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Photo of Dr. France A. Cordova

Dr. France A. Córdova
U.S. National Science Foundation


At the
University of New Mexico 'NSF Day'
Co-Funded by EPSCoR
Albuquerque, NM

August 29, 2018

Photo: NSF/Stephen Voss

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

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Title slide title: NSF DAY

Slide words: Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation
University of New Mexico
August 29, 2018

Slide image: image of earth from space

Image credit: Vadim Sadovski/

Thank you, Vice President [Gabriel ] López, for that warm introduction, and for the invitation to join everyone for this 'NSF Day' at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. My thanks to the University and to New Mexico's EPSCoR Program for their support for this important workshop.

We started hosting these 'NSF Days' 15 years ago to provide background information on the National Science Foundation, our mission, and research priorities. Recently, we held an 'NSF Day' in our 50th state, so we're spreading the word about NSF in literally every corner of the Nation.

I love 'NSF Days'! Everyone I meet is so dedicated and enthusiastic and full of energy. It has been a pleasure to meet so many of you, and I hope I'll have a chance to say hello to more of you today.

This workshop is also geared to giving you — our nation's most promising scientific researchers — more nuts-and-bolts information about how to apply for NSF research awards. We receive about 50,000 proposals every year, so we go to great lengths to ensure that the best proposals are chosen in the areas of science, engineering, and education. NSF makes about 12,000 research awards in a typical year.

I know you've been hearing a lot of details about NSF today — how we're organized, what our procedures are, how we make decisions. So let me go "big picture" and share some personal thoughts about NSF and the very important role we — and you — play in the Nation's science and engineering enterprise.

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Slide title: The Brain is Wider Than the Sky

Slide image: photo of people standing against the Milky Way

Image credit: Anton Jankovoy/

One of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems begins with the words: "The brain is wider than the sky." It’s a concept that I think truly expresses the mission that we in this room are dedicated to.

As vast as the Universe is, we have the capacity to understand it ... and we have the innate thirst for knowledge to learn more about every facet of it.

Two years ago, our Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory made world-wide news. LIGO confirmed direct evidence of gravitational waves produced by the merger of two large black holes in a binary more than a billion light years from Earth.

Einstein theorized the existence of gravitational waves a century ago. Since the early 1970s, the National Science Foundation has funded the science that ultimately led to LIGO's construction. In fact, LIGO was the single largest investment NSF had ever made. It was a big risk.

But NSF's mission is to take that kind of risk, supporting fundamental scientific research at a point in the road to discovery where that path is anything but clear.

In other words, NSF funds trailblazers. And that support is a major reason why the U.S. continues to be a global leader in advancing knowledge.

Now, when I asked our hosts what I should talk to you about today, they said, "Talk about yourself — talk about your career as a scientist, as an educator, as a trail-blazer. You are a role model — tell others how France Córdova became Director of the National Science Foundation."

So here goes...

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Slide title: Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe

Slide images: (top left to right) photo of Dr. Córdova with the Stanford-in-Italy group in 1967; photo of France A. Córdova in front of a blackboard
(bottom left to right) photo of France A. Córdova on a computer in 1984; photo of Dr. Córdova at Purdue University

Image credits: (top left to right) Stanford University;
(bottom left to right) Courtesy of Sky & Telescope Magazine; Purdue University

The great British writer Graham Greene once wrote, "There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in."

When I was a young girl, a door opened for me. It changed the way I looked at the world and what I eventually decided to do in life. I didn't know what astrophysics was, but I loved to look at the night sky and ask, "Why are there stars? How are they formed? What happens to them? Why are there so many? Why are some very bright, while others are barely visible? How do scientists do their exploration? How do they address the mysteries they uncover?"

Asking those questions led me to where I am today. I didn't have many science role models as a young girl, and so it wasn't until I graduated from Stanford — with a degree in English literature! — that I realized I could be anything that I wanted to be. So I returned to my unanswered questions from childhood.

At the time, I was living in Cambridge and saw a television special on neutron stars, which had recently been discovered. An MIT scientist was featured in the film. So the very next day, I went to MIT and asked for a job at the Center for Space Research, which is now the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

MIT's willingness to take a chance on a young woman with no credentials in astronomy or science was the doorway to my subsequent career. That sort of thing just didn't happen back then, but it shows how much a single decision can transform someone’s life.

Vice President López already listed some of the milestones of my career — so let's fast forward to July 2013, when I was nominated by President Obama to become the Director of the National Science Foundation.

