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Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova

Photo by NSF/
Stephen Voss

Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation


Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST)
Texas Research Summit

November 13, 2015

Good morning and thank you, Chancellor McRaven.

I'm so happy to be here with you and I've been looking forward to this trip to Texas and the opportunity to talk to you about NSF research priorities relative to your work in Texas.

Later, I want to meet you and hear your thoughts on what is happening – and needs to happen – in research in the state of Texas for it to prosper economically, security-wise and innovatively.

Those are a few of our main goals at NSF: To promote research and education that helps strengthen our nation's security, improves our economy and fosters our innovation in a competitive global world.

For those of you in the room who may not know what NSF does and how we work, I'd like to begin my talk by giving you a quick overview of our agency. NSF is divided into seven directorates that support science and engineering research and education: Biological Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Engineering, Geosciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, and Education and Human Resources. Each is headed by an assistant director and each is further subdivided into divisions like materials research, ocean sciences and behavioral and cognitive sciences.

Other sections of NSF are devoted to financial management, award processing and monitoring, legal affairs, outreach and other functions. The Office of the Inspector General examines the foundation's work and reports to the National Science Board and Congress.

Each year, NSF supports more than 300,000 scientists, engineers, educators and students at universities, laboratories and field sites all over the United States and throughout the world, from Alaska to Alabama to Africa to Antarctica. You could say that NSF support goes to the ends of the earth to learn more about the planet and its inhabitants, and to produce fundamental discoveries that further the progress of research and lead to products and services that boost the economy and improve general health and well-being.

And, in my travels and work, it's gratifying to see and hear all the benefits NSF-funded research has accomplished. We're pioneers in the sense that we look for and spot research and researchers who are explorers in finding solutions to present and future problems.

Now, I'd like to share with you some of what NSF is funding in relation to what TAMEST leaders told us about some of your priority research areas in Texas: Precision Medicine, Materials Design for Electrical Energy Storage, Manufacturing, Neuroscience and Cybersecurity.

Let's start with Precision Medicine.

NSF-led research on data and computation approaches together with advanced computational resources are two such opportunities.

Our Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering works in areas that affect Precision Medicine by enabling researchers and education programs to pair modeling and simulation of genetic information and diseases with machine learning approaches that help identify personalized treatments for individuals.

While there are many programs that support research in these areas, I want to highlight our Smart and Connected Health research program, which is jointly supported by the NSF and the NIH.

This program aims to accelerate the development and use of innovative approaches that would support the much-needed transformation of healthcare from reactive and hospital-centered to preventive, proactive, evidence-based, and person-centered.

This will revolutionize the health industry by focusing on wellbeing rather than on disease.

In one specific Texas project:

Researchers from Rice University, UCLA, and Oregon Health & Science University are working together to design and prototype customizable, domain-specific computing technologies to improve medical imaging and patient-specific cancer treatments.

NSF and Intel Corporation jointly fund this project, which is the first supported through the Innovation Transition – or InTrans – mechanism. InTrans aims to facilitate the transition of research concepts and prototypes – particularly those emerging from center-scale efforts – into new commercially available technologies by partnering with industrial sponsors.

Next, let's talk about Materials Design for Electrical Energy Storage.

Our Directorate of Engineering works in this area, specifically in Materials for Battery Storage:

Materials for rechargeable batteries: In this project led by John Goodenough at UT Austin, his goal is the development of a new strategy for a rechargeable battery that can store energy at a price that is competitive with fossil fuels. The broad impact of this research would be the development of Lithium-ion or sodium-ion batteries that can power an all-electric highway vehicle or provide storage for the grid of electrical energy generated by solar or wind energy at an affordable cost.

The third area I want to discuss is related to Manufacturing issues in Texas.

I will mention two Engineering projects related to Texas manufacturing -- one past success and one present project: Past success from Texas: The Creation of 3D printing industry was led by Joseph Beaman (pronounced "Bee-man") at UT Austin, who worked on selective laser sintering, a key process behind 3D printing.

After very early stage funding by NSF in the mid-80s, this area was strongly supported by Department of Defense (Air Force, DARPA) and also later by NIH. As this research matured, private-sector companies invested in this technology for commercialization. It is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

Present Research and Work in Texas: Engineering Research Center for Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies (NASCENT): This ERC was established in September 2012.

