Scientific progress comes in all shapes and sizes. Researchers peer at the microscopic gears of genomes, scan the heavens for clues of our origins. They unearth wind-weathered fossils, labor over complex circuitry, guide students through the maze of learning. Disparate fields, researchers and methods united by one thing: potential. Every NSF grant has the potential to not only advance knowledge, but benefit society -- what we call broader impacts. Just like the kaleidoscopic nature of science, broader impacts come in many forms. No matter the method, however, broader impacts ensure all NSF-funded science works to better our world.
As noted in the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (section II.C.2.d), "Broader impacts may be accomplished through the research itself, through the activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by, but are complementary to the project. NSF values the advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that contribute to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes. Such outcomes include, but are not limited to: full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); improved STEM education and educator development at any level; increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology; improved well-being of individuals in society; development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce; increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others; improved national security; increased economic competitiveness of the U.S.; use of science and technology to inform public policy; and enhanced infrastructure for research and education. These examples of societally relevant outcomes should not be considered either comprehensive or prescriptive. Proposers may include appropriate outcomes not covered by these examples."
Some research domains have provided material that may be helpful to researchers interested in enhancing the broader impacts of their projects. Examples include the Biological Sciences and Computer and Information Science and Engineering.
More information on the Broader Impacts merit review criterion is available in this short video.
From training the next generation of high-tech manufacturing employees to crafting inclusive astronomy and astrophysics curriculum, NSF-funded researchers help teach future scientists and engineers: work that helps build America’s STEM workforce. Projects find creative ways to broaden participation in science, ensuring everyone has an opportunity to succeed in all fields of science and engineering.
Broader impacts are often intrinsic to fundamental research. Studying thermochemical dynamics can help transform sunlight into fuel; using computer modeling to analyze biochemical reactions sheds light on the mechanics that govern our world. Fundamental research both expands the limits of human knowledge -- shining light on how we make decisions, for example -- and uncovers insights that could save lives.
Scientific discovery can be a tool for societal progress. Think of adaptive technologies -- bionic eyes or seamless signing glasses -- that improve the lives of people with disabilities, or how harnessing powerful supercomputers can help fight HIV. When research tackles societal challenges, such as trauma research done by and for U.S. veterans, lives can be shaped for the better.
The impacts of NSF research extend beyond the borders of an institution or country. Analyzing responses to Ebola helps halt its deadly spread, while recycling agricultural waste benefits our environment and developing nations. International partnerships fuel pioneering science -- predicting ice sheet collapse, for example -- while preparing the next generation of globally engaged scientists and engineers.
Science education and exploration aren’t limited to the classroom or the lab. They happen on the coasts of America’s northwest and in the rainforests of Puerto Rico, in museum maker spaces and galaxy zoos. Engaging citizens in research helps increase public understanding of science and the scientific process itself.