Mathematical AND Physical Sciences                                               $753,970,000



The FY 2000 Budget Request for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Activity is $753.97 million, an increase of $19.57 million, or 2.7 percent, over the FY 1999 Current Plan of $734.40 million.


(Millions of Dollars)


The Mathematical and Physical Sciences Activity (MPS) supports a strong and diverse portfolio of research and education in astronomical sciences, chemistry, materials research, mathematical sciences and physics.  The purpose of this work is both to deepen our understanding of the physical universe, and to use this understanding in service to society.  The mathematical and physical sciences underpin many other scientific endeavors and serve as the training ground for at least half of all doctoral scientists now employed in U.S. industry.  The MPS Activity supports areas of inquiry that are critical for long-term U.S. economic strength and security, providing a substantial portion of federal funding for fundamental research at academic institutions in these areas, and in some subfields provides for most of the federal investment.


The new opportunities are many.  Research at the atomic level will result in a period of discovery which could be termed a “molecular revolution."  The study of complex chemical and physical systems offers critical insights into climate change and other natural phenomena.  Biological systems can be understood and controlled via powerful mathematical and physical techniques, such as the creation of algorithms critical for drug design and for the development of biopolymers, gels, and other biomolecular materials.  New tools critical to scientific progress – from advanced magnets, to novel sensors, to quantum computers, to more powerful telescopes – are being developed and refined, and will make possible the understanding of physical phenomena at a much more profound level.  Essential to achieving these goals is the development of new mathematical tools and algorithms for modeling and simulation of physical and biological phenomena.


MPS places a high priority on multidisciplinary work and on partnerships.  The Multidisciplinary Activities Subactivity is designed to catalyze efforts in emerging areas of research and education at disciplinary boundaries.  By fostering closer connections with other federal agencies, state governments and industry, MPS investigators can enhance the impact of their efforts and increase the return on NSF investments. 


International partnerships are critical to progress, both intellectually and financially, especially in the areas of astronomy, physics, and materials research, all of which require the use of large facilities.  An example is the strong international cooperation that the Astronomy Subactivity has generated in support of the Gemini Observatories.  Another is the collaboration with the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science and with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) that the Physics Subactivity has pursued toward the development of detectors for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).


World leadership in science is a critical objective for the Foundation.  Receipt of Nobel Prizes by MPS-supported physical scientists and Fields Medals by MPS-supported mathematical scientists is a strong indicator of the long-term importance of MPS research.   The 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Daniel Tsui of Princeton University, Horst Stormer of Columbia University and Lucent Technologies, and Robert Laughlin of Stanford University for the discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations.  The 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Walter Kohn of the University of California at Santa Barbara and John Pople of Northwestern University.  Kohn is recognized for his work on developing the Density Functional Theory of interacting electron systems and Pople for his discovery and implementation of novel methods for computing the quantum mechanical structure and behavior of molecules.  Kohn is also the founder of the NSF-supported Institute for Theoretical Physics.  The work of these laureates has been supported by MPS.  


In 1998, Richard Borcherds of the University of California at Berkeley and Curtis T. McMullen of Harvard University were awarded Fields Medals, the highest international honor in the mathematical sciences.  Borcherds’ award recognized his ground-breaking work describing the structure of finite groups by linking the structure to deep results in algebraic geometry.  McMullen was recognized for his important work in several areas of mathematics, including the theory of computation, dynamical systems, three-manifolds, and creating a “dictionary” between the theory of iterations of maps on the Riemann sphere and that of Kleinian groups.  Since a Fields Medal winner must be under 40 years of age, Andrew Wiles was recognized by a one-time special award for his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.  The work of Borcherds, McMullen and Wiles has been supported by MPS.


In FY 2000, MPS will provide support for research and education efforts related to three broad, Foundation-wide efforts: Biocomplexity in the Environment, Information Technologies, and Educating for the Future.             


Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE):  MPS will provide $49.50 million in support of programs within BE.  This is an increase of $5.20 million over the FY 1999 level of $44.30 million, for activities formerly known as Life and Earth’s Environment.  Highlights include:  


·         Biodiversity and Ecosystems Dynamics (BED):  A total of $8.47 million will support interdisciplinary research on natural environmental systems that require the combined expertise of geologists and biologists as well as physical scientists and mathematicians.  Areas of emphasis include  Environmental Geochemistry and Biogeochemistry (EGB), Life in Extreme Environments (LExEn), and Contaminant Behavior and Impact in Northern Polar Regions.


