Research Topic Description

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) proposals are solicited across the full scope of NSF-supported research as defined in the 25 topic descriptions (numbered 1-27) that follow. Subsection A, Scope of Research, under each topic describes the basic research areas funded by each research division of NSF. Primarily universities and other nonprofit research institutions are recipients of basic research funding. Subsection B, Suggested Subtopics, describes specific research areas that the divisions think may be appropriate to the SBIR Program. Most topics are also open to other applications-oriented research ideas with commercial potential that are relevant to the topic area. Some topics, however, state that interest is limited to the areas described. Areas of emphasis described in Section 1.3, Program Emphasis for 1997, are dispersed throughout the topics.

Some references which are appropriate to all the topics appear below:

National Science Foundation. 1997. Guide to Programs--Fiscal Year 1997. NSF 97-30. Arlington, Virginia NSF.

National Science Foundation. 1995. Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI). NSF 95-111 and NSF 95-112. Washington, DC: NSF.

Note: Some topic descriptions have substantially changed since last year's solicitation. Some topic numbers may have also changed; check the assignment of proposals to topic numbers carefully. Topic numbers 11 and 12 have been skipped in this solicitation to maintain consistency with previous solicitations' topic numbers. If a proposal falls within a topic (numbered 1-27) but not within any of the suggested subtopics (lettered a, b, c, etc.), leave the subtopic designation blank on the cover page of the proposal. Otherwise, enter the letter of the selected subtopic. Please note that the proposal must fall under a topic (numbered 1-27) and that topic number must be designated on the proposal cover page.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Physics supports research studying the nature, structure, and interactions of matter and energy at the most basic level in the following program areas of physics: Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics; Plasma Physics; Elementary Particle Physics; Gravitational Physics; and Nuclear Physics. Proposals addressing topics in physics should include the applications of basic concepts in physics in innovative ways to problems in such applied areas as manufacturing, diagnostics, communication, or control. Proposals may be submitted in any subject that falls into the above scope of the Division of Physics. [Note: Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Research are included in the Division of Materials Research; proposals based principally on work in those fields should be addressed to Topic 3.] The feasibility of devices or systems, including associated software, having applications in a broad range of scientific and industrial areas can also be considered.

B. Suggested Subtopics

The following are some appropriate subtopics for SBIR projects in physics. This list is meant to be illustrative; proposals are not necessarily limited to these subtopics. [Note: See also Electrical and Communication Systems (Topic 20) before submitting proposals under these subtopics.] a. Optical Devices Instruments for control or use of light at the classical or quantum level, using new developments in atomic and optical physics. b. Electron, Ion, and X-Ray Sources High-intensity, high-current, high-luminosity sources of radiation, steady-state or pulsed. Development of new or special-purpose accelerators, such as compact, high-gradient, or high-current devices.

c. Particle Detectors Development of new or significantly improved particle detectors, including high efficiency, damage resistance, good energy resolution, good spatial resolution, or other special-purpose detectors.

d. Electronics Analog or digital instruments for measurements in the above subfields of physics, with such improvements as fast response, low noise, or novel utilization of principles.

e. Data Processing Systems Development and application of hardware (such as new, high-performance data acquisition systems, processors, or I/O devices) and/or software (such as data analysis and simulation techniques), derived from research programs in the areas of physics listed above under Scope of Research.

f. Particle Traps Application of electromagnetic or optical traps for confinement, study, and manipulation of elementary particles, ions, neutral atoms, clusters of atoms, or biological cells.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Chemistry supports research in synthesis, structure, reactivity, energetics, and composition of matter in the following programs: Analytical and Surface Chemistry; Organic and Macromolecular Chemistry; Inorganic, Bioinorganic, and Organometallic Chemistry; and Experimental, Theoretical, and Computational Physical Chemistry. Particular attention is drawn to opportunities for chemistry to provide solutions to major problems in environmental, materials, and biological areas.

It should also be noted that certain aspects of chemistry research are supported by other programs in the Foundation including: Solid State Chemistry and Polymers in the Division of Materials Research; Biochemistry and Molecular Structure and Function in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences; Atmospheric Chemistry in the Division of Atmospheric Sciences; Geochemistry in the Division of Earth Sciences; Marine Chemistry in the Division of Ocean Sciences; and several programs in the Division of Chemical and Transport Systems in the Engineering Directorate.

B. Suggested Subtopics

The Division of Chemistry has a special interest in fostering the unique interdisciplinary capabilities of small businesses to promote new developments in chemistry and chemical technology. These research activities should be directed logically toward the Phase II research and the Phase III development of a marketable product. SBIR projects that involve the research programs in the Chemistry Division typically fall into three general categories. These are broadly defined areas and are not exclusive of any other research having the potential to advance the understanding and utility of chemistry.

a. Chemical Synthesis Design and synthesis of new organic and inorganic substances that possess unusual properties that give rise to new and improved properties or enable the testing of theoretical, mechanistic, or structural hypotheses. Examples include but are not restricted to:

b. Chemical Characterization Physicochemical studies leading to the development of a marketable product or procedure for the improved characterization of chemical systems. Such products and procedures often utilize new technologies and may demonstrate new concepts for chemical instrumentation.

c. Computational Chemistry Innovative approaches to computation in the chemical sciences.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA /NSF Partnership for Environmental Research. EPA/600/F-96/016, Washington, DC: EPA.

National Science Foundation, Environmentally Benign Chemical Synthesis and Processing, NSF 92-13, Washington, DC: NSF.

National Science Foundation, Biomolecular Materials, NSF 91-142, Washington, DC: NSF.

National Science Foundation, Biotechnology Opportunities, NSF 91-142 and NSF 91-56, Washington, DC: NSF.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Materials Research supports research on both the physics and chemistry of materials necessary to develop new materials with superior properties, and on the interrelationships among synthesis, processing, structure, composition, properties, and performance of materials at molecular, microscopic, and macroscopic levels. New approaches to materials synthesis and processing, and to the full range of physical, chemical, and mechanical properties are relevant research areas, but particular interest exists in those properties potentially important to structures, devices, and machines. A wide range of materials is of interest, including: electronic, magnetic, photonic, and optical materials; structural materials; and biomimetic materials. Excluded from consideration, however, are wood, coal, waste materials, mineral processing, and extractive metallurgy.

