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Imagine a future

Engineers excel at Making Imagination Real, bridging the gap between what the mind can imagine and what the laws of nature allow. While scientists seek to discover what is not yet known, engineers apply fundamental science to design and develop new devices and engineered systems to solve societal problems. Science and engineering are essential partners in paving the way for America’s future through discovery, learning, and innovation.

Engineering research opens up new areas for technology and scientific discovery. The National Science Foundation and its Directorate for Engineering (NSF-ENG) play a critical role in supporting research at the frontiers of knowledge. NSF-ENG helps catalyze discoveries that form the basis for new technologies, stressing partnerships and collaborative research with universities, foundations, private industry, and other federal agencies.

With input from the community, NSF-ENG invests in the best ideas from the most capable people, using a proven and regularly audited process. The investigators we support are not just academic researchers: they are real-world innovators and entrepreneurs. A case in point is Robert Langer—professor of chemical engineering at MIT, holder of 400 patents, founder of more than 25 companies, and one of “America’s Best in Science and Medicine,” according to Time magazine. NSF-ENG provided Langer with early-career support to study various materials as scaffolds for growing living human tissues. The resulting technology is now used for applications such as cultivating human skin to treat skin ulcers in diabetics.

Researchers supported by NSF-ENG also are among the nation’s leading educators. Strengthening engineering education and developing the future workforce is a priority area for NSF-ENG investment. We cooperate with universities and professional engineering societies on initiatives to encourage more students, especially women and underrepresented minorities, to consider engineering as a career as well as to ensure that engineering curricula and teaching successfully equip the next generation of American engineers to become technology leaders and innovators.

Composed of the nation’s top experts, the NSF Advisory Committee for Engineering created this booklet to raise public awareness of NSF-ENG’s role in enabling research that promotes three important objectives: improving the nation’s health, strengthening security, and advancing economic vitality. Investments in health-related research are leading to novel medical treatments, such as new antibiotics and cancer-fighting drugs, and powerful new imaging technologies for medical diagnostics. Support for research on sensors and sensor networks is yielding knowledge for technologies to enhance homeland security. And funding for research on advanced computing and manufacturing technologies is creating a solid foundation for America’s economic future.

Making Imagination Real offers you a flavor of NSF-ENG’s investments in generating new knowledge for technological progress. We believe the projects presented here amply illustrate a basic truth: Advances in fundamental engineering research and engineering education are essential to America’s future.

John A. Brighton
Assistant Director for Engineering
National Science Foundation

Kristina Johnson
NSF Advisory Committee for Engineering


One part dreamer and one part pragmatist, engineers use the raw material of imagination to design and build wondrous new devices and systems. The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Engineering supports individuals who are Making Imagination Real by creating knowledge that forms the basis for brand-new high-tech industries as well as the transformation of existing industries. NSF-funded engineering research encompasses a broad spectrum of activities carried out by a diverse group of investigators throughout the United States and internationally.


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