Research Project Support develops intellectual capital through support for researchers engaged in disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research.  It emphasizes the discovery of new knowledge and contributes to education and training.  Research Project Support includes funding for both Research Projects and Centers.


(Millions of Dollars)

                        Numbers may not add due to rounding.


Research Projects


FY 2000 support for Research Projects totals $2,032 million, an increase of about $117 million, or 6.1 percent, over FY 1999.  Support for Research Projects includes funding for researchers and postdoctoral associates as well as undergraduate and graduate assistants. Funds are also provided for items necessary for performing research, such as instrumentation and supplies, and for related costs such as travel and conference support.  Through outreach activities, NSF seeks out and supports excellent proposals from groups and regions that traditionally have not fully participated in science, mathematics, and engineering.  


NSF support provided under the other key program functions is essential for research in science and engineering.  Support for research facilities provides access to state-of-the art facilities which are essential for world-class research.  Support for activities under the education and training key program function promotes the integration of research and education and ensures that the rewards of discovery are shared more quickly and disseminated more widely.  There are also many activities within Research Project Support that contribute to the integration of research and education including:  Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI), Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER), and Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI).   


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


Information Technology for the Twenty-first Century (IT2)  Through programs of research, infrastructure development and access, and education and training, NSF supports activities that advance leading edge capabilities in computing, communications and information, and endeavors to have all areas of science and engineering make optimal use of these technologies to advance their fields.  NSF’s FY 2000 investment for research activities as part of  IT2 totals $80 million for research in software systems, scaleable information infrastructure, high-end computing, and socioeconomic and workforce impacts.  Additional IT2 funds will be used to support centers and to develop terascale computing systems.


Complementing and building on efforts within the IT2 initiative, NSF’s other research activities will also provide support in FY 2000 for information-based activities to keep all areas of science and engineering at the cutting edge of information capabilities.  Areas of support include:  scalable enterprise software; wireless technologies; digital libraries; data mining and analysis of large, distributed, heterogeneous data bases; high end computing in scalable, shared problem solving environments; the development of collaboratories and of remote sensing and remote operation capabilities;  and research on the economic, legal and social impacts of information technology.


Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE).   In FY 1999, NSF explicitly recognized the need for focused research on biocomplexity, and organized a special competition on the role that microorganisms play in structuring biological, chemical, geological, physical and/or social systems. In FY 2000, NSF will sponsor a $50 million focused initiative on biocomplexity that will facilitate interdisciplinary efforts that span temporal and spatial scales, consider multiple levels of biological organization, cross conceptual boundaries, use new and emerging technologies, and link research to environmental decision making. The FY 2000 competition will emphasize enhancing our analytical-predictive capabilities by integrating knowledge across disciplines.  Observational capabilities will be expanded and upgraded to support such integrated efforts.


Other FY 2000 increases in funding for activities related to biocomplexity will total approximately $25 million including: a research thrust on biosystems at the nano-scale; $2.0 million to strengthen the information-processing base essential to biocomplexity work; efforts to stimulate new approaches to understanding biocomplexity and accelerate use of state-of–the-art technologies in ecosystem science; work to improve understanding of carbon cycles in the environment, short term climate variability and the history of the earth’s climate; research on global environmental change; and interdisciplinary research on natural environmental systems and environmentally beneficial materials and technologies.


Other Priorities


Approximately $98 million in total support is targeted for the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.  CAREER supports junior faculty within the context of their overall career development and combines, in a single program, the integrated support of quality research and education.  Support for the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which involves undergraduate students in research activities, increases by about 4.2 percent to almost $37 million.   These programs are part of the Foundation's efforts in the area of Educating for the Future which emphasize the integration of research and education.


The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), a State-NSF partnership, will continue to support improvements in academic research competitiveness.  In FY 2000, funding for EPSCoR through the Education and Human Resources appropriation totals more than $48 million.  Linkages between EPSCoR and other NSF-supported research activities is expected to result in an additional $15 million directed to research in EPSCoR states.