·         Environment and the Human Dimension (EHD):  A total of $35.68 million will support research on environmentally beneficial technologies.  The focus will be on the development of ecologically useful materials -- materials that are biodegradable, corrosion resistant, and lightweight and therefore advantageous both in energy efficiency and environmental suitability;  chemicals that reduce adverse outcomes of human activities; and alternative production methods to prevent pollution, including development of sensors for process control and reuse of materials.  Computational and statistical methods will support research in risk assessment and environmental valuation.  A major effort will be the initiation of new Environmental Molecular Science Institutes (EMSI).  These multidisciplinary research and education institutes will also support research in biodiversity.  


·         Global and Environmental Change (GEC):  A total of $5.35 million will support mathematical modeling of atmospheric and ecological systems as well as experimental atmospheric investigations of greenhouse gas dynamics, global tropospheric chemistry, atmospheric physics, lower atmosphere phenomena, solar influences and comparative planetology.


Information Technologies (IT):  MPS will provide $63.99 million for IT.  This is an increase of $4.8 million over the FY 1999 level of $59.19 million, for activities formerly known as Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence.  Research efforts will focus on data mining and analysis of large, distributed, heterogeneous databases, often at high speed in real time, e.g., massive astrophysical surveys and data gathered from large scale high energy physics experiments.  Additional support will be provided for the modeling and simulation of complex physical and chemical systems that enable physical scientists, for example, to accurately predict the properties and functions of complex molecules and materials based on atomistic models and to interpret data necessary to formulate a coherent picture of the structure and evolution of the Universe.  MPS will also provide support for additional research in the development of smart instrumentation, control theory, statistical learning theory, and machine-learning algorithms.


Educating for the Future (EFF):  MPS supports a range of programs which encourage innovative approaches to meeting the challenge of educating students for the 21st century.  A total of $81.24 million, a $6.80 million increase from the FY 1999 level, will support programs including:  Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT), and the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER).  Of note, $16.0 million will be for support of the Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE) program which integrates undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral activities to reform education in the mathematical sciences, and to provide broader career opportunities, including across disciplines.  Other education and training efforts that will be supported include sabbatical traineeships that enable senior faculty in MPS disciplines to develop multidisciplinary links to investigators outside their primary fields; public outreach and education activities at facilities and centers; and international fellowships to carry out research at the world’s leading facilities and laboratories. 


Key Program Functions


MPS supports its ongoing and new activities through the following key program functions:


(Millions of Dollars)

1 Includes only costs charged to the R&RA appropriation.


The types of activities supported vary widely across the MPS Subactivities.  For example, awards to individual investigators and small groups range from less than 40 percent of the budget in Astronomical Sciences to over 90 percent in the Mathematical Sciences.  Identifying and maintaining an appropriate balance is essential for the health of each field and MPS works in close partnership with the research communities to identify and implement a balanced, forward-looking investment portfolio.  Approximately 4,300 awards are made each year, with a median award size of $75,000.


In FY 2000, MPS will continue to implement efforts to address the Foundation-wide concern about grant sizes by increasing the average size and duration of awards and providing more support for researchers. In accord with the Foundation’s FY 2000 Performance Plan, MPS will continue to pay increasing attention to the percentage of competitive research grants for new investigators. These efforts will also contribute to increasing the efficiency of the Foundation’s merit review process and achieve greater cost-effectiveness for both NSF and the university community.



Research Project Support


Research Project Support provides funding for research projects, centers and equipment and instrumentation.  Research projects account for about two-thirds of the MPS Activity, and research centers account for about ten percent of the MPS Activity.  Awards range from support of single investigators to group or center awards designed to meet the research needs of a collaboration.  These award mechanisms promote the competition of ideas, rapid innovation arising from new scientific opportunities, and flexible approaches to complex scientific problems. 


 Within Research Project Support, funding for research projects will increase in FY 2000 by $12.34 million, to a total of $464.39 million.  In FY 2000, increased funding will focus on the following significant areas within the MPS portfolio; since programmatic activities can apply to more than one area some may be counted in more than one area.