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Slide title: April 2, 2014

Slide image: Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova being sworn in as NSF director in a ceremony at NSF headquarters in Arlington, VA. John P. Holdren, former White House science advisor and former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, administers the oath and is joined by Córdova's cousin, Adrienne Córdova.

Image credit: Sandy Schaeffer

Eight months later — on April 2, 2014 — the President's Science and Technology Adviser John Holdren performed my swearing-in at NSF headquarters. I became the 14th Director of the Foundation.

The last four years have been exciting, exasperating, enlightening, enchanting and ... wonderful. It's been wonderful because I get to meet and work with the most talented and most dedicated scientists, engineers and educators in the world — like all of you here at the University of New Mexico.

NSF currently has an annual budget of about $7.8 billion, and the great proportion of that — 93 percent — goes to support research, STEM education, and development of the STEM workforce.

The Foundation accounts for one-quarter of the total federal support for basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities. In many fields, NSF is the primary source of federal academic support. For example, in Computing, NSF accounts for 82 percent of federal support — in Engineering, it's 41 percent.

We must be doing something right, because at last count we supported 231 Nobel Laureates early in their careers — long before they were recognized for their breakthrough discoveries.

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Slide title: NSF Breakthroughs Have Changed the World

Slide words: (top left to right) 3-D Printing Breakthrough; LIGO Gravitational Waves; Autonomous Car Software; HL Tau Discovery
(bottom left to right) Foundation for the Internet; Qualcomm SBIR; Barcodes Popularized; Google Early Web Browser

Slide images: (top left to right) photo of a 3-D printing machine; line graphic of LIGO gravitational waves; photo of an autonomous car; image of HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk (bottom left to right) early internet graphic; Qualcomm logo; photo of a barcode; Google logo

Image credits: (top left to right) FabrikaSin/; LIGO; Carnegie Mellon University; ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)
(bottom left to right) NSF; Qualcomm; Thinkstock; Google

NSF research leads to real-world impacts, enhancing the lives of millions of people around the world. That research has led to 3-D printing, the first detection of gravitational waves, observation of the formation of new stars, the Internet, Barcode enhancements, early web browsers, lifesaving technologies and therapies, and much more.

With the rise of self-driving cars, the advances made possible by NSF are becoming apparent in areas such as precision sensors; computer vision, planning and reasoning; real-time data analytics and predictive modeling. NSF funded advances in all of these areas.

Not pictured here are iPhones, which incorporate touchscreen technologies; GPS; memory chips; multi-core processors; and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries — all of which were supported by federal funds.

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Slide title: NSF Presence in the U.S.


Slide image: map of the U.S. showing the locations of the NSF-funded sites

Image credit: design by Nicolle Rager Fuller, NSF

And we support dozens of important labs, supercomputing centers, astronomical observatories and other science and engineering facilities across the Nation.

Additionally, NSF has an ongoing commitment to prepare the next generation of STEM professionals who will use their skills to run these facilities and keep America as a global science and technology leader.

We recently announced an expansion of INTERN, the program that provides funding for graduate student internships in non-academic settings such as industry. You can find out more about INTERN at this workshop.

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Slide title: NSF Active in New Mexico (FY 2017)

Slide words: Received $51,700,000 in NSF funding supporting:
Nine universities to bolster the STEM workforce and continued support for scientific research
Four small businesses in order to create jobs and help rebuild the economy

Slide images: illustration of a generic university logo; graph showing upward growth

Image credits: (left to right) mamanamsai/; yoyoyai/

Our support for New Mexico institutions — including nine universities and four small businesses — last year topped $51 million.

One important collaborative effort involving NSF, the New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Utah, and the University of New Mexico, led to the creation of the PRObE (Parallel Reconfigurable Observational Environment) Center, a unique computing system housed in Los Alamos Research Park.

The PRObE Center is the world's first facility where computer systems researchers have onsite and remote access to, and control of, a dedicated large-scale supercomputer for the testing of super-computing and big-data-systems software.

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Slide title: NSF's 10 Big Ideas | Research Ideas

Slide words: (left) Harnessing Data for 21st Century Science and Engineering
(center top) The Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier
(center middle) Navigating the New Arctic
(center bottom left to right) The Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution; Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype
(right) Windows on the Universe: The Era of Multi-messenger Astrophysics

Slide images: (left) word graphic about data science
(center top) illustration of creative teams working on giant digital tablets and communicating digitally
(center middle) aerial photo of melting ice in the Arctic
(center bottom left to right) illustration of quantum computation with trapped ions; photo of seedling being watered by hand
(right top to bottom) aerial photo of LIGO in Livingston, LA; photo of IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica; photo of radio telescopes at ALMA in Chile

Image credits: (left) James Kurose, NSF
(center top) Jesus Sanz/
(center middle) Roger Wakimoto, NSF
(center bottom left to right) Joint Quantum Institute, University of Maryland; ©
(right top to bottom) LIGO Scientific Collaboration; F. Fleming Crim, NSF (2)

NSF is constantly searching for promising breakthroughs — an effort we labeled "Ten Big Ideas." These are ideas on the forefront of science and engineering that have targeted goals particularly suited to NSF's broad portfolio of science and engineering, and can be realized with increased future investments.

