nsf history
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Since its official establishment in 1950, the National Science Foundation has been at the forefront of discovery - more than 100 Nobel Prize Winners and thousands of other distinguished scientists and engineers have conducted their groundbreaking research with funding from the NSF. At the same time, the agency’s growth has mirrored America’s own growing commitment to science as a national priority.

One dramatic example of this commitment is the number of grants funded. In 1952, the NSF had the resources to fund only 28 research grants. In contrast, during 2000 the Foundation will fund more than 10,000 new grants.

The following timeline highlights some important dates in the National Science Foundation’s history - dates that often underscore the high value our nation places upon the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

The War Years

America’s military might during WWII was due, in no small measure, to the nation’s increased scientific and engineering research activities. A growing awareness of the power of these innovations began to intensify among the American public.

1945 — Vannevar Bush, head of the government's wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development, issues a report to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "Science--The Endless Frontier." The report becomes famous as the prescription for government support of science.

1950 — On May 10, President Harry S. Truman signs Public Law 507, creating the National Science Foundation. The act provides for a National Science Board of twenty-four part-time members and a Director as chief executive officer, all appointed by the president.

1951 — In early March, Truman nominates Alan T. Waterman, the chief scientist at the Office of Naval Research, to become the first Director of the fledgling agency. The agency’s initial budget is $151,000.

1952 — After moving its administrative offices twice, the NSF begins its first full year of operations with an appropriation from Congress of just $3.5 million, a figure far less the almost $33.5 million requested. Twenty-eight research grants are awarded.

1957 — On October 5, the Soviet Union launches Sputnik I, the first ever man-made satellite, into orbit. The successful rocket launch forces a national self-appraisal that questions American education, scientific, technical and industrial strength. For 1959,

Congress increases the NSF appropriation to $134 million, nearly $100 million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget will stand at nearly $500 million.

1959 — The United States concludes a treaty with the other nations engaged in Antarctic

research that reserves the continent for peaceful and scientific research. The NSF begins the U.S. Antarctic Program, a research program that to this day continues to uncover important knowledge about the natural world.

1960 - Emphasis on international scientific and technological competition further accelerates NSF growth. The Foundation starts the Institutional Support Program - the single largest beneficiary of NSF budget growth in the 1960s - a capital funding program designed to build a research infrastructure among American universities. NSF's appropriation is $152.7 million; 2,000 grants are made.

1968 — The Deep Sea Drilling Project begins. Over the years, the project reveals much new evidence about the theories of continental drift, sea floor spreading and the general usefulness of the ocean basins. The program also becomes a model of international cooperation as several foreign countries join the operation.

1977 — The first "internet" is developed. An interconnection of unrelated networks, it is run by the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Over the next decade, increasing NSF involvement leads to a three-tiered system of internetworks managed by a mix of universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. By the mid-1980s, primary financial support for the growing project is assumed by the NSF.

1983 — The agency budget tops $1 billion for the first time. Major increases in the nation’s research budget are proposed as the country recognizes the importance of research in science and technology, as well as education. A separate appropriation is established for the U.S. Antarctic Program. NSF receives more than 27,000 proposals and funds more than 12,000 of them.

1985 — In November NSF delivers ozone sensors, along with balloons and helium, to researchers at the South Pole so they can measure stratospheric ozone loss. The action is taken in response to findings made in May of that year, indicating a steep drop in ozone over a period of several years. The Internet project, now known as NSFNET, continues.

1989 - The Foundation receives more than 37,500 proposals for research, graduate fellowships, and math, science and engineering education. Over 16,000 awards are made to universities, colleges, academic consortia, non-profit institutions and small businesses.

1990 — In its 40th year of operation, NSF's appropriation passes $2 billion for the first time.

1991 — In March, the NSFNET acceptable use policy is altered to allow commercial traffic. By 1995, with the private, commercial market thriving, NSF decommissions the NSFNET, allowing for public use of the Internet.

1996 — NSF-funded research establishes beyond doubt that the chemistry of the atmosphere above Antarctica is grossly abnormal and that levels of key chlorine compounds are greatly elevated. During two months of intense work, NSF researchers learn most of what we know today about the ozone hole.

2000 — The National Science Foundation celebrates its 50th Anniversary


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