·         Fundamental and Applied Mathematics:  The mathematical sciences play an essential role in both independent discovery and in the support of other fields of research; indeed, mathematics enables tomorrow’s science, engineering and technology.  From modeling heart valves and other biological processes; to predicting environmental and climatic change; to signal processing and high-speed magnetic resonance imaging; to understanding massive data sets and transportation webs; to enabling communications quality, speed and security; to describing the behavior of fluids from groundwater aquifers to storm surges; to understanding the stability of matter and the shape of the universe, the mathematical sciences  -- linked with science and engineering --  provide the computation, prediction, visualization, algorithms, models, and theoretical foundations of discovery.  MPS support of this effort will increase by an estimated $4 million.    


·         Origins of the Universe:  Research in this area seeks to answer some of the most intriguing questions of all: How did the universe begin?  How did matter, planets, stars, and galaxies form?  Did life exist elsewhere in the universe?  Does it now?  We still do not know exactly how the chemical elements form, and how galaxies, stars, and planetary systems are born and evolve.  We do not completely understand the Sun's impact on processes here on Earth.  These important questions require many complementary contributions from astrophysics, particle physics, nuclear physics, exobiology, and chemistry.  Ground-based telescopes such as the Gemini Observatories, accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL), and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) will contribute to the solution of these questions, as do companion efforts in theoretical physics and chemistry.  It is estimated that increased support $4 million will be provided for this work in FY 2000. 


·         The Quantum Realm:  This area of research covers such diverse topics as the fundamental makeup of the world around us, the basic nature of the chemical reactions that control our environment, and the development of new materials.  In 1998, it was found that neutrinos, among the most abundant particles in the universe, almost certainly have mass.  This finding has implications for both the history and evolution of the universe and the physics of elementary particles.  The recently-developed ability to manipulate single atoms and mesoscopic-scale assemblies of atoms is being applied to create numerous new physical systems which are predicted by quantum mechanics and are of both fundamental and technological importance.  Precise control of chemical reactions at the quantum level using powerful, sculpted pulses of radiation offers great hope of being able to manage and selectively control chemical synthesis.  In the realm of theoretical science and mathematics, researchers are discovering that seemingly different theoretical descriptions of nature --  sometimes differing even in the number of dimensions ascribed to space  --  are actually equivalent and offer the possibility of solving previously intractable fundamental problems.  In FY 2000, increased support for study of the quantum realm is estimated at $8 million.


·         Molecular Connections:  Enhanced capabilities to synthesize, characterize, and model complex systems at the molecular level create an intellectual bridge by which MPS works with other disciplines to solve important problems in biology, geology, and engineering.  Recent research ventures in nanotechnology have advanced development of protective coatings, electronic components, and biomedicine, and interdisciplinary programs in biogeochemistry have increased understanding of abiotic production of organic molecules under adverse conditions and of the fate of contaminants in the environment.  The sciences in the MPS portfolio can, and do, provide deeper understanding of the fundamental chemical and physical phenomena occurring in complex biological systems.  The mathematical descriptions of these phenomena, as well as the use of mathematics to describe larger-scale biological and ecological systems, are also actively being pursued.  Increased support for molecular research in FY 2000 will be approximately $2 million.


·         Integration of Research and Education:  MPS support of research activities of individual investigators, groups, centers, and facilities provides research-based learning and the natural integration of research and education for more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctorals.  Among this group of students, approximately 1,800 undergraduates are supported through MPS’s nearly 200 REU Sites.  These REU Sites also serve as a platform for providing K-12 teachers with discovery-based learning experiences that they can incorporate into their classroom activities.  MPS-sponsored institutes, centers, and facilities also support outreach programs that place the most current and exciting scientific discoveries within reach of K-12 teachers and students and help communicate the value of research and raise the level of scientific literacy of the populace.


Within the Research Project Support Key Program Function, MPS supports a number of centers:


(Millions of Dollars)

1 The reduction of support reflects the planned phase-out of the first class of STCs during FY 1999, as well as planned reductions in the second class of STCs.

2 Annualized funding for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institutes in FY 1998 and FY 1999 was $5.7 million.  In FY 2000, full funding will total $8.1 million.                          


Center-based research brings together scientists from diverse disciplines to work on complex problems, often in partnerships with other academic institutions, national laboratories, and industry.  Centers are strongly committed to the integration of research and education, at levels from pre-college to postdoctoral, and they maintain sophisticated experimental facilities generally accessible to a broad range of users.  