The Center Directors are Roger Bonnecaze (pronounced "Bon-E-Caze"), in the Chemical Engineering Department and S.V. Sreenivasan (pronounced Svreen-a-va-san") in the Mechanical Engineering Department at UT Austin. The vision of NASCENT is to enhance U.S. economic growth by creating high throughput, reliable, sustainable, and versatile nanomanufacturing systems for mobile computing and energy device applications.

The Center is a partner institute in the Texas Nanofabrication Facility, whose vision is to enable and foster breakthrough nanotechnology innovations in the areas of electronics, healthcare and energy – all which have significant presence in Texas.

Other Partners in this project are: UT Austin, Berkeley, U. New Mexico, and a large group of private sector companies including Raytheon, Corning, Lockheed-Martin, 3M and Applied Materials.

Several NSF Directorates are working in Neuroscience, the fourth area I want to discuss:

These include Biological Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering.

Understanding the structure and function of the human brain is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. Fundamental research is advancing what we know about the brain as researchers are learning more about the human brain.

We are in a very exciting time right now, one in which computing research, brain research -- and the interfaces between them -- are rapidly accelerating and expanding.

Dedicated and creative NSF researchers are pairing new biological techniques with computational approaches and are working together to computationally understand how the brain works AND to develop computing paradigms that are genuinely brain-like.

For more than a decade, we've had a dedicated program – called Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience or CRCNS – focused on advancing our understanding of the nervous system, including its structure, function, and computational strategies.

CRCNS is a partnership among NSF and NIH, as well as funding agencies in Germany, France, and Israel.

More recently – in September 2014 – we launched a program called Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems, a partnership among several NSF Directorates. (CISE, HER, ENG, and SBE)

One specific Texas-funded program is dedicated to finding advanced computational resources that help us understand the brain is led by George Biros (pronounced "Bee-Ros") from UT Austin Engineering Dept. He is working on NSF-funded Stampede supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), which has improved the quality of brain tumor imaging so surgeons can make more informed decisions about treatment options.

Other simulations run on Stampede have provided new insights about Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, and Schizophrenia . . . which could lead to potential therapeutic disease approaches.

A project dedicated to the free and open sharing of functional magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI) datasets also uses computer resources from TACC. This growing database is helping researchers discover new insights about the brain and could become a powerful tool for diagnosis.

Our Biological Sciences Directorate's work in Neuroscience in Understanding the Brain includes BRAIN Initiative themes and research in cognitive science and neuroscience. Scientists from these areas are developing a range of conceptual and physical tools -- from new theories of neural networks, to real-time whole brain imaging to next-generation optogenetics.

Several Texas universities and advance research and medical organizations have in the past – and are currently – working on Neuroscience research, education workshops and conferences funded by NSF. Some of these awards were funded to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Rice University and The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio and Texas A&M University.

Two NSF Biological-supported BRAIN EAGER Awards are currently in progress in Texas:

One, titled: Tagging the Genetic, Synaptic, and Network Origins of Learning from Social Experiences – is underway at UT Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

How we learn from social experiences and during social interactions is poorly understood. Cells involved in social learning are intermingled and intertwined with cells that may have completely different functions.

Because of this complexity, identifying and studying the specific cells and networks involved in social learning remain a major challenge, and new methods are required to address this needle-in-a-hay-stack problem.

Another BRAIN EAGER award: Memory Reactivation in Neural Circuits over Long, Continuous Timescales – is in progress at Rice University. Memories of facts and experiences take time to be stored robustly in the brain. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of memory could help us optimize learning and memory in healthy individuals, and provide possible interventions for humans with compromised memory.

Working with multiple and related directorates and agencies, NSF invested $48 million in Fiscal Year 2015 for research awards, workshops and conferences related to the White House's BRAIN INITIATIVE.

Our Directorate for Computer Information Sciences and Engineering is funding and working in the last Texas-research area I will talk about: Cybersecurity.

We are all aware of the threats we're facing in the area of cybersecurity. NSF is uniquely positioned to address today's -- and future -- cybersecurity challenges because researchers we support -- across all areas of science and engineering -- can help identify multi-faceted approaches to this challenge.

NSF has long supported fundamental research critical to achieving a secure and trustworthy cyberspace. NSF brings the Nation's best -- and diverse -- minds to bear on the evolving challenges of cybersecurity.