B. Suggested Subtopics

The Division of Materials Research is interested in fostering research at small businesses toward the development of new or significantly improved materials and materials combinations with superior properties and functional performance. Appropriate subtopics for SBIR proposals cover a wide spectrum of research activities including condensed matter and materials physics, materials chemistry and chemical processing, materials modeling, materials science, and materials engineering. The development of new or significantly improved research instruments for chemical, structural, and physical property characterization of materials is also appropriate. Also appropriate is modeling related to the materials of interest listed below. More detailed descriptions of these areas are delineated in the Guide to Programs (NSF 97-30).

It should be noted that certain aspects of materials research are also supported by other programs in the Foundation. The proposer is encouraged to carefully read research topical descriptions under Physics; Chemistry; Earth Sciences; Molecular and Cellular Biosciences; Bioengineering and Environmental Sciences; Electrical and Communications Systems; Design, Manufacture, and Industrial Innovation; Chemical and Transport Systems; and Civil and Mechanical Systems, which are described in this program solicitation as well as in the Guide to Programs.

a. Advanced Materials

Advanced materials are those of high quality and reproducibility, with superior properties for potential applications, obtained through control of chemistry, morphology, microstructure, and processing variables. Materials of interest include ceramics, diamond and carbon-based materials such as fullerenes and carbon nitride, glasses, liquid crystals, metals, polymers, semiconductors, and composite materials. The list below is illustrative; proposals are not limited to these examples/areas.

b. Novel Materials

Design and synthesis of new materials, beyond those listed above, with desirable properties by atomic level control of materials and processes. Examples include:


National Research Council. 1989. Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990's: Maintaining Competitiveness in the Age of Materials. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20418.

National Science Foundation. 1994. Instrumentation for Materials Research. NSF 94-108. Washington, DC.

1995 Federal Research and Development Program in Materials Science and Technology, Materials Technology Subcommittee, Committee on Civilian Industrial Technology, National Science and Technology Council, Washington, DC;NIST.


A. Scope of Research

The objectives of the Division of Mathematical Sciences research programs are to foster the creation of new mathematical knowledge and to promote its application to foster a better understanding of physical, biological, and social phenomena. The first of these objectives is achieved by the creation of new mathematical structures and techniques and the analysis and study of relations that exist between them. The second objective is achieved by translating phenomena of the physical, engineering, biological, environmental, and social sciences into mathematical models and then finding solutions to the mathematical problems so formulated through the development of new mathematics as necessary. Programs in Classical, Modern, and Geometric Analysis; Topology and Foundations; Algebra and Number Theory; Applied Mathematics; Computational Mathematics; and Statistics and Probability cover all aspects of the mathematical sciences, from the classification of abstract algebraic structures to equations modeling industrial processes.

The mathematical sciences play a significant role in many interdisciplinary initiatives and activities. These include the following: Global Change and Environmental Science, Learning and Intelligent Systems, High-Performance Computing and Communications, Mathematics and Science Education.

Small businesses with interests in research, the development of mathematical models, statistical methodologies, or algorithm development for these interdisciplinary areas are encouraged to explore these possibilities.

B. Suggested Subtopics

It is expected that proposals submitted under these subtopics would have substantive and significant mathematical/statistical content.

Examples of research activities of substantial interest under the above programs that would be appropriate topics for SBIR proposals include but are not limited to the following:

a. Analytic Methods

b. Algebraic Methods

c. Statistical Methods

d. Geometric Methods

e. Stochastic Models

Construction, analytical and algorithmic development, and validation of stochastic models with emphasis on realistic, data-driven models developed in close consultation with experts in areas such as biological systems, ecology, environmental systems, geosciences, atmospheric sciences, materials science, and social sciences.

f. Computational Mathematics Design and development of symbolic and numeric algorithms that better exploit current and future technological developments related to simulation and computation. The focus is on development of critical computational techniques from algorithm development through implementation. Interest ranges over various subjects including dynamical systems, computational fluid dynamics, computer graphics and the mathematics of visualization, parallel computing, symbolic computation, and computational statistics. References

National Research Council. 1991. Applications of the Mathematical Sciences to Materials Science: Report of the Panel on the Mathematical Sciences Applied to Materials Science, Board on Mathematical Sciences. Washington, DC: NRC.

National Research Council. 1991. Mathematical Foundations of High-Performance Computing and Communications: Report of the Panel on Mathematical Sciences in High-Performance Computing and Communications, Board on Mathematical Sciences. Washington, DC: NRC.

National Research Council. 1991. Mathematical sciences, technology, and economic competitiveness: Report of the Board on Mathematical Sciences. Washington, DC: NRC.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Astronomical Sciences supports research to increase understanding of the origin of the universe, its structure, and its energy sources. Research on instrumentation supporting these objectives is also funded.

B. Suggested Subtopics

In astronomical research there is a general need for instrumentation, including detectors and imaging systems. Only instrumentation proposals will be considered under this topic. Research subtopics in instrumentation include but are not limited to the following:

a. Visible Detector Arrays Research is needed to decrease the cost of high-performance, solid-state detector arrays, such as charge coupled devices (CCDs), for use in the visible region of the spectrum. Of prime importance is an increase in blue sensitivity with dimensionality greater than 1000 x 1000 pixels. b. Infrared Detector Arrays Arrays of detectors that are sensitive in the atmospheric transmission windows at wavelengths longer than one micron are required. These arrays need to be of very low noise equivalent power (NEP) and to be capable of operation in the high thermal-radiation background typical of ground-based infrared observations. c. Fast-Framing Arrays Visible and infrared arrays, with a frame rate greater than 500 frames per second and dimensionality of 64 x 64 to 128 x 128 elements are needed for wavefront sensing in adaptive optical systems. Read noise for these devices must be less than 10 electrons per second per pixel.

d. Millimeter Wavelength Instrumentation Further development is needed in the technologies for the fabrication of receivers and coherent mixers used in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelength regions. Techniques to assemble arrays of such detectors are desirable

e. Adaptive Optical and Image Interferometric Systems Development of systems that apply recent concepts such as adaptive optics, interferometry, and artificial guide stars to compensate for atmospheric and instrumental blurring in astronomical imaging systems is needed.

