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Directorate for Engineering
Division of Electrical and Communications Systems

The Division of Electrical and Communications Systems (ECS) addresses the fundamental research issues underlying device technologies and the engineering systems principles of complex systems and applications. ECS also seeks to ensure the education of a diverse workforce prepared to support the continued rapid development of these technologies as drivers of the global economy. The research and education supported by ECS are fundamental to developing synergy between macro-, micro- and nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information technology in support of homeland security and the emerging new industries and economy of the 21st century.

The study of microelectronic, spin electronic, organoelectronic, nanoelectronic, micromagnetic, photonic, optoelectric, and microelectromechanical devices and their integration into circuits and microsystems is rapidly expanding in technical scope and application. New generations of integrated microsystems incorporate microchip technology with mechanical, biological, chemical, and optical sensors, actuators, and signal processing devices to achieve new functionality. Trends toward smaller devices raise new research challenges to fabricate molecular-based nanoscale structures and understand quantum principles, which dominate their behavior. Modern computing and communications systems are based on these devices. Wireless methods of telemetry to extract data from these new devices are equally important in order to realize local and global networks of sensors and other devices for analysis, interpretation, and extrapolation.

Research on the design and analysis of systems and the convergence of control, communications, and computation forms the basis for new research on data-rich complex dynamical systems. These systems, which learn new functions and adapt to changing environments, are especially important for advanced applications. The integration of device research and systems principles has broad applications in telecommunications, wireless networks, security, and efficiency of power system grids, thus enabling technologies for alternate energy sources such as space solar power, environment, transportation, biomedicine, nanomanufacturing, and other areas.

ECS supports integrative research through opportunities that encourage innovative and collaborative systems-oriented research. ECS also provides support for specialized resources and infrastructure—such as the National Nanofabrication User Networks—that facilitate research and education activities as well as the development of a strong and diverse engineering workforce.

1. Electronics, Photonics, and Device Technologies (EPDT)

Seeks to improve the fundamental understanding of devices and components based on the principles of electronics, photonics, electromagnetics, electro-optics, electromechanics, and related physical phenomena. Additionally, seeks to enable the design of integrated microsystems that define new capabilities and applications; experimental and theoretical studies of nanoscale electronic, spintronic, and photonic devices and principles; use of nanotechnology for device fabrication; and related topics in quantum and molecular engineering and quantum computing are of particular current interest. Answers and alternative strategies to the challenges identified for conventional silicon electrodes at the nanoscale are needed for both fabrication and metrology. Adaptive and reconfigurable devices and low-power/low-noise electronics are used in novel network architectures and advanced communications systems. Microsensors and microactuators, MEMS, RF MEMS, and bioMEMS are used in diverse areas ranging from industry and defense applications to biology and medicine. New answers are needed for wireless applications involving RF ICs, smart antennas, reconfigurable antennas, wireless sensors and devices, and wireless systems on a chip. Also needed are new methods for the modeling, design, and characterization of electromagnetic materials and devices. The program invites proposals for research that can lead to high performance of macro-, micro- and nanoscale devices, components, and materials; advanced methods of design, modeling, and simulation of devices and components; and improved techniques for processing, fabrication, and manufacturing.

2. Control, Networks, and Computational Intelligence (CNCI)

Supports creative research underlying the analysis and design of intelligent engineering systems and networks for control, communications, and computation. The program invites proposals for research that can lead to improved methods for analysis, design, optimization, reliability, robustness, and evaluation of complex systems. Distributed systems and networks occur in telecommunications; power, energy, and transportation systems; and agile and adaptive sensor networks that will be needed to monitor and protect our critical infrastructure, as well as the emerging cyberinfrastructure. Hybrid systems incorporate both continuous and symbolic knowledge representation and are of increasing interest in the study of networks, manufacturing, and transportation systems. Adaptive, learning, and self-organizing principles offer potential for improved performance of systems with unknown models and changing characteristics, especially in biomedical and environmental applications. Biologically inspired methods and algorithms, including neural networks, evolutionary computation, behavioral architectures, and intelligent agents for engineering applications are also of interest. High-performance and domain-specific computation as well as quantum computing are applied to the development of simulation, design, and decision tools for engineering applications.

3. Integrative Systems (IS)

Stimulates innovative research in areas that integrate device concepts and systems principles to aid in the development of new technologies and new research directions. Proposals are sought that address fundamental research issues associated with the analysis and design of such integrative systems. Areas of opportunity are announced on the ECS Division home page. In addition, researchers are welcome to propose potential topics of interest and are encouraged to discuss them with a program director. An example of an integrated microsystem is a miniature implantable device that combines sensors, actuators, and computational algorithms and microcircuits for biomedical applications ranging from drug delivery to microsurgery. A second example is a wireless network of handheld or wearable computing devices that incorporates microsystem transmitters, receivers, antennas, and sensors and constitutes a complex distributed network with high bandwidth and high information-transfer requirements. Design of power grids and systems that are reliable, efficient, and environmentally benign is yet another example. Such integrative systems offer new challenges in basic research and promise for future applications. Proposals for integrative systems research may involve collaborative research among investigators to capture the breadth of expertise needed for such multidisciplinary but integrative research.

4. Human Resources and Infrastructure

In partnership with other NSF directorates and government agencies, ECS provides state-of-the-art user facilities for micro- and nanofabrication and metrology tools with the establishment of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN). The NNIN provides access to all faculty and students for research and educational use at moderate costs. ECS also offers faculty and student researchers in optoelectronics assess to precommercial devices and systems through the Photonics Technology Access Program (PTAP). NSF’s Science and Technology Centers (STCs), Engineering Research Centers (ERCs), Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC), and Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships (IGERT), Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF), and GK-12 Fellowship Programs affect overlap and supplement research areas of the electrical and communications community. Researchers and educators are encouraged to build linkages with these programs. ECS also seeks to enhance academic infrastructure through supplemental and special program opportunities such as the Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) and Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Programs, and through the international collaborations described in the overview of the Engineering Directorate. In addition, ECS encourages the participation in the development of cross-disciplinary group awards. Programs such as Centers for Learning and Teaching, Bridges between Engineering Education, Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER), and Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education offer many opportunities to infuse the latest research developments into the electrical engineering curriculum. Current principal investigators are encouraged to apply for supplemental grants via programs such as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), Research Experience for Teachers (RET), and underrepresented precollege students as research assistants on engineering grants.

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