In FY 1999, MPS is supporting ten Science and Technology Centers (STCs) and 29 Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs), as well as three Environmental Molecular Science Institutes and three Mathematical Sciences Research Institutes.  The research activities of STCs cover a broad range, from advanced materials, to particle astrophysics, to ultrafast optical science.  In the MRSECs, researchers from many disciplines including engineering, the mathematical and physical sciences, and biology address fundamental problems encompassing a wide range of materials and phenomena.  MPS centers provide broad-ranging opportunities for over 400 undergraduate students to participate actively in cutting-edge research each year.


Interdisciplinary groups at a number of MRSECs and STCs are working in close partnership with teachers and educators to bring materials science alive for pre-college students in a variety of programs.  For example, the University of Maryland MRSEC has developed a long-term relationship with a local middle school with the goal of improving science education for its students. The foundation of the their strong working relationship is rooted in open communication.  Current projects include a student science conference sponsored jointly with the American Institute of Physics, a focus program for middle school girls, and a “teacher invention convention.”


Centers play a significant role in attracting women and other groups that are underrepresented in the scientific workforce to careers in science. The MRSECs support more than 1,700 faculty members and students.  Of these, more than 20 percent are women and about 10 percent are from other underrepresented groups.  Efforts by MPS Centers to integrate research and education at all levels, and to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities, will be further enhanced.


Funding changes planned for FY 2000 include:


·         An increase of $4.50 million, to a total of $51.65 million, will support the establishment of up to four new MRSECs through open competition.


·         Support for existing STCs will be reduced by $12.45 million to a total of $6.49 million.  The reduction of support reflects the planned phase-out of the first class of STCs in FY 1999, as well as planned reductions in the second class of STCs.


·         Support for Environmental Molecular Science Institutes will increase by $4.50 million, to $9.05 million to provide for up to four new institutes.


·         In FY 1999, a third Mathematical Sciences Research Institute will be selected through open competition, joining the two that currently exist at the University of California, Berkeley and at the University of Minnesota.  In FY 2000, $8.10 million for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institutes will allow them to be brought up to full funding.


·         Funding for the National High Field FT-ICR Mass Spectrometry Center at Florida State University will double to $2.0 million to support advanced molecular characterization, the focus of which will be determined through competition.


Also included within Research Project Support is funding for instrumentation and equipment.  Modern science, mathematics and education require access to modern equipment.  Historically, advances in scientific equipment and instrumentation have been swiftly followed by substantial scientific progress.  In recent years advances in instrumentation have enabled scientists to image and manipulate individual atoms and molecules.  Chemists can now observe the formation and dissociation of molecules in real time using femtosecond lasers and astronomers can compensate for atmospheric distortions using adaptive optics, substantially improving the resolution of ground based telescopes.  All of the MPS disciplines are benefiting from the increasing availability and sophistication of computer systems and networks to model physical processes, collect and visualize experimental data and maintain and manipulate large databases.  Instrumentation accounts for approximately 11 percent of the MPS Activity.  In FY 2000, MPS support for equipment and instrumentation acquisition and instrument development will be about $80 million.


Research Facilities


Continued advances and leadership in astronomy, physics and many areas of materials science depend critically on the availability of state-of-the-art user facilities to enable research and education at the cutting edge of science for large communities of university faculty and students.  Investment in facilities necessarily requires support for ongoing operations, maintenance and periodic upgrades to the core facility as well as to ancillary instrumentation that may be needed to provide continued forefront research opportunities to these users. 

(Millions of Dollars)

1Includes the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility, Wisconsin Synchrotron Radiation Center, Cornell High-Energy Synchrotron Source, NIST Neutron Scattering Facility, National Nanofabrication Users Network, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and planning funds for the Spallation Neutron Source.


In FY 2000, facilities support includes the following:


·         An increase of $400,000, to a total of $23.70 million, for operation of the two Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) sites in Hanford, Washington and Livingston Parish, Louisiana, as well as for advanced R&D to improve the sensitivity of LIGO as an astrophysical observatory.  These funds will provide for operations, research, and infrastructure, as installation and commissioning activities move towards initial observations planned for FY 2001.  For additional information, see the Major Research Equipment account.


·         An increase of $120,000, to a total of $7.25 million, for the Gemini Observatories operations.  The northern observatory on Mauna Kea achieved first light in December 1998.  First light at the southern site observatory at Cerro Pachon, Chile is scheduled for FY 2000.  For additional information, see the Major Research Equipment account.


