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News Release 16-039

NSF Engineering welcomes new crew of 160 early career researchers

$80M to support scholar-teachers to explore new frontiers and mentor the next generation

futuristic class photo

What does the future hold? Discoveries galore, plus a few high-tech garments (we hope).

April 6, 2016

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Today, 160 early career engineering faculty embark on a five-year mission to explore strange new phenomena, seek out new understandings and new technologies, and create knowledge that no one has had before.

These bold explorers will have the freedom to pursue the endless frontiers of fundamental engineering research thanks to support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Engineering.

This crew of scholar-teachers will voyage into a wide range of engineering fields and address pressing questions of vast societal importance in manufacturing, health, energy, environment, infrastructure and education. They will make first contact with new findings, tools and innovations.

Engineering beyond

This amazing range of inquiry is set in motion by funding from NSF's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program. Begun in 1995, the CAREER program provides promising junior faculty the opportunity to pursue outstanding research, excellence in teaching, and the integration of education and research.

"Abundant clean water, food and clean energy, smarter cities, affordable healthcare -- these things don't have to be fiction," said Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for Engineering.

"Reaching the ideal for humanity that we all seek depends upon our investments now in new generations of engineering researchers, if we are to turn our aspirations into future progress."

Each CAREER award from the NSF Directorate for Engineering provides a minimum of $500,000 over five years. This year's Engineering CAREER awards total approximately $80 million, out of an estimated $226 million for the NSF program overall.

Picture of new explorers

This year's awardees come from 88 institutions in 42 states, ranging from Alabama to Texas to West Virginia.

Due to their geographic diversity, the team of investigators was unable to gather together at NSF headquarters for a class photo, so the creative NSF graphic design team imagined what one might look like. The awardees appear in a landscape that may or may not exist in the future.

"Matching uniforms are not a condition of this award," Khargonekar said with a smile.

Though they are alike in their innovative thinking and academic excellence, the awardees have diverse perspectives, which are necessary to help solve humanity's grand challenges.

Principal investigators of these awards are 30 percent women and 7 percent underrepresented groups, according to available demographic data. These percentages are higher than those for U.S. engineering faculty overall. In addition, more than 22 percent of awards go to grantees in Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research states.

"While astronauts explore the vastness of space, this crew will journey into many reaches of the mind and earthly spheres," Khargonekar said. "And, as with all epic treks, they will have to overcome alien known and unknown challenges along the way."

NSF granted at least 51 percent of the Engineering CAREER awards to new principal investigators. The activities supported by this funding are intended to build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

"Investing in the status quo is the nemesis of innovation and progress," Khargonekar said. "This new class of grantees will mount an insurrection against outmoded engineering thinking and create original, potentially transformative avenues of exploration.

"We anticipate with excitement that this new class of CAREER grantees will make pioneering discoveries and inspire young minds to advance the engineering enterprise and improve the lives of all Americans."

Engineering, the final frontier.

See all the class photos on the NSF Tumblr.

Visit the NSF award database for the full list of FY 2016 NSF Engineering CAREER grantees.


Media Contacts
Sarah Bates, NSF, (703) 292-7738, email:

Program Contacts
Alexander Leonessa, NSF, (703) 292-2678, email:
Dominique Dagenais, NSF, (703) 292-2980, email:
Elliot Douglas, NSF, (703) 292-7051, email:
Mary M. Toney, NSF, (703) 292-7008, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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