In Service to Society:
NSF Strategic Areas

computing(University of South Carolina)
Caption: NSF's advanced computing programs promote innovative applications of emerging technologies and provide valuable learning experiences for today's and tomorrow's scientists and engineers.

NSF's second goal, Promote the discovery, integration, dissemination, and employment of new knowledge in service to society, highlights why it is in the national interest to uphold a position of world leadership in science and engineering. At the same time, excellence in research and education that serves society is an important component of world leadership.

Among the many research and education frontiers that NSF's programs address are areas of clear strategic importance to the Nation. The Foundation invests a major portion of its resources in these strategic areas, which are organized and focused around specific national objectives identified by the President's National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and the Foundation's own planning process. It is important to note, however, that the fundamental nature, the quality, and the educational impact of the work supported in these strategic areas does not differ from those of other activities supported by the Foundation.

Within NSF, these research areas emerge from a continuous planning process that takes into account input from many sources, such as reports, workshops, and advisory committees. In this way, NSF both influences and responds to the Administration's National policy for science and technology. NSF's process also considers a number of other factors, such as the availability of infrastructure and resources sufficient to accomplish the objectives, the existence of emerging research opportunities resulting from new capabilities in science and engineering, and the potential to foster partnerships and attract additional resources that can accelerate and increase society's return on the investment. The specific strategic areas and their relative priorities are reviewed annually as part of the planning and budget process. They also are subject to change as the Nation's needs and priorities evolve.

NSF's programmatic activities in the strategic areas are designed in keeping with the Foundation's unique role among Federal agencies and its longstanding partnership with the academic sector. NSF's activities in the strategic areas seek to expand the knowledge base; improve education and training of future scientists, engineers, educators and citizens; stimulate knowledge transfer among academia and the public and private sectors; bring the perspective of many disciplines to bear on complex problems important to the Nation; and enhance components of the infrastructure supporting research and education, including access to the expanded knowledge base.

NSF also aims to foster the natural connections among the strategic areas, because these interconnections are critical to success. They effectively allow the Foundation to increase the return of its investment in these areas, to reduce duplicative efforts, and to coordinate the allocation of its resources.

NSF Activities in Strategic Areas

The following discussions are based on the coordinating plans developed for NSF's activities in each of the strategic areas. NSF's seven strategic areas are grouped under three related priority areas established by the NSTC - Improved Environmental Quality, Harnessing Information Technology, and Job Creation and Economic Growth.

Improved Environmental Quality

Environmental quality has a broad impact on human health, safety, and quality of life. It affects the quality and quantity of food, fiber, energy and water supplies, as well as the enjoyment of a wide range of recreational opportunities. Environmental issues are diverse, with local, regional and global components. A balanced, comprehensive, integrated and coordinated program of multi-disciplinary research and development is critical to improving environmental quality.

Global Change - Since 1987, NSF has participated in and provided leadership for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (US/GCRP), whose goal is to produce a predictive understanding of the Earth system to support national and international policy-making activities across a broad spectrum of global, national, and regional environmental issues. The primary global change research emphasis at NSF has been the support of activities that advance fundamental understandings of the complex interactions among different facets of the Earth system. In addition to expanding knowledge of physical, biological, and socioeconomic processes, the NSF effort seeks to facilitate data-acquisition and data-management activities necessary for basic research on global change, and it encourages advancement of modeling activities designed to improve representations of Earth system interactions.

Environmental Research - The proper balance of environmental quality and sustainable development poses a major scientific and technological challenge for the twenty-first century. Present and future efforts to preserve, manage and enhance the environment require enhancing current research and education activities. NSF will provide support for interdisciplinary research across a broad front of sciences - biology, chemistry, engineering, geosciences, materials science, mathematics, and the social sciences. This is needed to help address problems whose scope is comparable in size and complexity to that of national defense. Current plans for NSF's Environmental Research effort are built upon four integrating themes: biodiversity, water and watersheds, environmental technology, and resource use and management.

Harnessing Information Technology

Information technology has the potential for improving the quality of life, protecting the environment, safeguarding national security, and ensuring economic growth. Government is working with industry to develop the National Information Infrastructure (NII) that the U.S. will need for the 21st century.

High Performance Computing and Communications - The NSF High Performance Computing and Communications Program (HPCC) supports and elaborates upon a Federal program of the same name. The Federal program seeks to extend US technological leadership in science and engineering, to speed the pace of innovation, and to accelerate wide dissemination and application of high performance computing and communications technologies. This program is organized into five components: high performance computing systems, advanced software technology and algorithms, national research and education network, basic research and human resources, and information infrastructure technology and applications, the latter most directly linked to the NII.

Job Creation and Economic Growth

Promoting economic growth, creating rewarding jobs, and ensuring U.S. competitiveness in world markets help raise living standards and the quality of life for all Americans. While science and technology are not sufficient to carry out these government objectives, they provide an important component of what is necessary.

Advanced Manufacturing Technology - Manufacturing is a highly integrative activity, and manufacturing-related problems are among the most complex interdisciplinary problems faced by modern society. NSF concentrates on developing the fundamental science and engineering knowledge base that underlies manufacturing technology, management, and education and training, as well as technology transfer, diffusion, and implementation. NSF also focuses on enhancing the institutional, physical and human resources that constitute the manufacturing research and education infrastructure.

Biotechnology - The scientific revolution that has vastly increased our understanding of the living world offers us expanding opportunities to use this knowledge for the welfare of the Earth and humankind. The scientific and engineering research that makes possible these practical applications, broadly termed biotechnology research, can play a critical role in our Nation's future technological strength and economic growth, in preservation and restoration of the environment and biodiversity, and in the health and quality of life of all people. NSF's biotechnology efforts are currently focused on six key research areas that are important to the future economic development and international competitiveness of the United States: environmental biotechnology, bioprocessing, bioelectronics and bionetworks, agricultural biotechnology, marine biotechnology, and the social and economic dimensions of biotechnology.

Advanced Materials and Processing - The 21st century will provide unprecedented opportunity for the exploitation of new materials and new technologies. Powerful new technologies that are no longer materials-limited will provide the Nation with the knowledge and technical capabilities to be fully competitive. Improved materials and processes will play an ever increasing role in efforts to improve energy efficiency, promote environmental protection, ensure security, develop new and improved health-care systems, create an information infrastructure, and provide modern and reliable transportation and civil infrastructure systems. NSF focuses on the synthesis and processing of new and improved materials; theory, modeling and simulation of materials and processing; broad interdisciplinary training; and development and acquisition of advanced instrumentation.

Civil Infrastructure Systems - The vitality of the Nation's civil infrastructure affects its ability to efficiently transport people, goods, energy and information; provide clean air and water; control disease; and conduct commerce. There is an urgent need to rebuild America by emphasizing intelligent renewal of its civil infrastructure systems, a process that is cost-effective and, at the same time, assures high-level performance and longer-term life through continuous technology innovations. Intelligent renewal of infrastructure systems must begin with integrated research that will lead to new designs, more durable materials, new integrated network systems with better controls and communications, and improved decision-making and management processes.

NSF in a Changing World: The National Science Foundation's Strategic Plan

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