NSF will provide $25 million to continue support for a Foundation-wide Education Research Initiative (ERI), initiated in FY 1999 in partnership with the Department of Education and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.   In FY 2000 NSF funding will support continuing research efforts in areas including:  school readiness for learning in reading and mathematics, K-3 learning in reading and mathematics, and K-12 teacher education in reading, mathematics, and science.


In FY 2000, NSF continues to support research activities under the Plant Genome Research Program. This $55 million program, an increase of $5 million,  built upon an existing base of plant genome research of $20 million within the Biological Sciences Activity, and will advance understanding of the structure, organization and function of plant genomes, with particular attention to economically significant plants, and accelerate utilization of new knowledge and innovative technologies toward a more complete understanding of basic biological processes in plants.

In FY 2000, NSF will provide $50 million support, unchanged from FY 1999,  for the Foundation-wide Major Research Instrumentation (MRI)  program.


The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is supported at the mandated level of at least 2.5 percent of extramural research.  The program will total approximately $60 million, an increase of approximately $3 million over FY 1999. 




NSF supports a variety of individual centers and centers programs as part of Research Project Support.  The centers play a key role in furthering the advancement of science and engineering in the U.S., particularly through their encouragement of interdisciplinary research and the integration of research and education.  While the programs are diverse, the centers share a commitment:


·         To address scientific and engineering questions with a  long-term, coordinated research effort.  Center programs involve a number of scientists and engineers working together on fundamental research addressing the many facets of complex problems;


·         To include a strong educational component that establishes a team-based cross-disciplinary research and education culture to train the nation's next generation of scientists and engineers to be leaders in academe, industry and government; and


·         To develop partnerships with industry that help to ensure that research is relevant to national needs and that knowledge migrates into innovations in the private sector.




The centers and center programs are listed below.


(Millions of Dollars)

1    Numbers may not add due to rounding.

2   Other Centers include the Research Centers on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, the National   Consortium on Violence Research, the National High Field FT-ICR Mass Spectrometry Center, and the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis.  The National Center for Environmental Decision-Making Research has been closed.


FY 2000 support for centers is $284 million, an increase of $55 million over FY 1999.  As part of the initiative Information Technology for the Twenty-first Century ( IT2), approximately $30 million will be used to initiate Information Technology Centers.  These centers will focus on major disciplinary computer science and engineering research challenges such as broadband tetherless communications; building "no-surprise", performance-engineered systems; and multiplying the physical and mental capabilities of individuals. As part of their long-term fundamental research mission, these centers will incorporate testbeds and have significant education, training and outreach components.


Funding for the Engineering Research Centers will increase by $6 million to fund up to three additional centers in the areas of engineering microsystems, scalable enterprise systems and biosystems at the nano-scale.  In FY 2000, NSF will support up to 10 new STCs under the new STC: Integrative Partnerships Program.  Funding for the first class of STCs will be completed in FY 1999 and funding for the second class is phased down in accordance with plans, making funding available for the new STC awards.  


Funding for the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers will increase by $4 million to support up to four new centers.  Funding for the Environmental Molecular Science Institutes will increase by more than $4 million to support up to four new institutes.  Within the Mathematical Sciences Research Institutes program, funding of approximately $8 million will provide support for three centers, including one to be initiated in FY 1999.  Funding for the Long Term Ecological Research Program increases to approximately $16 million, with increased support for research on urban communities, microbial systems and collaboration with international LTERs.  Up to three new coastal LTER sites will be established.  In addition, a center for advanced molecular characterization will be established in FY 2000 at a level of $1 million.  Funding for the Centers for the Human Dimensions of Global Change will decrease by $400,000, due to a planned reduction.


 Additional information for selected centers supported by NSF is provided below:


1998 Estimates for Selected Centers


(Millions of Dollars)

Number of Participating Institutions: all academic institutions which participate in activities at the centers.