Reference Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee. 1991. The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Committee report. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Atmospheric Sciences supports research devoted to better understanding the physical, dynamical, chemical, and electromagnetic processes that determine the behavior of the earth's atmosphere and the geospace environment from the upper atmosphere to the sun. Research areas include the following: climate and its variations; the general circulation; synoptic, mesoscale, and microscale weather phenomena; the chemical composition and the cycle of species in the earth's atmosphere; remote sensing of the geospace environment and sun; dynamics of the upper atmosphere; physics of the ionosphere, magnetosphere, and sun; and solar-terrestrial interactions. In addition, the Division supports the acquisition of research observations and the development of instrumentation necessary to obtain them.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Proposals are solicited in all of the above research topics. Specific opportunities include, though not limited to, the following:

a. Measurement of Physical Properties Improved instruments are needed for remote and in situ measurement of precipitation, cloud characteristics, air motion, water vapor, and atmospheric electricity, as well as the solar terrestrial environment.

b. Measurements of Chemical Properties New techniques are needed for quantitative determination of trace species in the ambient atmosphere, including both rapid and ultrasensitive measurement of transitory species concentrations and fluxes.


CEDAR Steering Committee. 1986. Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions "CEDAR," Vol. I: Overview.

Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences. 1993. Our Changing Planet: the FY 1994 U.S. Global Change Research Program. Washington, DC: Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, Office of Science and Technology Policy.

GEM Steering Committee. 1988. Geospace Environment Modeling "GEM."

National Academy of Sciences. 1992. Solar Influences on Global Change: Report to the NRC Committee on Global Change Research. Washington, DC: NAS.

National Academy of Sciences. 1991. Assessment of Programs in Solar and Space Physics 1991. Washington, DC: NAS.

National Academy of Sciences. 1990. Research Strategies for the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Washington, DC: NAS. National Academy of Sciences. 1984. Global Tropospheric Chemistry: A Plan for Action. Washington, DC: NAS.

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. 1987. The Atmospheric Sciences: A Vision for 1989-1994. Report of the NSF-UCAR Long-Range Planning Committee. Boulder, CO: UCAR.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Earth Sciences supports research on the full range of geoscience disciplines and is described more fully in the brochure Earth Sciences Research at the NSF listed below. Much of this research is limited by the available instrumentation and techniques for sensing and sampling the subsurface parts of the earth and by the need for accurate chemical and physical analysis of rock, mineral, and fluid samples, both in the laboratory and in deep drill holes.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Proposals are solicited in each of the earth science research programs. NSF would be especially interested, however, in the development of new, improved, or less expensive instruments or techniques for the following research areas:

a. Crustal Studies Exploring the composition and structure of the earth's crust.

b. Analytical Measurements Chemical, isotopic, or microstructural analysis of rocks and minerals.

c. Field Measurements Measurements of the Earth's gravitational or magnetic fields.

d. Stress/Strain Measurements Monitoring of stress or strain in the Earth's crust, including borehole and modern geodetic measurements.

e. Seismological Measurements Measurements of ground displacements or accelerations due to earthquakes and/or man-made sources.

f. Synthetic Materials Laboratory synthesis of geological materials.

g. Physical Properties Laboratory measurement of the physical properties of rocks and minerals at high temperatures and high pressures.

h. Deep Drilling and Logging Technology Coring, fluid sampling, and measurement of physical and chemical properties at depths up to 15 kilometers.

i. Molecular Sensing Development of chemical and biosensors for petroleum exploration and environmental clean-up.


IRIS Consortium. January 1993. A National Program for Research in Continental Dynamics. CD/2020. Arlington, VA: The IRIS Consortium. [The IRIS Consortium, 1616 N. Ft. Meyer Drive, Suite 1050, Arlington, VA 22209-3109.]

National Academy of Sciences. 1993. The National Geomagnetic Initiative. Washington, DC: NAS.

National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: NAS.

National Academy of Sciences. 1991. International Global Network of Fiducial Stations. Washington, DC: NAS.

National Academy of Sciences. 1990. Facilities for Earth Materials Research. Washington, DC: NAS.

National Science Foundation. 1993. Earth Sciences Research at the NSF. NSF 93-66. Washington, DC: NSF.


A. Scope of Research

The Ocean Sciences Division supports research to improve understanding of the sea, including the seafloor and the organisms in it, and its relationship to human activities. This research seeks to improve our understanding of the factors controlling physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes in the ocean and at its boundaries (the air-sea interface, the seafloor, and the coastline). These processes control the nature and distribution of marine life, the composition and movement of ocean water, and the character of the ocean bottom.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Appropriate subtopics for SBIR proposals are included in the general range of research supported by the Ocean Sciences Division in the following program areas: Marine Geology and Geophysics, Chemical Oceanography, Biological Oceanography, Physical Oceanography, Scientific Ocean Drilling, and Oceanographic Technology. Areas of specific interest for SBIR support include but are not limited to the following: a. Oceanographic Measurement, Sampling, and Reporting Systems

b. Marine/Estuarine Aquaculture Research proposals are requested are directed toward improving cultivation practices for marine organisms. Selected species or processes should have a clear-cut commercial potential and the need for further acquisition of scientific data to illustrate their value or utility. Areas of emphasis include the following:


A. Scope of Research

The Office of Polar Programs supports research to promote new discovery and knowledge of the Arctic and Antarctic. These are regions of extreme cold and of long periods of light and darkness; they consist predominantly of snow, land and sea ice, and frozen ground. The principal research interests are to understand and predict physical, chemical, and biological properties and processes of materials and organisms at low or subfreezing temperatures and to understand their relationships to human activities.

