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This document has been archived. The current Guide to Programs is here.

Table of Contents
General Information

Crosscutting Investment Strategies
  NSF Priority Multidisciplinary Areas
  Human Resource and Career Development
  Crosscutting Research, Instrumentation, and Partnering Programs
Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO)
Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)
Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR)
Directorate for Engineering (ENG)
Directorate for Geosciences (GEO)
Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS)
Office of Polar Programs (OPP)
Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE)

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) investments in priority areas reach across science and engineering and bring new knowledge to bear on areas of great national interest. NSF works with other Government agencies to identify and support these priority multidisciplinary areas. The goal is to accelerate scientific and technical progress by identifying and addressing gaps in knowledge and barriers that prevent progress.

The priority multidisciplinary areas that NSF has selected for increased attention during the next several years are

1. Biocomplexity in the Environment
2. Information Technology Research
3. Learning for the 21st Century
4. Nanoscale Science and Engineering

The priority multidisciplinary areas in this section address NSF's three strategic goals:

1. People - A diverse, internationally competitive and globally
    engaged workforce of scientists, engineers, and well-prepared
2. Ideas - Discovery at and across the frontier of science and
    engineering, and connections to its use in the service of society.
3. Tools - Broadly accessible, state-of-the-art, and shared
    research and education tools


1. Biocomplexity in the Environment

The environment is a subject of profound national importance and scientific interest, making it a strategic priority for NSF. The goals of the Foundation's increasing investment in this area include enhancement of fundamental environmental research in all relevant disciplines and in interdisciplinary and long-term research; creation of educational opportunities that build scientific and technological capacity; discovery of innovative methods that avoid environmental harm and inform the decisionmaking process; and support for advanced physical, technological, informational, and international infrastructure.

A centerpiece of NSF's Environmental Research and Education portfolio is the Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE) competition. Initiated in fiscal year 1999, this special competition promotes comprehensive, integrated investigations of environmental systems using advanced scientific and engineering methods.

Biocomplexity refers to the dynamic web of often surprising interrelationships that arise when components of the global ecosystem--biological, physical, chemical, and the human dimension--interact. Investigations of biocomplexity in the environment are intended to provide a more complete understanding in the areas of natural processes; human behaviors and decisions in the natural world; and ways to use new technology effectively to observe the environment and sustain the diversity of life on Earth.

By placing biocomplexity studies in an environmental context, this competition emphasizes research with the following characteristics: strong interdisciplinary nature; focus on complex environmental systems, including interactions of nonhuman biota and humans; and focus on systems with high potential for exhibiting nonlinear or highly coupled behavior with other systems.

Beginning with the fiscal year 2001 competition, and planned for the fiscal year 2002 competition as well, four interdisciplinary areas are being emphasized:

  • Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human (CNH) Systems-Emphasizes quantitative understanding of short- and long-term dynamics of natural capital. Also emphasized are how humans value and influence ecosystem services and natural resources, including consideration of landscapes and land use; and the influence of uncertainty, resilience, and vulnerability in complex environmental systems on societal institutions.
  • Coupled Biogeochemical Cycles (CBC)-Focuses on the interrelation of biological, geochemical, geological, and physical processes at all temporal and spatial scales, with particular emphasis on understanding linkages between cycles and the influence of human and other biotic factors on those cycles.
  • Genome-Enabled Environmental Science and Engineering (GEN-EN)-Encourages the use of genetic information to understand ecosystem functioning and the adaptation of organisms to ecological roles.
  • Instrumentation Development for Environmental Activities (IDEA)-Supports the development of instrumentation and software that relies on and uses microelectronics, photonics, telemetry, robotics, sensing systems, modeling, data mining, and analysis techniques to bring recent laboratory instrumentation advances to bear on the full spectrum of environmental biocomplexity questions.
  • Materials Use: Science, Engineering, and Society (MUSES)-Supports projects that study the reduction of adverse human impact on the total interactive system of resource use, and the design and synthesis of new materials with environmentally benign impacts on biocomplex systems, as well as maximizing the efficient use of individual materials throughout their life cycles.
For More Information
See program announcement NSF 01-34 (or its successor); or visit the NSF Environmental Research and Education web site, Additional information on anticipated multidisciplinary BE activities in materials-use science and engineering; environmental informatics; social adaptation to hazards; and molecular scale and genomic studies of subsurface processes will be posted on the web site.