Number of Partners:  the total number of non-academic participants, including industry, states, and other federal agencies, at the centers.

Total Leveraged Support: funding for centers from sources other than NSF.

Number of Participants: the total number of people who utilize center facilities; not just persons directly supported by NSF.

FY 2000 Performance Goals for Research Project Support


The outcomes of NSF investments, the results stemming from the grants and cooperative agreements we make, provide the evidence for NSF’s success as an investment agent.  NSF staff pursue the following outcome goals, the general goals of the strategic plan, as they develop the NSF award portfolio:


·          Discoveries at and across the frontier of science and engineering;

·          Connections between discoveries and their use in service to society;

·          A diverse, globally-oriented workforce of scientists and engineers;

·          Improved achievement in mathematics and science skills needed by all Americans; and

·          Relevant, timely information on the national and international science and engineering enterprise.


NSF’s primary business is to make merit-based grants and cooperative agreements  to individual researchers and groups, in partnership with colleges, universities, and other institutions -- public, private, state, local, and federal -- throughout the U.S. By providing these resources, NSF contributes to the health and vitality of the U.S. research and education system, which enables and enhances the nation’s capacity for sustained growth and prosperity. The individuals and organizations in which NSF invests conduct the work that ultimately determines the outcomes of the investment process that NSF manages.


NSF uses merit review with external peer evaluation to select about 10,000 new awards each year from about 30,000 competitive proposals submitted by the science and engineering community for its consideration.  Work continues through another 10,000 awards made in competitions of previous years.  NSF's role in the fabric of federal funding of science and engineering is defined by the fundamental nature of the problems our grantees propose and explore, the innovative nature of the research and education we support, and our integrative approach to research and education.


NSF’s GPRA strategic plan outlines key investment strategies and an action plan for achievement of each of the outcome goals.  There are common themes running through these investment strategies, and this performance plan reflects the importance of emphasizing activities that influence achievement of multiple objectives.  Common strategies include: (1) broad support for activities across science and engineering research and education using competitive merit review with peer evaluation to identify the most promising ideas from the strongest researchers and educators; (2) integrating research and education to strengthen both; (3) extending NSF’s reach to underserved communities, including enhancing the diversity of the human resource base for science and engineering; (4) emphasis on emerging opportunities, particularly those that drive science and engineering forward at disciplinary interfaces while adding to the knowledge base in areas of national interest; (5) building partnerships with other agencies and other sectors; and (6) assuring that both NSF and the research and education communities reap optimal benefit from the revolution in information, communications, and computing technologies.  In addition, NSF is committed to using committees and panels of external experts to assess its effectiveness and directions on a regular basis.


NSF’s management uses information on past performance (where available) and applies the strategies for enhancing outcomes to allocate available resources.   NSF staff, advised by the merit review process, select the individual projects to be supported, managing toward the optimal mix of outcomes, given the available resources.



FY 2000 Performance Goals for Research Project Support  [1] [2] [3]


Outcome Goal

FY 2000 Annual Performance Goal


FY 2000 Areas of Emphasis

across NSF


NSF is successful when

NSF is minimally effective when


Discoveries at and across the frontier of science and engineering

NSF awards lead to important discoveries; new knowledge and techniques, both expected and unexpected, within and across traditional disciplinary boundaries; and high-potential links across these boundaries.

there is a steady stream of outputs of good scientific quality.

·         balance of innovative, risky, interdisciplinary research

·         new types of scientific databases and tools for using them

·         life in extreme environments

·         nanoscience and engineering

·         biocomplexity

Connections between discoveries and their use in service to society

the results of NSF awards are rapidly and readily available and feed, as appropriate, into education, policy development, or use by other federal agencies or the private sector.

Results of NSF awards show the potential for use in service to society, and when activities designed to enhance connections between discoveries and their use in service to society meet the successful standard.