B. Suggested Subtopics

The following subtopics for polar and related cold regions of the earth are appropriate for SBIR support: a. Remote sensing (space and airborne) Remote sensing of the polar regions will increase in importance. We need low cost techniques for data acquisition, processing, analysis, and interpretation. Researchers need systems that lower the cost and complexity of gaining access to processed data products. Hardware intended for outdoor use must survive and function in the harsh polar environment. Areas of interest include:

b. Autonomous instrumentation We need systems for data collection with a reduced requirement for on-site people. Systems must function reliably in the harsh polar environment and use existing or emerging telecommunications capabilities. Areas of interest include:

c. Telecommunications Modern digital telecommunications is becoming a significant factor in the conduct of scientific research in the polar regions. Researchers require innovations in telecommunications and related technologies to advance opportunities for scientific research. Areas of interest include:

d. Small energy systems The increased use of electronic technology for field communications and autonomous-remote science data acquisition requires the parallel development of improved small scale energy systems to power these devices. Small energy systems should be simple, reliable, operate in the harsh polar conditions, make maximum use of available natural, renewable energy sources (wind, solar) and minimize the duty cycle of any integrated classical energy sources (fossil fuel). Areas of interest include:


National Science Foundation. "Arctic Research of the United States," vol. 10, Spring/Summer 1996, , Arlington, Virginia 22230.

Journal of Cold Regions Engineering. "Cold Regions Engineering Research--Strategic Plan,", Vol. 3, No. 4, December 1989.



The Biological Sciences topic spans three research divisions: The Division of Environmental Biology supports research on organisms and their environment, including ecological studies, population biology, and systematics. Interactions among organisms, and genetic and evolutionary bases for environmental adaptations, are investigated. The Division of Integrative Biology and Neuroscience supports research in developmental biology, physiology, animal behavior, and neuroscience. The major emphasis is on integration of molecular, cellular and systems approaches to understand the development, function and behavior of organisms. The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences supports research in genetics, cell biology, biomolecular processes, and biomolecular structure and function. Living systems and mechanisms are examined at the cellular and molecular level utilizing biochemical, biophysical and genetic approaches.

Areas of interest to these divisions are not limited to the examples given below. However, proposals for medical research, including animal models of disease or research directed toward drugs or drug development, are not considered in these divisions.

a. Biological Monitoring of Environment Like canaries in coal mines, living organisms often provide the best indicators of environmental conditions. Research is needed on physiological and behavioral processes that may serve as sensitive indicators of environmental change. Plant, animal, or microbial systems may be most suitable for different applications.

b. Biorestoration/Bioremediation The loss of biological diversity, pollution, and habitat degradation are major environmental problems. Mitigation strategies for natural or managed ecosystems require knowledge of component organisms, both microbial and macroscopic, and of processes that structure healthy communities. The goals of biorestoration research are to modify species or consortia of species to restore viable populations and to develop technologies to restore or enhance ecological functions. Ecologically sound techniques are needed to restore wetlands and streams and other polluted communities, and to mitigate the effects of exotic introductions. Gene-pool protection and recovery of endangered or threatened populations are also important. Research in bioremediation is needed to identify organisms or consortia capable of metabolizing pollutants, toxins, or contaminating metals. In addition to bioremediation projects on the isolation, taxonomic identification, biochemical, and genetic characterization of microbes, research on plants or other organisms capable of carrying out desirable chemical transformations is encouraged.

c. Foundations of Biotechnology The foundation for biotechnology is the manipulation of subcellular components or capacities towards useful commercial ends. Areas of interest in such technologies include but are not limited to the following:

d. Other Research on other commercializable, nonmedical, biological problems is of potential interest. This includes, but is not limited to, aquaculture, biocontrol technologies, DNA fingerprinting, and the use of biological systems or components (including organisms, cell or tissue culture) to modify or produce substances with a commercial application.


ASM News. 1993. NSF to Expand, Reshape, Rename Microbiology Programs. ASM News 59(7):324-325. Byrom, D., Ed. 1991. Biomaterials. New York: Stockton Press.

National Research Council. 1989. Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990's. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

National Science Foundation. 1991. Biotechnology Opportunities: the NSF role. NSF 91-56. Washington, DC: NSF.

Science. 1992. Molecular Advances-Biotech Special Report. Science 256:766-813.

Science. June 1987. Frontiers in Recombinant DNA. Science 236:1149-1400.

Uchida, T. 1988. Introduction of Macromolecules into Mammalian Cells by Cell Fusion. Exp. Cell Res. 178.

Science. 1994. The Chemistry of Life at the Margins. Science 265:471-472.

SIM News. 1994. NSF Assumes Leadership Role in Addressing the Importance of Microbial Biology. SIM News 44(2):61-64.

University/Industry Workshop. Biomolecular Materials: Report of the University/Industry Workshop, October 10-12, 1990.

FCCSET Committee on Life Sciences and Health. 1992. Biotechnology for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Science Board. 1989. Loss of Biological Diversity: A Global Crisis Requiring International Solutions. NSB 89-171.

Washington, DC: National Science Foundation. Ecological Society of America. 1991. The Sustainable Biosphere Initiative: An Ecological Research Agenda. Ecology 72(2). Bethesda, MD: ESA.

Note: For continuity in SBIR topic numbers, there are no topic numbers 11 or 12 for this solicitation.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Biological Infrastructure supports research that will lead to new instrumentation or software for research applications relating to the biological sciences. This research includes the development of innovative new technological or methodological approaches, as well as substantial or radical improvements in currently available instrumentation and software to increase performance and/or significantly reduce cost. Proposals directed principally at medical or clinical research topics are not supported.

Biological instrumentation is an important industrial sector in both the United States and internationally. What drives the market for this sector is the need for automation, higher sensitivity, accuracy and precision as well as increased sample throughput and decreased unit cost. Careful analysis of the needs of this market can be used to identify areas ripe for innovation, development and commercialization. The programs in the Division of Biological Infrastructure encourage innovative research ideas from small businesses that could fill such market-driven needs. B. Suggested Subtopics

Proposals are solicited for development of both instrumentation and software that are appropriate for application in the performance of research or industrial processes in the areas of environmental biology, plant biology, neuroscience, animal behavior, physiology, biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology. Special consideration will be given to the development of instrumentation and software that have potential to contribute to current NSF areas of interest in the biological sciences, including high-performance computing, biomolecular materials, biotechnology, biodiversity, conservation biology, and instrumentation that is innovative and of significantly lower cost.

In the area of Instrument Development, in addition to the general areas of focus of the Program, special interest is attached to: improvements in X-ray detector technology, improvements in electron optics, high through-put sequencing approaches, software targetting data acquisition and modeling involved in analytical ultracentrifugation, solid state sensors, multi-photon nonlinear excitation microscopy and spectroscopy, laser light-scattering, and development of inexpensive unique immobilized arrays of molecules.