These experts and researchers are helping establish a science of cybersecurity -- promoting connections between academia and industry to transition research into practice, and bolstering cybersecurity education and training.

NSF's flagship program for cybersecurity is Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace, or SaTC.

SaTC projects are increasingly interdisciplinary -- spanning computer science, mathematics, economics, behavioral science, and education. They seek to understand, predict and explain prevention, attack and defense behaviors and contribute to developing strategies for remediation, while preserving privacy and promoting usability.

In FY 2015 alone, NSF invested about $74.5M in fundamental cybersecurity research via the SaTC program.

Specific TX Projects: One example of a SaTC-funded research project is a new ocular biometric approach developed and tested by Oleg Komogortsev (pronounced "O-leg Ko-mo-gort-sieve") at Texas State University, San Marcos. This system measures eye shape and muscle movement to provide more secure and reliable identity recognition and can even help to detect the state of a person, such as the individual's level of fatigue or stress.

Many cybersecurity research outcomes have led to new commercial products and services, including numerous start-ups in the IT sector, bringing innovative solutions to the marketplace.

Three examples we know of (and probably more) are from Texas:

The University of North Texas' Ram Dantu (pronounced "Dan-Tu") is director of the UNT Center for Information and Computer Security and researches Voice over IP (VoIP) security. This research as led to a number of new companies: Sipera Systems, VoIP shield Systems, Kagoor Networks (which was acquired by Juniper Networks, a leading networking company with 2014 revenues nearly $5B) and Kayote Networks.

Bhavani Thuraisingham (pronounced "Bha-van-e Thu-ra-sing-ham"), from The University of Texas at Dallas, developed a tool to mine data on Twitter, which transferred to a startup company called Knowledge and Security Analytics. She is Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Cyber Security Research Center at UT Dallas.

Matt Kaufmann and J. S. Moore, at UT Austin, co-authored a theorem-proving system used by IBM, AMD, Freescale, Centaur Technology and Rockwell Collins to verify hardware design and software correctness. The approach is also used within U.S. government systems.

I hope I've given you a quick overview of some NSF-funded research and activity going on in Texas during my brief time with you this morning.

Before I close my talk, I want to quickly tell you about another vital, key activity NSF is funding in Texas that is critical to the state's economic growth, security and well-being.

That key area is innovation.

In 2014 NSF's Directorate of Engineering awarded three Texas universities: University of Texas, Texas A&M and Rice University, an award – the Southwest Alliance for Entrepreneurial Innovation Node (or SAEIN) – an Innovation Corps Node in Texas (I-Corps).

What does this mean for Texas?

Geographically, SAEIN will serve an area of more than 268,000 square miles and help foster the implementation of I-Corps methodologies across a collaborative group of more than 30 institutions of higher learning.

SAEIN will specifically engage numerous Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to implement I-Corps curriculum and methods, both as a standard for entrepreneurial training and a mechanism to broaden participation in STEM fields.

SAEIN has the potential to introduce NSF I-Corps curriculum to more than 710,000 community college students and almost 4.8 million K-12 students in the state of Texas.

SAEIN will augment the National Innovation Network's capabilities by building on the unique economic strengths, labor characteristics, lean manufacturing capabilities, and the innovation ecosystem found in the Southwest region.

That is exciting news for Texas and all Texans.


Power of Partnerships and Collaboration: Throughout my talk, I've continually referred to a wide range of Agencies, Research Programs, Departments, Industries, Countries and Individuals who partner and work together on specific projects.

These collaborations greatly benefit all of us – Texas, our country, our world and individuals.

These partnerships and collaborations have already produced answers to real-world problems and are the key to our nation's – and Texas' – economic growth, security and innovation.

Our country is increasingly diverse and complicated and we are facing increased global competition in discovery and innovation.

As we move toward the future, one area NSF is advancing is STEM and Diversity education and training. This is critical to finding today's – and tomorrow's – answers to a growing and diverse world and workforce, as well as meeting threats and challenges to our security and our leadership in global innovation.

At NSF, we're focused on that and proud this type of collaboration in diverse partnerships has been a part of our rich history and landscape.

Thank you for inviting me to your wonderful state and asking me to speak on some important issues NSF is advancing to help Texas.

Have a wonderful rest of the day.