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NSF in the News

July 1997


Last March, the National Science Board (NSB) chose two awardees for NSF's new Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure program. The National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA), led by the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, and the National Partnership for Advance Computational Infrastructure (NPACI), led by the University of California at San Diego, have been chosen to receive awards.

"This new program will enable the United States to stay at the leading edge of computational science, producing the best science and engineering in all fields," said Paul Young, senior advisor to NSF's Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering. "And staying in the forefront in academia allows industry to quickly follow.

The NCSA proposal lays out a vision for a national information infrastructure that enables the best computational research in the country.

The NPACI proposal, under the leadership of Sid Karin, includes a national-scale metacomputing environment with diverse hardware and several high-end sites.

Funding for Cornell Theory Center and Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, two current NSF centers, will be phased out over a period of two years.

The NSF supercomputer center program began in 1985, and currently consists of four centers. In December 1995, the NSB recommended support for a new program: Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure. After several rounds of proposals and site visits, a final summary panel met in late December of 1996 and recommended that NCSA and NPACI be chosen to start the Partnership program.


Early this spring, the National Science Board (NSB) approved new criteria for evaluating funding proposals submitted to the NSF. The new criteria, which will be implemented October 1, 1997, are the result of several months of discussion with the research and education community and analysis by a special task force.

"Clearly, the review process is critical to our effort to foster the highest standards of excellence and accountability in the use of limited funds," says NSF Director Neal Lane. "Our current system has a track record of success; but now we have an improved system to ensure that success continues and that excellence remains our first priority."

NSF receives nearly 30,000 new proposals per year and funds about one-third of them. Funding decisions are made largely through the process of merit review, including expert evaluation by selected peers. NSF receives more than 170,000 such reviews each year.

"We know from surveys that the current criteria are not always well understood or uniformly applied," says NSF Acting Deputy Director Joe Bordogna. "The new criteria are clearer and easier to apply."

The need to reexamine the current criteria was prompted by several changes in the Foundation. Since 1981, NSF programs have included a stronger focus on broad educational initiatives, the integration of research and education, and partnered research activities. And, in 1994, NSF adopted a new strategic plan. In addition, members of the science and engineering community have expressed concerns about the current system. Currently, reviewers comment on four aspects of a proposal: 1) researcher performance competence, 2) intrinsic merit of the research, 3) utility or relevance of the research, and 4) effect on the infrastructure of science and engineering.

Under the new criteria, reviewers will be asked two questions: 1) What is the intellectual merit and quality of the proposed activity? and 2) What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

"Most importantly, they continue to make 'excellence' the hallmark of our merit review process," Bordogna emphasized.

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