2. Information Technology Research (ITR)

Sustained leadership in the United States in information technology requires an aggressive Federal program to create new knowledge in a variety of areas. The U.S. economy's robust growth has in part resulted from new ideas that became the basis for new products. For example, NSF contributed greatly to the development of today's Internet. NSF's investments--in ideas, people, and tools--have benefited greatly from the application of information technology.

NSF faces two major challenges and opportunities with respect to information technology. The first challenge is to support the people, ideas, and tools that will create and advance knowledge in all areas of information science and engineering. Wholly new computational approaches are needed for problems arising from the science and engineering disciplines and the development of new learning technologies for use in education.

The second challenge is to upgrade the computational and computing infrastructures for all fields that NSF supports. Researchers and educators in many areas need to incorporate information technology and, in some cases, revolutionize their experimental and collaborative processes to attain new effectiveness and greater efficiency. Also, the United States must address a range of access and workforce issues. Overcoming inequities will require innovative educational technologies such as highly interactive computer science courseware that is both multicultural and multimedia.

NSF is the lead agency for a multiagency 5-year research initiative in information technology. Each agency participating in the initiative will define specific programs in keeping with that agency's mission. NSF is primarily responsible for basic research to advance knowledge, and for education and workforce development activities. The multiyear Information Technology Research investment by NSF will lead to the following outcomes:

  • Advancement of fundamental knowledge in techniques for computation, the representation of information, the manipulation and visualization of information, and the transmission and communication of information.
  • Enhanced knowledge about how to design, build, and maintain large, complex software systems that are reliable, predictable, secure, and scalable.
  • New knowledge about distributed and networked systems and interactions among component parts, as well as the interaction of systems with both individuals and cooperating groups of users. Such networks can empower a broadly distributed scientific community to participate fully in frontline research.
  • Development of a significantly advanced high-end computing capability needed to solve myriad important science and engineering problems.
  • Increased understanding of the societal, ethical, and workforce implications of the information revolution.
  • A strong information technology workforce and a citizenry capable of using information technology effectively.
For More Information
See program announcement NSF 01-149; or visit the ITR web site at

3. Learning in the 21st Century

Leadership in the United States in the concept-based, innovation-led global economy of the next century will depend on the success of building and sustaining a competent and diverse scientific, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) workforce, drawing on all elements of the Nation's rich human resources.

The SMET education continuum extends from preK through elementary and secondary, to undergraduate, graduate, and continuing professional education. The level, quality, and accessibility of SMET education depend on the following: understanding the nature of learning; strategically enabling an improved science- and technology-based educational enterprise; and building an infrastructure to broaden participation of all members of our society.

Across the NSF, organizations provide disciplinary and interdisciplinary support to integrate research and education, as well as new tools and models for K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education. These activities will recognize the importance of the SMET content of educational programs for K-12 students and for the instructional workforce.

A National Digital Library for SMET education will provide ready access to the highest quality education materials, pedagogy, and research on learning, and will enhance the quality of graduate, undergraduate, K-12, and public science education.

The outcome of NSF's sustained investment in research, education, training, and human resource programs will be

  • enhanced knowledge about how humans learn;
  • enhanced practices throughout the SMET education enterprise--especially at the K-12 level--leading to improved teacher performance and student achievement; and
  • a more inclusive and globally engaged SMET enterprise that fully reflects the strength of America's diverse population.

4. Nanoscale Science and Engineering

Nanoscale science and engineering promises to produce a dominant technology for the 21st century. Control of matter at the nanoscale level underpins innovation in critical areas, from information and medicine to manufacturing and the environment.

One nanometer (one billionth of a meter) is a magical point on the dimensional scale. Nanostructures are at the confluence of the smallest of human-made devices and the largest molecules of living systems. Biological cells such as red blood cells have diameters in the range of thousands of nanometers. Microelectromechanical systems are now approaching this same scale. This means we are now at the point of connecting machines to individual cells.

Twelve Federal agencies have joined together to promote advances in nanotechnology, in which NSF has the largest investment. NSF's nanoscale science and engineering program is a multiyear investment whose goals include the following:

  • discovery of novel phenomena, processes, and tools;
  • enhanced methods for the synthesis and processing of engineered, nanometer-scale building blocks for materials and system components;
  • new device concepts and system architecture appropriate to the unique features and demands of nanoscale engineering;
  • development of a new generation of skilled workers who have the multidisciplinary perspective necessary for rapid progress in nanotechnology; and
  • increased understanding of societal, ethical, and workforce implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology
For More Information
See the latest program solicitation, available on the nano program web site,
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