Other areas of interest include: small volume detectors for chromatography, rapid mixing methods--particularly those amenable to protein folding studies, T-jump and other perturbation approaches to the characterization of biological systems, image analysis and enhancement technology and software, application of nanotechnology to the study of biological systems, and application of novel optical probes of biological systems.

In the area of Computational Biology, special interest is attached to the development and implementation of algorithms and software for: the characterization of the relationship of DNA and protein sequence to biological function, analysis of complex dynamic systems, multi-scale ecological modeling, and development of approaches to the analysis, manipulation and visualization of large and complex data sets related to biological structure and function.

a. Biological Structure Research Technology Research leading to new or improved methods for the analysis of biological structure. The general areas for these methods may include optical or electron microscopy and macro-imaging, X-Ray detectors, NMR, video image analysis (including data acquisition and imageprocessing hardware and software), and other appropriate tools such as:

While demand for immobilized DNA reagents continues to increase sharply, the manufacture of unique DNA sequence arrays for large-scale biochemical and physiological experiments remains prohibitively expensive for individual experiments. Innovative technologies that sharply reduce the current one-off manufacturing cost of single custom arrays of synthetic and natural DNAs (or other molecular species) are required. To fully exploit its commercial potential, the technology should reduce the cost per device by more than an order of magnitude over current methods.

b. Bio-Analytical Research or Quality Control Technology Research leading to new or improved instruments, separation systems, or detectors for the quantitative or qualitative analysis of biological samples, such as:

c. Computer-Assisted Modeling Research on more efficient or reliable algorithms and improved data handling and output display methods to assist biological studies. Applications may range from macromolecular structure research to ecosystem modeling. Other examples would include means for visualization of cellular and sub-cellular structures and modeling organ development.

d. Biological Applications of Databases and Internet Information Servers Research and development of components of the national biological information infrastructure ( such as software for the federation of biological databases, techniques and methods for operating multimedia, highly-interactive, networked knowledge databases, tools for more effective access to biology databases or for the visualization of biological data, and software applications for authoring and verifying database records and for collaborative database content maintenance.

e. Biological (Species) Diversity Assessment Research on new techniques and methods for rapid biological diversity assays, inventories and biodiversity data management leading to applications which would automate or replace traditional species diversity sampling techniques. This would include techniques and devices for the acquisition of biodiversity information from dead or living specimens in existing biological collections or from new field-based surveys of microbial to macroflora and fauna. New software or hardware technologies for determining species identity, for quantitative analytical methods of species characteristics and species diversity assessments would be relevant.

f. Biological Function Research Technology Research leading to new or improved methods for the analysis of biological function in plant or animal systems, such as remote sensing and real-time monitors and tracking systems, and new types of sensors based on physical or chemical principles previously not applied to biological systems.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research supports research in a broad range of disciplines and interdisciplinary areas. The goals of the Division are to advance fundamental scientific knowledge about (1) cognitive and psychological capacities of human beings; (2) cultural, social, political, spatial, environmental, and biological factors related to human behavior; (3) human behavior, interaction, and decision making; (4) social, political, legal, and economic systems, organizations, and institutions; and (5) the intellectual and social contexts that govern the development and use of science and technology. Research is supported in the fields of anthropology, decision science, economics, geography, linguistics, management science, operations research, political science, psychology, regional science, socio-legal studies, sociology, and science and technology studies.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Proposals are solicited in all areas of social, behavioral, and economic research in the fields indicated above. Proposals must conform to standard research protocol in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences. Proposers are encouraged to consult with academic researchers in crafting their research designs. Projects involving a consulting services component as a product will not normally be supported. Specific subtopics of interest include but are not limited to the following:

a. Anthropological Methods Improved methods for social impact assessment, studies of the developmental process, screening human genetic variation, and the physical anthropology of prosthetics.

b. Archaeological Methods Improved methods of dating including radiocarbon, thermoluminescence, and others (these may include sample preparation as well as measurement); analysis of archaeological materials (both inorganic and organic such as bone and tooth); and remote and on-the-ground archeological site mapping techniques.

c. Decision Analysis, Risk Analysis, and Management Science Research should have relevance to an operational context, be grounded in theory, and be based on empirical observation or be subject to empirical validation. Research should also include a significant behavioral and/or social science component. Some areas of interest include the following:

d. Economics Data collection and access; software development for econometric analysis, economic modeling, laboratory experiments, and other areas of computational economics; economic forecasting; and research in other areas of economics such as finance, international economics, labor, and industrial organization.

e. Geography and Regional Science The areas of interest include the following:

f. Cognitive and Social Psychological Research Research grounded in theory and based on empirical observation that leads to product development in areas such as the following:

g. Law-Related Behaviors and Processes Development of technologies, software, protocols, or procedures to enhance effectiveness or efficiency of organizations, groups, and individuals whose work will have an impact on the criminal justice system; on dispute processing and alternative dispute resolution; on legal decision making at the intersection of law, science, and technology; or on other areas relevant to law and legal institutions. For example, proposals might focus on computer software that is user-friendly and allows for archiving and sharing large legally relevant databases and related hardware or materials, training materials, or exemplary protocols or work procedures that have potential commercial value. New procedures for reliably and sensitively interviewing witnesses to crimes (especially children), for making reliable identifications of perpetrators, or for doing reliable DNA typing would be valuable. Proposals should be grounded in, or should further enhance, fundamental research in law and social science and should demonstrate how fundamental research supports the development or dissemination of the proposed technology, protocol, or procedure.

h. Linguistics Studies of factors involved in second-language learning; studies of perception and comprehension of synthesized and natural speech; and development of computer-based methods for semantic and syntactic analysis of natural language.

i. Management of Technological Innovation Studies of the innovation process in industry by teams with social and behavioral science expertise. The aim is to make the innovation process both faster and more efficient. Phase I should proceed as far as testing instruments in industry. Subjects might include software generation, entrepreneurism, decision support systems, etc.

j. Marketing Methodology Development of general marketing methodology that is based heavily on psychological, economic, sociological, and decision research concepts. Possible project areas include forecasting the impacts of product improvements and/or price changes on sales. Specific product market research will not be supported.

k. Methodological Advances Improved methods for survey research and the quantitative analyses of social, behavioral, and economic data. Development of methodological or statistical software with commercial applications useful for the testing of social science theories and/or the analysis of social, behavioral, and economic data.

