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News Release 16-121

NSF awards $12 million for radio spectrum research

Projects address grand challenges in wireless communication and access


A photonic integrated circuit with wide-bandwidth, radio-frequency interference cancellation.

October 11, 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 Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.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, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced 11 awards, totaling $12 million, to support activities aimed at enhancing the public's access to the radio frequency spectrum -- the part of the electromagnetic spectrum used to facilitate telecommunications and modern information systems essential for public safety, transportation and national defense.

"The radio frequency spectrum is a finite but exceedingly valuable natural resource that facilitates a variety of applications and services," said Jim Kurose, head of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, which supported the awards together with NSF's Engineering and Math and Physical Sciences Directorates. "The research activities supported by these awards represent bold new approaches with the potential to contribute to improvements in the efficiency of radio spectrum utilization while protecting passive sensing services, and allowing traditionally underserved Americans to benefit from current and future wireless-enabled goods and services."

In recent years, smartphone use and demand for wireless broadband access have intensified, increasing use of the radio frequency spectrum. At the same time, traditional methods of assigning frequencies, coupled with the rise of new wireless technologies for radar and unmanned aerial vehicles, have contributed to shortages in available radio frequencies.

Expanding access to the spectrum while protecting certain radio wavelengths, such as those allocated to radio astronomy or passive remote sensors that monitor the Earth's environment, were identified as several "grand challenges" faced by wireless communications experts in facilitating better use of the radio spectrum.

"Research that enables solutions to these grand challenges is helping realize the vision of enhanced radio spectrum utilization, thus enabling fast, reliable and low-cost wireless access for all Americans, including those in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, while maintaining critical functions performed by government and scientific users," said Grace Wang, acting NSF assistant director for Engineering.

These three-year awards continue NSF's ongoing investment in radio spectrum research, which over the past five years has supported more than 140 awards through an investment of over $60 million. The investments respond directly to the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan and align with the recently announced Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, which seeks to sustain U.S. leadership in wireless communications and technology.

Increasing spectrum efficiency and access requires careful consideration of the interplay of the physical sciences, engineering, computer and information sciences, mathematics, economics and public policy.

"Combining methods from multiple fields in new, surprising ways allows us to solve problems that require a comprehensive, integrative approach," said Fleming Crim, NSF assistant director for Math and Physical Sciences. "One of the great strengths of the Foundation is that it supports fundamental research across all of science and engineering and, thus, can bring disparate areas together to work on compelling problems and seize unique opportunities."

The awards seek solutions along four major axes, including:

  • Innovative radio hardware and access architectures to enable spectrum sharing.
  • Harmonious co-existence of heterogeneous wireless technologies.
  • Development of automated detection mechanisms and compliance certification methods.
  • Spectrum access for science services.

The new awards will support the following principal investigators and projects:


Media Contacts
Sarah Bates, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-7738, email:

Program Contacts
Hao Ling, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-2210, email:
Thyagarajan Nandagopal, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-4550, 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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