·         Funding is maintained at $19.50 million for the Cornell Electron Storage Ring (CESR) to support effective operations of the facility, including its strong accelerator physics program, following completion of the CESR upgrade in 1999.  CESR serves a broad user community and continues to be a world-leading center for study of the B-meson and its relation to the electro-weak force and to understanding the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe.  CESR also provides intense beams of X-rays to about 500 users per year at the Cornell High Energy Synchotron Source (CHESS) for research in condensed-matter, chemical and biological sciences.


·         A decrease of $1.63 million, to a total of $14.21 million, for Michigan State University’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL).  The reduction is in accord with the schedule for the radioactive ion beam upgrade project, which will be completed at the end of FY 2001.  The upgrade will provide important research opportunities for hundreds of users of the NSCL, with particular emphasis on astrophysics.  Also included in the FY 2000 request for NSCL is continued funding of $1.50 million for replacement of the helium refrigeration system.  


·         Funding for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL) will be maintained at $17.50 million.  The NHMFL provides world leadership in high magnetic field capability, supporting the research needs of hundreds of researchers across a broad spectrum of science and technology.  The NHMFL is operated by Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and is funded in partnership by NSF, the Department of Energy and the State of Florida.


·         Funding for two major national astronomy facilities – the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) -- will increase by $690,000 each to $32.53 million and $29.69 million, respectively.  The increase for NRAO will provide for enhanced operations and maintenance and development of new instrumentation at the Very Large Array (VLA) and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA).  The increase for NOAO will provide for upgrading instrumentation, continued operation of the Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG), and continued construction of instruments for the Synoptic Optical Long-term Investigation of the Sun (SOLIS).  Support for the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) will be maintained at $8.95 million. 


·         A total of $800,000 will be provided to support planning and development of neutron scattering facilities for structural and dynamical studies of materials at the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS).  The SNS is under construction at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is supported by the Department of Energy.


In addition to these facilities, MPS manages the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) detector construction project jointly with the Department of Energy, and the design and development activities for the Millimeter Array. For additional information, see the Major Research Equipment Account.


Education and Training


MPS will increase its FY 2000 investment in Education and Training by 6.6 percent to a total of $38.85  million.  These investments will support innovations in education and training from K-12 through the postdoctoral and senior sabbatical levels.  Funding identified in the table below includes only dedicated education and training activities and excludes the extensive education and training activities supported through research awards and those taking place at centers and facilities.


(Millions of Dollars)


The FY 2000 increase for MPS education and training activities is $2.40 million.


·         At the K-12 level, funding at $4.80 million will support Web-based and other informal science education and teacher enhancement through cooperative interactions with other MPS-supported research sites.  Additional support will also be provided for K-12 teachers’ experiences in discovery-based learning, carried out in conjunction with MPS REU Sites, designed to enrich the classroom activities of those teachers.  In cooperation with the Education and Human Resources Activity, MPS will support workshops that identify best educational practices at the K-12 level and make these models widely available to the community.


·         Investment in undergraduate education activities will increase by $200,000 to $7.61 million, to provide students with broadened curriculum content and laboratory experiences, reform education in materials research and support the development and educational utilization of digital libraries and other technological innovations.  Support is also provided for the Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE) program that focuses on reforming education in  the mathematical sciences.  


·         At the graduate level, funding at $22.84 million will support the Foundation-wide, multidisciplinary Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program and the Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE) program.  These traineeship activities are significantly broadening graduate education, increasing diversity, and are expected to lead to a shortening of the time to the Ph.D. degree and to produce graduates well versed in both research and teaching and who are prepared for a wide spectrum of career opportunities.  Innovations in graduate education in all MPS disciplines will also be supported to enable a broader spectrum of career opportunities.  The reduction of support for graduate level funding of education and training in FY 2000 reflects the change in the VIGRE program, from two competitions in FY 1999 to one in FY 2000.   


·         MPS will provide funding of $3.60 million, an increment of $700,000, for postdoctoral research fellowships to enable young scientists to carry out research at leading facilities and laboratories throughout the world.  Such experiences are critically important to young scientists whose research is strongly coupled to the unique capabilities afforded by these environments.


Administration and Management


The Administration and Management key program function includes the cost of Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments, contractors performing administrative functions and, in FY 2000 award- related travel.

Number of People Involved in MPS Activities




MPS Funding Profile


            1  Statistics for award size and duration are for research grants only.