1. Sociology and Human Resources Technologies to enhance collection and analysis of social data; studies of the ways that individuals and groups function in a variety of contexts, including the following:

m. Studies in Science, Technology, and Society Studies of processes of research and technological innovation and their consequences; and of ethics activities in organizations, laboratories, and classrooms.


A. Scope of Research

The focus of the New Technologies Program is enabling technologies for computational science. The Program supports the range of technologies needed to advance the state of the art in high performance computing, and bring advanced computing and simulation capabilities to bear on fundamental problems throughout the sciences and engineering.

As pointed out in many documents and reports, computer simulation has now joined theory and experimentation as a third path to scientific knowledge. Simulation plays an increasingly critical role in all areas of science and engineering. However, as the uses of simulation expand, the need for high performance computing of increasing power, flexibility, and utility grows proportionately. The New Technologies Program focuses on the full spectrum of research activities designed to fill this need.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Programming environments and tools

Graphics and visualization

High Performance Computing

This list of topics should be considered representative, rather than exclusive. The Program will consider proposals dealing with all aspects of high performance computing. However, proposals relating to the listed focus topics and to combinations of them are especially welcome. Proposers interested in submitting proposals outside these areas should contact the Program Director in advance to ascertain suitability. In all cases, the relationship to high performance computing should be made explicit in the proposal. Novelty of approach and development of new methodology should be stressed.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Computer and Computation Research supports fundamental research in the science of computation and the engineering of computer systems. The research ranges from mathematical studies of algorithms and models of computation to the principles of engineering advanced computer software and innovative computer systems. Basic themes of this work include parallel and distributed systems, the study of algorithms in the context of their applications, innovations in computer architecture, numeric and symbolic computation, and computer languages. The Division supports interdisciplinary research that makes a substantial contribution to computer science and engineering, including research on Grand Challenge problems and in computational biology.

Much of the research is aimed at order-of-magnitude improvements in capabilities of computing systems that cannot be obtained by incremental improvements in the underlying electronics. Experimental approaches that can produce quantitative data to validate claims are particularly welcomed.

Parallel and distributed computation is a basic theme for much of the research that has been supported. Promising new parallel and distributed architectures are key technologies for future advances in high-performance computing. Further progress in effective high performance computing requires newer algorithms, languages, tools, and software systems. To develop these technologies, new research is required in theory, problem solving, design, and implementation.

Research on complex software systems is also of current importance, since software is frequently cited as the major factor accounting the high cost and unreliability of critical, complex, computer-based systems. Fundamental issues in this area include methods of engineering safe, secure, failure-free, software systems and techniques for reducing the cost of software systems evolution.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Research should focus on techniques and mechanisms that will increase the utility of computers and their application to commercial problems. Only proposals for development of original concepts in which scientific knowledge is applied to one of the areas listed below will be considered under Topic 16. Moreover, a proposal must clearly specify the innovative concept or technique for which feasibility is to be determined, the scientific issues to be investigated, and the proposed research plan. A statement of need and potential benefits is not sufficient.

Investigators should avoid producing tools that are widely available (e.g., screen editors). In addition, implementations of large, complex, software systems are unlikely to succeed within the time frame of the SBIR program. [Note: Research on computerized ethics should be addressed to Topic 14.m]

a. Software Engineering--Research in this area should concentrate on methodologies and tools for the development, maintenance, and management of sequential, parallel, distributed, or real-time software systems. Areas of interest are the following:

b. Operating Systems and Systems Software--Research in this area deals with operating systems, systems tools, and libraries for all levels of computers and networked resources, with emphasis on systems software for high-performance environments. Areas of interest are the following:

c. Computer Systems Architecture Research in this is needed on the design, evaluation, analysis, and development of computer architectures and related algorithms and software systems. Research should focus on computer architectures at a high level of abstraction and their supporting theory, models, software, and algorithms. Areas of interest include the following:

d. Numeric, Symbolic, and Geometric Computation Innovative research is needed on algorithms, techniques, systems, and tools for symbolic and algebraic computations. Other needs include computationally-oriented numerical analysis, numeric-symbolic interfaces, visualization of scientific computations, scientific and engineering applications based on symbolic computing techniques, and development of parallel algorithms for numeric, symbolic, and geometric computations. Areas of interest include the following:

e. Computer Graphics This aspect of the program includes research in the computer science issues of computer graphics. Areas of interest include the following:

f. Programming Languages and Compilers This area deals with all aspects of programming language research and compiler development. The area seeks to further the integration of programming language research with advances in high performance computing. Areas of interest include the following:


Boyle, A.; Caviness, B.F.; Eds. 1990. Future Directions for Research in Symbolic Computation. Philadelphia, PA: Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, 3600 University City Science Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104-2688.

Committee on Physical, Mathematical, and Engineering Sciences. 1993. Grand Challenges: High Performance Computing and Communications, To Supplement the Presidents Fiscal Year 1993 budget. National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230.

Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, Computing the Future,1992, Washington, DC: National Research Council,

Gallopoulos, E.; Houstis, E.; Rice, J.R. Future, Research Directions in Problem Solving Environments for Computational Science, Champaign, IL: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

National Academy Press. 1991. Computers at Risk. Washington, DC: NAP. National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20418.

National Science Foundation Blue Ribbon, Panel on High Performance Computing, August 1993. From Desktop to Teraflop: Exploiting the U.S. Lead in High Performance Computing. Washington, DC, NSF.

Siegel, H.J. December 1113, 1991. Grand Challenges in Computer Architecture for the Support of High Performance Computing. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University.

Messina, P., Sterling T.; Eds. 1993. System Software and Tools for High Performance Computing Environments. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, 3600 University City Science Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104-2688.

Committee on Physical, Mathematical and Engineering Sciences. 1994. High Performance Computing and Communications: Toward a National Information Infrastructure. Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, DC.


