NSF advances 25 projects to explore bold ideas for transformative research
Credit: National Science Foundation
The U.S. National Science Foundation is always seeking to engage the most creative minds with innovative ideas that will help understand and surmount the world’s most difficult challenges.
NSF 2026 is one of the agency's "10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments," intended to ensure continuous exploration at the frontiers of U.S. science and engineering. Previously, NSF invited the scientific community, industry, nonprofits and the public at large to participate in the NSF 2026 Idea Machine, a competition to help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering.
NSF received 800 ideas from nearly every state, with the potential to address grand challenges in fundamental research or in STEM education. All entries were reviewed by experts and 33 ideas were selected for their timeliness, ambition, potential scientific and societal impacts, and potential for interagency, international and public-private partnerships.
Some of the themes that emerged include:
- How to design a resilient environment that will adapt to a rapidly changing world
- How to reduce waste and harness it for energy
- How to design new materials that mimic properties of living things
- How to expand artificial intelligence to incorporate empathy
- How to empower K-12 and other educators to engage all members of society in STEM literacy and to become the problem-solvers of tomorrow
To further develop the themes, NSF invited proposals for conferences and early concept, exploratory research.
NSF awarded 21 research and four conference projects totaling over $6 million. Scientists, engineers and educators from 27 institutions across the country will be involved in these highly interdisciplinary projects.
"With the NSF 2026 Idea Machine, NSF ventured beyond our traditional paradigms to invite input from trusted stakeholders as well as new and unconventional partners. This ensures that our future research themes will bridge recognized gaps in existing knowledge and reflect the interests and priorities of the American people," says Suzanne Iacono, head of integrative activities.
The funded projects focus on diverse topics, including artificial general intelligence, environmental sustainability, evolution and diversity of human cognition, biomaterials, emergence, diversification and enhancement of the STEM workforce, and others. All are designed to engage multiple science and engineering disciplines to develop the top-ranked Idea Machine themes into thoughtful, cross-cutting research agendas.
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