and foreign organizations, provided support is requested only for the
U.S. portion of the collaborative effort.
- Other Federal Agencies—NSF does not normally support research
or education activities by scientists, engineers, or educators employed
by Federal agencies or Federally Funded Research and Development Centers
(FFRDC’s). However, a scientist, engineer, or educator who has a joint
appointment with a university and a Federal agency (such as a Veterans Administration
Hospital) or with a university and an FFRDC may submit proposals through
the university and may receive support if he or she is a bona fide faculty
member of the university, although part of the salary may be provided by
the Federal agency. In some unusual circumstances, other Federal agencies
and FFRDC’s may submit proposals directly to NSF. Preliminary inquiry
should be made to the appropriate program before a proposal is prepared
To check on special requirements for a specific program, consult the applicable
program solicitation or contact the program directly.
Who May Submit Proposals
Scientists, engineers, and educators usually initiate proposals that are
officially submitted by their employing organization. It is recommended
that the proposal be discussed with appropriate NSF program staff before
Graduate students are not encouraged to submit research proposals, but
they can arrange to serve as research assistants to faculty members. Some
NSF divisions accept proposals for Doctoral Dissertation Research Grants,
which should be submitted by a faculty member or thesis adviser on behalf
of the graduate student. NSF also provides support specifically for women
and minority scientists and engineers, scientists and engineers with disabilities,
and faculty at primarily undergraduate academic institutions.
Merit Review Criteria for the Selection of Research and Education Projects
NSF Proposal Review Process
Reviews of proposals submitted to NSF are solicited from peers with expertise
in the substantive area of the proposed research or education project. These
reviewers are selected by program officers charged with the oversight of
the review process. NSF invites the proposer to suggest at the time of submission,
the names of appropriate or inappropriate reviewers. Care is taken to ensure
that reviewers have no conflicts with the proposer. Special efforts are
made to recruit reviewers from non-academic institutions, minority-serving
institutions, or adjacent disciplines to what is principally addressed in
The National Science Board approved revised criteria for evaluating proposals
at its meeting on March 28, 1997 (see NSB
97-72). All NSF proposals are
evaluated using the two merit review criteria. However, in some instances
NSF will employ additional criteria--as necessary--to highlight the specific
objectives of certain programs and activities.
On July 8, 2002, the NSF Director issued Important
Notice 127, "Implementation
of new GPG Requirements Related to the Broader Impacts Criterion." This
Important Notice reinforces the importance of addressing both criteria in
the preparation and review of all proposals submitted to NSF. The Foundation
continues to strengthen its internal processes to ensure that both of the
merit review criteria are addressed when making funding decisions.
In an effort to increase compliance with these requirements, the January
2002 issuance of the GPG incorporated revised proposal
preparation guidelines relating to the development of the Project Summary
and Project Description. Chapter II of the GPG specifies
that principal investigators (PIs) must address both merit review criteria
in separate statements within the one-page Project Summary. This chapter
also reiterates that broader impacts resulting from the proposed project
must be addressed in the Project Description and described as an integral
part of the narrative.
Effective October 1, 2002, NSF will return without review, proposals that
do not separately address both merit review criteria within the Project
Summary. It is believed that these changes to NSF proposal preparation and
processing guidelines will more clearly articulate the importance of broader
impacts to NSF-funded projects.
The two NSB-approved merit review criteria are listed below (see the GPG, Chapter
III. A for further information). The criteria include considerations that
help define them. These considerations are suggestions and not all will
apply to any given proposal. While proposers must address both merit review
criteria, reviewers will be asked to address only those considerations that
are relevant to the proposal being considered and for which he/she is qualified
to make judgments.
What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?
How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding
within its own field or across different fields? How well qualified is
the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project? (If appropriate,
the reviewer will comment on the quality of the prior work.) To what extent
does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and original concepts?
How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient
access to resources?
What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?
How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting
teaching, training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden
the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity,
disability, geographic, etc.)? To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure
for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks,
and partnerships? Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific
and technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed
activity to society?
NSF staff will give careful consideration to the following in making funding
Integration of Research and Education
One of the principal strategies in support of NSF's goals is to foster integration
of research and education through the programs, projects, and activities
it supports at academic and research institutions. These institutions provide
abundant opportunities where individuals may concurrently assume responsibilities
as researchers, educators, and students and where all can engage in joint
efforts that infuse education with the excitement of discovery and enrich
research through the diversity of learning perspectives.
Integrating Diversity into NSF Programs, Projects, and Activities
Broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens--women
and men, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities--is
essential to the health and vitality of science and engineering. NSF is
committed to this principle of diversity and deems it central to the programs,
projects, and activities it considers and supports.
The Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) provides guidance for the preparation
and submission of proposals to NSF. The latest edition is available at http://www.nsf.gov/cgi-bin/getpub?gpg.
Some NSF programs have program solicitations that modify the general provisions
in the GPG. In such cases, the guidelines provided in the solicitation
must be followed. It is recommended proposers contact NSF program personnel
before preparing a proposal.
Effective October 1, 2000, all proposals to NSF must be submitted electronically
via the NSF FastLane system (http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/fastlane.htm).
The GPG includes instructions on how to obtain an exception to
the FastLane requirement for those who have difficulties with submission
or cannot submit electronically to NSF.
Press Releases and Other Media Materials
As research results develop, NSF grantees should consider whether or not
they might warrant National press interest. If so, the grantee should contact
either the Media Section in NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public
Affairs, or the public affairs office of their home institution, to discuss
the possibility of media coverage. Contact should be made far enough in
advance of a formal announcement to allow sufficient time to develop an
appropriate press strategy. Such a strategy may include a press release
or news tip, video news release, press conference or briefing, or editorial
(opinion) pieces. If unsure of the newsworthiness, contact NSF or the institution
public affairs office. National media interviews should be granted only
after advance coordination with a public affairs officer. The NSF Media
Section can be reached at (703) 292-8070.