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Picture of DNA binding and cleavage fragment of yeast topoisomerase II with caption that reads: NSF supported exploratory research into the mechanisms behind how bacteria acquire immunity against viral infection. The curiosity-driven project investigated the function of the protein Cas9 and how it disrupts viral DNA in bacteria. Building on decades of research, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier teamed up to fuse tracr-RNA and CRISPR-RNA to produce what they called guide RNA, a tool that enables cleavage of DNA molecules at extremely precise locations, based on how the guide RNA was designed. This technology continues to transform the way we understand gene regulation.
Enabling the biotechnology industry NSF-supported researchers Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier teamed up to fuse tracr-RNA and CRISPR-RNA to produce what they called guide RNA, a tool that enables cleavage of DNA molecules at extremely precise locations, based on how the guide RNA was designed. This technology continues to transform the way we understand gene regulation. Click image for link) Credit: Figure courtesy of James M. Berger, UC-Berkeley

Strategic Goal 2 — Discover:
Create new knowledge about our universe, our world and ourselves.

This goal furthers the first part of NSF's mission, "to promote the progress of science," pursuing the generation of new knowledge so the nation remains a global leader in expanding discovery in science, engineering and learning. By generating new knowledge, NSF-funded researchers provide the nation with the capability to maintain scientific, technological and economic leadership in a competitive world.

Fundamental research is a captial investment for the nation. Basic research leads to new knowledge. It provides scientific capital. It creates the fund from which the practical applications of knowledge must be drawn. New products and new processes do not appear full-grown. They are founded on new principles and new conceptions, which in turn are painstakingly developed by research in the purest realms of science. Those practical applications of knowledge sometimes begin to be realized very quickly; for example, some of NSF's investments in research related to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic produced actionable results within months. In other cases, the practical applications may not be fully felt until decades after the initial basic research. A connection between fluid dynamics and an improved industrial process may be easier to foresee than the practical benefits of fundamental physics research into what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance," but the initial research on quantum mechanics in the early 20th century paved the way for the development of new approaches to secure communications and more powerful computers that is underway in the 21st century's research on quantum information systems.

Just as financial advisors stress the importance of diversifying investments, so the benefits of research are maximized when a wealth of different fields and research questions are supported. NSF embodies this by supporting all fields of basic science, engineering and STEM learning research. NSF welcomes proposals for original research and for new tools, such as advanced instrumentation, data analysis, computation and novel facilities. Investment in competitively selected projects expands the knowledge base from which innovation springs. A special role of NSF is to encourage creative efforts that may not fit within the domain of specific mission agencies.

NSF fosters a culture of "smart risk-taking" and cultivates the spirit of exploration in researchers and students. Reviewers are encouraged to look for high potential rewards that justify taking risks to support projects that may not always work as planned.

NSF provides leadership in an evolving global research enterprise by supporting modern collaborative approaches to science, funding research within and between traditional fields and strengthening interactions between U.S. researchers and their leading counterparts abroad. By using novel funding mechanisms for exploratory research, NSF catalyzes and incubates new fields of research and the search for new insights that disrupt traditional understanding.

Strategic Objective 2.1 — Advance the frontiers of research
Accelerate discovery through strategic investments in ideas, people and infrastructure.

Strategic Objective 2.2 — Enhance research capability
Advance the state of the art in research practice.



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