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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 03-116 - October 14, 2003

Media contact:

 Cheryl Dybas

 (703) 292-7734

Program contact:

 Margaret Cavanaugh

 (703) 292-8002

NSF Awards $31.9 Million in Grants to Study Biocomplexity in the Environment

Arlington, Va.—To better understand the interrelationships among living things from molecular structures to genes to ecosystems—and how they interact with their environment—the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $31.9 million in 30 research grants to scientists and engineers across the country.

"These investigations will provide a more complete understanding of natural processes and cycles, of human behaviors and decisions in the natural world, and of ways to use new technology effectively to observe the environment and sustain the diversity of life on Earth," said Rita Colwell, director of NSF. "By placing biocomplexity studies in an environmental context, this effort emphasizes research on developing the people, tools and ideas necessary to understand these ribbons of interconnections, which are often difficult to tease apart."

Research on Biocomplexity in the Environment, said Colwell, will shed light on connections that are not necessarily straightforward or easily discerned, but that are critically important to the future of life on our planet. "Breakthroughs in particle physics and genetics, advances in computational science, information technology and microsensors, are creating global momentum for new ideas and tools," said Colwell. "The sum of these dynamic influences has given us the means to begin charting a comprehensive view of life, matter and the environment at all scales of time and place."

A systems approach is the cornerstone of biocomplexity studies, Colwell believes. Scientists and engineers must work in teams across diverse fields that go well beyond biology to include physics, engineering, economics, geochemistry and others, on studies that extend from submolecules to mass changes in climate with potential for worldwide impact. "We have powerful new technologies and tools that now make biocomplexity research possible," said Colwell. "The biggest, most exciting scientific questions are at the interfaces of disciplines, such as computational ecology and environmental genetics."

NSF's Special Competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment: 2003, is the fourth year of a multi-year effort. Five subcategories of awards were made: Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH), with eight awards totaling $8.5 million; Coupled Biogeochemical Cycles (CBC), with ten awards totaling $8.3 million; Genome-Enabled Environmental Science and Engineering (GENEN), with four awards totaling $4.4 million; Instrumentation Development for Environmental Activities (IDEA), with three awards totaling $5.2 million, and Materials Use: Science, Engineering, and Society (MUSES), with five awards totaling $ 5.4 million.

Research projects in the CNH sub-category include studies of regional land-climate interactions; overlapping river and road networks in a changing landscape; and changing environments and their uses in the North American Arctic. In the CBC sub-category, scientists will investigate mercury in a northern forest landscape; plankton dynamics and carbon cycling in the equatorial Pacific Ocean; and the regulation of metal bioavailability in floodplains. In GENEN, such projects as studies of coral reef genomics, and the oxygen-stress response in organisms that live in extreme environments, are underway. IDEA grantees will conduct research on the development of large-scale wireless sensor networks for observation of ecosystem processes; test a land-ocean biogeochemical observatory for nutrient and carbon cycling; and develop communication technologies for real-time, unattended monitoring of chemicals important in biogeochemical cycling. MUSES investigators will study sustainable materials use for drinking water infrastructure; sustainable concrete infrastructure materials and systems; and tracking heavy metal life cycle pathways.

For a complete list of research projects, please see:


Also see:
Fact Sheet: Biocomplexity in the Environment

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.3 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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