A. Scope of Research

The Networking and Communications Research Program of the Division of Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure supports research in communication and information theory and systems, including their treatment in the context of communication networks. Special emphases include optical networks; networks integrating voice, data, and video; multimedia networks, wireless networks and wireless access to networks; and representation, transmission, storage and retrieval of data, voice, image, and video information. High-definition video systems, cellular radio systems, packet radio systems, satellite communications systems, high capacity storage systems, and very high speed networks are examples of information technology applications areas.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Examples of research topics include but are not limited to the following:

a. Network Architectures Modeling, analysis, and design of network architectures and topologies. b. Network Protocols Protocol development including fast computation protocols for very high speed networks, formal models for protocol development, distributed protocols, and protocol specification, verification, and performance.

c. Network Management Routing, flow control, performance modeling and analysis, fault diagnosis, and distributed algorithms.

d. Optical Networks New architectures especially designed for optical networks, performance comparisons among alternative, new architectures, and new approaches to high-speed switching and switch design.

e. Multimedia Networks Techniques, protocols, algorithms, and architectures for the creation, transmission, storage and retrieval, sharing of multimedia information.

f. Wireless Access Architectures, protocols, signaling, network management, error control, addressing, mobility management, dropout recovery and other aspects of wireless access to networked information resources and computing.

g. Data Compression Source coding, scalar and vector quantization, pattern recognition, transform coding, and nonstationary source statistics, with applications to communications and networks.

h. Image Processing Representation and coding of image information for storage, retrieval, transmission, and sharing in network environments.

i. Modulation and Coding Coding and modulation for efficient and reliable transmission and storage of information, particularly in very high speed electronic or optical systems, in wireless access systems, for fading and dispersive channels, and for very high capacity storage systems.

j. Communications Signal Processing Detection, estimation, acquisition, and tracking of signal parameters; nonlinear receivers, non-Gaussian additive or multiplicative channel noise or interference, random or time-varying channel transmission parameters, adaptive signal processing, and algorithms and architectures for implementation.

k. Network and Communication Security Encryption/decryption algorithms, efficient hardware implementation, key generation and distribution, m-ary security systems, and security management systems.


National Science Foundation. May 12-14, 1994. Research Priorities in Networking and Communications. NSF 94-165. [Available on-line through STIS.] Arlington, VA: NSF.


A. Scope of Research

The advent of gigabit networks, high-performance microprocessors, and parallel systems is dramatically impacting research on systems-level architecture of high-performance computing systems. The area of computing systems that involves the structure of computers is central to the Division of Microelectronic Information Processing Systems today and will be even more so in the future. This is a core area of computer science and engineering, and in the 1990's it encompasses much more than just hardware. Computing systems deals with computer architecture, hardware implementation, networking, and data storage systems.

The emphasis in MIPS is on real systems, both analog and digital. Special weight is placed on design, prototyping, evaluation, and novel use of computing systems and on the tools needed to design and build them. This involves technology-driven and application-related research, experimental research, and theoretical studies. The MIPS programs support research in the following areas: high-level design (design automation and CAD tools); systems-level architecture studies; experimental systems research projects that build and evaluate hardware/software systems; signal processing algorithms and systems; knowledge of applications; methodologies, tools, and packaging technologies for rapid prototyping at the system level; and infrastructure needed to support MIPS educational and research activities. Research on device physics and the fabrication process is not supported by MIPS. B. Suggested Subtopics

Central research issues are managing the complexity of design, creating new functional capabilities, and developing application specific computers. A major goal of the Division's research is producing the knowledge and mechanisms permitting the economical and simplified creation of new and special purpose information processing and computing devices. Only proposals for development of original concepts in which scientific knowledge is applied to one of the areas listed below will be considered under Topic 18. Moreover, a proposal must clearly describe the innovative concept or technique for which feasibility is to be determined, the scientific issues to be investigated, and the proposed research plan. A statement of need and potential benefits is not sufficient.

a. Design Automation The Design Automation Program supports research in Electronic Design Automation (EDA) and those areas where VLSI design technology is applicable; for example, systems-on-a-chip, embedded systems, and multi-technology (optical, micro-electro-mechanical, etc.) systems. Grantees in the Program investigate scientific methodologies, intellectual processes, abstractions, search paradigms, and information models used in VLSI design. Research covers all phases of the EDA design cycle.

The technology of VLSI circuits changes rapidly, and the demand for computing systems of great complexity, performance and trustworthiness is high. Thus, VLSI chips and systems of the future will be complex and incorporate technologies ranging from traditional CMOS to optical and mechanical (MEMS). Paradigm shifts in design are needed, as are new abstractions which permit the designer to better manage complexity. New design methodologies are needed to cope physical phenomena which are especially important. The need for design re-use and deeper design-space exploration are changing the nature of design and require new approaches.

The Design Automation Program has an active interest in:

b. Computer Systems Research Research is on computing systems and methods for their design, with emphasis on physically realizable systems. Particular interest is on designs of new computer systems architectures brought about by the impact of either new technologies or new applications or both. Technologies include the following: VLSI, ULSI, wafer-scale integration, optoelectronic and optical interconnect, multichip modules, and field programmable arrays. Applications include scientific computing, graphics, manufacturing, education, digital signal processing, communications, neuro-computing, symbolic processing, and knowledge and data engineering. Subjects of interest are as follows:

c. Signal Processing Systems (formerly Circuits and Signal Processing) Research is primarily in the areas of Digital Signal Processing (DSP), analog signal processing, and supporting hardware and software systems. A taxonomy of the core research areas, based on signal characteristics, applications, and/or technology, include: One-Dimensional Digital Signal Processing (1-D DSP) - the representation of time-varying signals (e.g., audio, EKG, etc.) in digital form, and the processing of such signals; Statistical Signal and Array Processing (SSAP) - the use of statistical techniques for the processing of signals that may arise from multiple sources; Image and Multi-Dimensional Digital Signal Processing (IMDSP) - the acquisition, manipulation, and display of multidimensional data using digital technology; and Analog Signal Processing (ASP) - the processing of data without conversion to sampled-digital form. Special attention is currently given to research in:

For more detail, the reader should consult the Signal Processing Systems homepage at, especially, the discussion of the Signal Processing Systems Program under the Program Scope. One should also consult the Summary of Awards for both MIPS and SBIR to see which types of projects have recently been supported.