The world stands on the threshold of a number of revolutions — in quantum mechanics, in our exploration of the cosmos, and in our understanding of the rules of life, illustrated by several of the Research Big Ideas shown here.

The Big Data revolution is underway. It is already transforming science and engineering research and opening up opportunities for new discoveries, made both by humans and by machines.

Technology is re-shaping the way we learn, commute, work, play, and communicate. Our focus on the human-technology frontier is to examine ways in which we can shape technology for society's benefit. Here, the challenge is to have machines collaborate with workers, rather than displace them. For example, our Robotics Initiative is leading the way in training robots to work effectively and efficiently alongside humans in the workplace.

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Slide title: NSF's 10 Big Ideas | Process Ideas

Slide words: (top to bottom) Growing Convergence Research at NSF
NSF 2026: Seeding Innovation
NSF INCLUDES: Enhancing STEM through Diversity and Inclusion
Mid-scale Research Infrastructure

Slide images: (top to bottom) illustration suggesting convergence; graphic suggesting future ideas; graphic suggesting inclusion and diversity; photo of a broken bridge

Image credits: (top to bottom) ©iStockphoto/enjoynz; © and design by Adrian Apodaca, NSF; Trinka Kensill, NSF; ©

We also have four Process Ideas, which identify "gaps" in what we fund, or how we fund projects.

In Convergent Research, we know there are areas of proposed research that don't get funded because they fall between the 'cracks' of what the funding agencies regard as their specialty. NSF has identified many of the obstacles to convergent research and is committed to trying new approaches to encourage, identify, and fund convergent research.

At the same time, there's a gap in our support for mid-scale research infrastructure proposals, those that fall between $10 million and $100 million. Our goal is to close that funding gap and enable new research ideas to be funded.

NSF INCLUDES is addressing urgent needs in the development of tomorrow's STEM workforce. To ensure the U.S. does not fall behind, our STEM workforce must be diversified and strengthened. That means investing in people, opening up educational and career avenues for those who have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. NSF INCLUDES builds on and amplifies NSF's current portfolio in broadening participation, because science is too wonderful for it to be exclusive, and too important to leave anyone out.

And as we go forward, NSF has recognized that our project planning has to be more flexible and forward-thinking. We are working on a new approach that would help set the stage for breakthrough science. We call this initiative NSF 2026 because in 2026 the United States will be celebrating our "Sestercentennial" — the 250th anniversary of our Nation's founding.

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Slide title: The NSF 2026 Idea Machine

Slide words: We need YOU to help create the Big Ideas of the future
Competition Opens August 31, 2018

Slide image: gear graphic showing intersecting cogs and groups of people

Image credit: design by Trinka Kensill, NSF

And finally, let me break some news with you today. Two days from now, NSF will launch the NSF 2026 Idea Machine. NSF may have 10 Big Ideas today, but we don't have ALL the Big Ideas for the Future.

The NSF 2026 Idea Machine is a competition that challenges Americans from all walks of life to submit bold, original concepts that will help keep the United States at the forefront of discovery and innovation.

We're looking for exciting ideas for future themes in fundamental science, engineering and STEM education research that go beyond NSF's existing portfolio.

The NSF 2026 Idea Machine will accept entries from August 31 through late October 2018.

You can see the website on the slide. Visit it to find our online toolkit and download useful information, such as posters and postcards — and share this unique opportunity with colleagues, students, friends and family.

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Slide title: NSF DAY

Slide words: Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation
University of New Mexico
August 29, 2018

Slide image: image of earth from space

Image credit: Vadim Sadovski/

Thank you again for the opportunity to be with you today. This is an exciting time for science. I sense that the entrepreneurial spirit is very much present in this room, and it is our goal to nurture it.

Robust NSF investments in discovery research have returned exceptional dividends to the American people, expanding knowledge, improving lives, and ensuring our security. To keep those benefits flowing, we need to constantly replenish the wellspring of new ideas and train new talent while serving as good stewards of the public trust. That is the fundamental and continuing mission of NSF.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be with you, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the workshop.