·         plant genomes

·         elements of IT2

·         research on learning & education

·         global change

·         urban communities

·         Science and Technology Centers: Integrative Partnerships

A diverse, globally-oriented workforce of scientists and engineers

Participants in NSF activities experience world-class professional practices in research and education, using modern technologies and incorporating international points of reference; when academia, government, business, and industry recognize their quality; and when the science and engineering workforce shows increased participation of underrepresented groups.

Opportunities and experiences of students in NSF-sponsored activities are comparable to those of most other students in their fields; and when the participation of underrepresented groups in NSF-sponsored science and engineering projects and programs increases.


·         integrative research and education opportunities

·         participation of underrepresented groups in integrative research and education

·         preparation of instructional workforce

·         advanced technological education



Research Highlights


NSF investments in fundamental research provide support for cutting-edge research in many fields and help to maintain the nation's capacity to conduct research in science and engineering.  Selected examples of accomplishments of NSF-supported activities are included below.


Circadian Rhythms:  Science magazine has cited research in circadian rhythms, the built-in mechanism most organisms on Earth use to keep track of the 24-hour cycle between night and day as one of the most important discoveries in 1998.  Recent work on these circadian rhythms includes a newly discovered gene in the fruit fly Drosophila that regulates the molecular cycles underlying circadian rhythms and the molecular mechanism that allows the gene to work.  Work with cyanobacteria has identified three genes essential to circadian rhythms.  These are the simples organisms known to have such “internal clocks” that react to night and day.


Insights from Microbial Evolution:  Through a project designed to explore the evolutionary consequences of particular mutations in bacteria over thousands of generations, NSF-supported researchers have learned how bacteria retain resistance to antibiotics, even when the drug is absent.  The mutations that confer antibiotic resistance in bacteria are usually thought to impose a “cost” on the bacteria, measured as a reduction in population fitness through subsequent generations when the drug is removed from the environment.  Researchers discovered compensatory changes in the metabolic machinery of bacteria that help reduce the “cost” of maintaining resistance, and help explain the retention of resistance factors over time even when the drug is no longer present.


Predictions of a Major Meteorological Phenomenon:  NSF-supported research has helped lead to real time observation of the current state of the tropical upper Pacific Ocean that enabled the successful prediction of the 1997-1998 El Nino and the Southern Oscillation several months in advance.  This contribution depended upon theoretical, observational and modeling studies supported jointly by NSF and other federal agencies, notably NOAA and NASA, as well as collaborations among U.S. and foreign scientists.  NSF support has directly led to critical improvements in both atmospheric models and coupled ocean-atmosphere models. Advance warning of El Nino and its potential impacts enabled the U.S. to appropriately prepare for the predicted unusual weather, averting potentially major loss of property or even life.


The Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic (SHEBA) Ocean project initiated the first year-long science program in the drifting Arctic ice pack. SHEBA was conducted from an icebreaker frozen in place 300 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, but which drifted over 400 miles to a position 400 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.  This interagency and international science project has collected a suite of ice/atmosphere/ocean measurements to determine the environmental variables responsible for maintenance of the climatically important Arctic ice pack.  The measurements provide data on one of the most important unknowns required for improving computer simulations of climate change, weather predictions, and satellite retrievals.  A better understanding of the consequences of global warming in the Arctic would be important as world governments debate options that range from doing nothing to taking drastic steps to curtail the production of greenhouse gases.


Machines That Think Like Humans:  Scientists attempting to understand the human brain have developed computer models called neural networks that try to duplicate the computational power of the nervous system.  For every human action—vision, memory, or language—the brain enlists dynamic interacting populations of nerve cells to perform that task.  A NSF-supported researcher at Brown University has contributed to building “smart” machines” and other forms of artificial intelligence.  One project required developing a way to analyze a confusing flood of radar signal data.  A neural network was designed to simplify the complex, as humans do, by breaking the information down into manageable blocks.  This approach provided the basis for a system that will enable Navy pilots to determine who is looking at them and whether they should be concerned.


