NSF supports infrastructure-focused research projects grounded in behavioral and social science

A composite of three images, left to right: three people talking on a construction site, cars on a highway, an electrical tower and water pipeline.

Using insights into human behavior to make infrastructure safer, smarter and more cost effective.


September 27, 2021

The U.S. National Science Foundation is supporting more than 20 exploratory research projects examining the interactions of people and society with physical and digital infrastructure. Through NSF’s Strengthening American Infrastructure initiative, researchers will investigate a variety of areas — from bridges and electrical grids to online education — with the shared goal of producing fundamental scientific knowledge that can be used to make current and future infrastructure safer, smarter and more cost effective.

NSF is investing a total of $6.2 million in projects exploring multiple aspects of national and local infrastructure. They include studies on the potential city-wide effects of cyberattacks on self-driving vehicles, the effectiveness of flood mitigation systems, the resiliency of electrical grids and water supply systems during natural disasters, and the availability of telehealth services in rural areas with sparse internet connectivity.

The cross-disciplinary projects are led by social and behavioral scientists collaborating with researchers from a wide range of fields including engineering, computer science, education, biology, mathematics, physical sciences and geosciences.

“The societal value and longevity of all kinds of infrastructure are ultimately determined by human behavior, oftentimes in subtle or complex ways,” says NSF Assistant Director Arthur Lupia. “NSF’s Strengthening American Infrastructure initiative demonstrates how scientists in any field can work together to tackle critical, understudied issues and create innovations that directly benefit individuals, communities and entire regions of the U.S.”

NSF launched the Strengthening American Infrastructure initiative in 2020, supporting research that incorporates scientific insights about human behavior and social dynamics to better create, rehabilitate and maintain strong and effective American infrastructure.

For more information and a complete list of awards, see Strengthening American Infrastructure (SAI).

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 2021 budget of $8.5 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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