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CHEMISTRY $160,800,000

The FY 2003 Budget Request for the Chemistry (CHE) Subactivity is $160.80 million, a decrease of $2.09 million, or 1.3 percent, from the FY 2002 Current Plan of $162.89 million.

(Millions of Dollars)


FY 2001

FY 2002
Current Plan

FY 2003




Chemistry Research






Total, CHE






Research in chemistry attempts to understand the structure of molecules and the relationship of this structure to chemical reactivity and physical properties. Chemists use this understanding to develop more efficient methods for making known molecules and to create new molecular systems with interesting physical and chemical properties. Progress in the field of chemistry is critical to advances in other sciences such as materials research, molecular biology, biomedicine, plant and agricultural biology, environmental sciences, and the development of new energy sources. It also forms the intellectual basis and the trained workforce upon which the chemical and allied products industries, including the pharmaceutical industry, depend.

The award of a portion of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to K. Barry Sharpless of the Scripps Research Institute is an example of how NSF-supported fundamental research into the mechanisms of chemical reactions can lead to the development of synthetic techniques with a significant impact on, in this case, the pharmaceutical industry. Since the 1970s, the Chemistry Subactivity has supported Sharpless to develop synthetic techniques for the production of chiral or "handed" molecules. Many molecules can occur in either of two forms that are mirror images of each other, as our left and right hands are. Often only one of these forms is biochemically active. Sharpless received the Nobel Prize for his development of catalytic synthetic techniques in which only one of these forms is produced with high yield. The results of this Chemistry Subactivity supported research are today being used by pharmaceutical companies for the synthesis of a variety of useful products such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and heart medication.

As the above example illustrates, academic research in chemistry produces fundamental knowledge used by industrial, governmental, and academic chemists and technologists, and contributes to developing the skills and intellectual potential of students, who are the workforce of the future. The federal government provides about 70 percent of the funds for academic research in chemistry; and the Chemistry Subactivity provides about 20 percent of the federal government's support for academic chemistry research. Chemistry Subactivity investment provides critical core support for fundamental research, maintains the health of the discipline, and provides funding for the development of new research ideas as well as a highly skilled work force for the $20 billion, 83,000-person research and development effort of the chemical and allied products industries.

The Chemistry Subactivity supports research on the synthesis of new organic and inorganic molecules; the structure and reactivity of molecules in solids, liquids, and gases, and on surfaces; preparation and characterization of supra-molecular nano-structures; new measurement concepts and instruments for molecular characterization; and theoretical and experimental understanding of chemical structure and reactivity at the quantum level. Chemistry can now achieve molecular-level understanding of complex systems, such as those presented by natural and manufacturing environments. It can use this understanding to design new and more effective drugs. It can define environmentally benign synthetic processes and contribute to the development of new energy sources and efficient uses of old ones. Chemists have developed highly sensitive techniques for detecting chemical species in the environment, both naturally produced and produced as a result of the intentional or unintentional acts of man. These sensing techniques are being applied to a variety of national security problems from real time sensing of harmful species in the ambient environment to analysis of samples for forensic and remediation purposes. Advances in chemistry also help in understanding chemical cycles in the Earth's environment as well as providing insights into the molecular origins of life. Undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students, together with essential instrumentation, are supported to pursue this research through awards to individual investigators, groups of investigators, and centers.

Highlights of research supported by the Chemistry Subactivity include:

  • The development of techniques for the synthesis of complex macromolecular structures that can be assembled into molecular-level electronic device components such as diodes and transistors. This synthetic capability has brought the era of molecular electronics closer and was cited by Science as the "Breakthrough of the Year" for the year 2001.

  • Advances in understanding the quantum process that occur when a molecule has been excited by laser irradiation have brought the era of control of reaction product distributions closer to fruition. The ultimate goal, a "holy grail" of chemists for many years, is to be able, by careful control of the phase and amplitude of irradiation, to influence the reaction dynamics so that only a single desired photoproduct is produced. One NSF-supported researcher in this field, Brooks Pate of the University of Virginia, was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2001.

  • Understanding of the chemical mechanisms for the uptake of iron by marine life. This research, supported by the Environmental Molecular Science Institutes program in the Chemistry Subactivity, has resulted in a more detailed understanding of the processes by which marine microorganisms metabolize iron and make this critical element available to species higher up the food chain.

The FY 2003 Request includes $160.80 million, a decrease of $2.09 million, in Chemistry Research. Funding includes support for the NSF priority areas of Information Technology Research, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and Biocomplexity in the Environment. These funds support individual investigators and collaborative groups to work on computational approaches to fundamental problems in chemistry; synthesis and characterization of nanostructures; and development of an understanding of the environment at the molecular level. It also includes support for the development of user facilities such as a synchrotron beamline and a high-field mass spectroscopy facility. The division will continue its practice of increasing average grant size. This amount, in addition, supports education activities designed to increase the number of undergraduate students who have the opportunity to participate in research.

The Chemistry Subactivity will continue to support new demonstration projects of special interest to the field of chemistry, especially with respect to preparing graduate students better for competition in the diverse, global workforce. Of particular emphasis will be support of innovative programs that have the potential to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in the chemistry profession. The Subactivity will also begin to develop programs to increase the scope of international collaborations in chemistry research.

  Last Modified: Sep 17, 2004


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