Working Towards Real-Time Brain Imaging:  Magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) has led to much deeper understanding of brain functions, enabling more effective treatment of head trauma and degenerative conditions in the central nervous system.  However, major problems arise due to the massive amounts of data generated by MRI scans.  Normally these huge data sets require hours or days to process.  The problem of quickly pulling key elements from massive amounts of data is a fundamental one for science and engineering.  An NSF-supported statistician at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), working with a team of researchers from CMU and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is helping to develop highly efficient methodology and software, which have been able to speed up MRI data processing so that three-dimensional brain images can be produced within minutes.  This new capability, together with other anticipated improvements, will allow real-time analysis of brain functioning and linguistic complexity.  Ultimately, this real-time capability will make it possible to use brain-mapping effectively as a clinical tool in brain trauma, in the treatment of brain pathology, and to achieve a deeper understanding of brain hemisphere functioning.


Improving Software Security:  Software security on the World Wide Web is an issue of major importance to private citizens and commercial enterprises because of vulnerability to invasions of privacy, fraud, and theft or misuse of data via misuse of the network.  A NSF-funded researcher at Princeton University has performed the first detailed, critical analysis of the security of the Java Language architecture and its implementations in several network browsers.  He has identified at least five serious security bugs in its semantics and proposed means for solving them.  Java has become a widely used programming language for producing programs that service users of the World Wide Web, and flaws in it can open the way for intrusion into private sites simply through web access.  This work is having a direct effect on a number of widely used commercial products.  This analysis makes clear how to allow secure cooperation between distributed Java programs.


Next Generation Organs:  The next generation of "artificial" organs will be custom-grown body parts, which, in the end, won't have much that's artificial at all.  NSF-funded researchers at MIT and Harvard pioneered a concept for developing artificial organs using bioengineering.  The researchers used computer-aided designs to create plastic versions of skin, cartilage, and, internal organs. These plastic models provide a scaffolding.  Living cells then are used to seed the scaffolding.  These cells attach to the plastic and grow. Once the cells have covered the scaffolding, the polymer degrades into carbon dioxide and water.   So far, several biomedical companies have used the team's general techniques to create artificial skin and other tissues. Artificial skin is already on the market.  Other products are in clinical trial and will likely be distributed within 10 years.  It may also be possible to use this approach to construct more complex organs.


Perceiving A Critical Need: Research Training at the Smithsonian.  The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) has conducted its Research Training Program since 1980 and is a NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site. Its goal is to prepare talented undergraduates for research careers in natural history. The ten-week program introduces undergraduates to the diversity of scientific disciplines, research techniques, and career choices available in the field of natural history by focusing on a research project guided by a researcher of the Smithsonian Institution.  It is supplemented with lectures, discussions, field trips, and tours to provide a broad and balanced view of natural history careers.  The NMNH is unique as both an educational and training experience for undergraduates. Few undergraduate biology departments have more than one or two systematists on their faculty and their natural history collections are typically small and specialized or non-existent. The NMNH has over 100 doctorate-level scholars, 250 staff, and numerous affiliated research scientists and houses one of the most extensive and valuable natural history collections in the world. Its attractiveness as a REU Site is evidenced by a large number of applicants each year. During the 1996 recruiting year,  there were approximately 445 applicants from 43 of the 50 US states and from 45 foreign countries. Its participants have consistently been comprised of significant numbers from underrepresented groups in the U.S.


[1] These performance goals are stated in the alternative format provided for by GPRA  legislation.  A brief description of how performance will be assessed and how the areas of emphasis will be addressed can be found in Appendix 1 of  the full FY 2000 Performance Plan.

[2] Elements in italics are highlighted in the FY 2000 government-wide performance plan.

[3] These performance goals are unchanged from the FY 1999 goals; however, the areas of emphasis have been updated to link FY 2000 programmatic activities to these outcomes.