[Note: The SBIR programs of the DoD have a strong component in signal processing that addresses defense applications; proposals involving such problems are ineligible at NSF.] SBIR proposals containing innovative research ideas for possible commercial applications are strongly encouraged.

d. Prototyping Tools and Methodology Research is on technologies, tools, and methodologies needed for the prototyping of information processing systems for experimental use. Emphasis is on issues that arise in creating, in a timely way, prototypes of systems and on automating the microchip fabrication process. Recent efforts seek to explore the extension of VLSI design methods to Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) and Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF).

In systems prototyping, ways are sought to rapidly prototype systems of chips and boards that can provide realistic and timely feedback for overall system design. In automating the microchip fabrication process, ideas on modeling, simulating, measuring, automating, and improving the fabrication are sought.

Areas of interest include the following:

Research on device physics and the fabrication process is not supported here. [Note: Topic 20.a covers research in these areas.]

e. Microelectronics Education Support here includes development of curriculum and course materials and of educational support services, such as field programmable gate arrays (FPGA's). Areas of interest are the following:


National Science Foundation, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993. Microelectronics Information Processing Systems Division Summaries of Awards for FY 1996-FY93. Washington, DC; Arlington, VA: NSF.*

National Science Foundation. Microelectronics Information Processing Systems Division Program Announcement: Experimental Systems. Washington, DC: NSF.*

National Science Foundation. October 1992. NSF Workshop on CAD Design, Tools and Test. Workshop Report. Washington, DC: NSF.*

Workshop on CAD Needs for System Design, Final Report. Boulder, CO, April 3-4, 1995. Workshop on Future Directions in CAD for Electronic Systems: "putting the 'D' Back in CAD", Final Report. Seattle Washington, May 13-14, 1996.

Wolf, W.A.; Moyer, S. June 1993. National Science Foundation Workshop on High Performance Memory Systems: Final Report. Computer Science Report No. TR-93-35. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia.

NSF Workshop on Critical Issues in Computer Architecture Research (

Gray, R.; 1995. Signal Processing for the NII: Workshop/Panel Report, Ballston VA.

Zoltowski, M.; 1996. Signal Processing for Smart Sensor Arrays: From Research to Application-Rich Technology Insertion -- Workshop Proceedings. Arlington, Virginia, April 27-28, 1995.

Antonsson, E. K.; 1996. Structured Design Methods for MEMS. Workshop Report, Pasadena, CA.*

Mukherjee, A.; Hilibrand, J.; 1994. New Paradigms for Manufacturing. Workshop report, Arlington, VA. NSF Publication 94-123 *

Siewiorek, D. P.; 1995. Design Methodologies for Solid Freeform Fabrication. Workshop Report, Pittsburgh, PA. * (

Antonsson, E. K.; 1996. Structured Design Methods for MEMS. Workshop Report, Pasadena, CA. *

NSF; 1996. Integration of Education and Research in Microelectronics. Workshop report, Arlington, VA.

(*Available from the MIPS Division Office.)


A. Scope of Research

Research in the Information, Robotics and Intelligent Systems Division is concerned with improving the interactions among humans, computing systems, and information resources. It builds on the foundations of computing and information sciences, with a special emphasis on human users being an essential component. Pathways in this research include finding and exploring new modes and environments for communication between these three components; improving the computing system's perception and understanding of human expression in the forms of languages and other communication modalities; enhancing the computing system's effectiveness in providing information and information services to the human user; and development of physical devices as intelligent extensions of human capabilities. Among the research issues addressed are data capture and store; information management and access; knowledge representation, delivery and distribution; intelligent human and computer interfaces; group and organizational interactions; determination of usability and adaptability; and programming paradigms and software environments tailored to problem domains and task specifications. The key challenge in this research is how to harness new information technologies for the benefits of diverse end users.

Work in this area in the past has encompassed several fields of studies from symbolic computation, artificial intelligence, models of cognition, databases and information retrieval, expert systems technology, to robotics. Traditionally, these studies have concentrated on computationally intensive models and tasks. Their focus has been primarily on machines and on the solution of completely-specified tasks or understanding, i.e., automation. With humans being in the center of computing and communication, the new emphasis is on content creation, information infrastructures, and information transfer and on augmentation of human performance. For example, rather than create a program that automates a task, several programs might be created that operate in parallel to create an information space with multiple choices within which humans can function effectively. Such a transition from a focus on automation to a focus on augmentation requires increasing the bandwidth of the human-machine interface, as well as extending the sensor-effector range beyond human capabilities. The important research tasks here are dealing with multiple modalities of input and output, multiple communication media and multiple players. Further research tasks are to extend the human memory and attentional capacities by offloading cognitive processes into familiar workspaces. Such workspaces would allow learning on demand to allow exploration of details as needed rather than before hand, or after the fact. The goal of future human-centered systems must be to achieve ease of use (by ordinary citizens and specialists) as well as to simultaneously solve the problems of scale, heterogeneity, and evolution of user needs.

B. Technological Components (subtopics)

The underlying technological components which contribute to this research span a wide spectrum of devices, computational models, algorithms, software environments, and integrated systems. They include: (1) Intelligent sensors and input/output devices, designed to collect or present information of different kinds in the system, including 2-d and 3-d sensors, image creation processing, and high-performance displays; (2) Database and knowledge processing technology for data capture and store, knowledge acquisition and representation, information management and retrieval, and knowledge mining; (3) Human-system interfaces, including speech recognition, natural language understanding, speech synthesis, facial expressions, gestures, and other modalities of human/machine communication; (4) Multi-media information technologies, including visualization techniques, representation of multi-media objects, optimal delivery of multiple data streams, and low-power storage hardware for mobile multi-media access devices; (5) Machine learning technology, enabling the system to adapt its operations and interactions to each user's preferences and capabilities; (6) Collaboration technology, including tools designed to allow resource-sharing and enable effective coordination among groups of people who may not be co-located in time or space; (7) Virtual environments, including both the advanced simulation and modeling technology allowing the emersion of human experience in the computing environment and the virtual enterprise technology enabling the restructuring of businesses and corporations in the distributed workplace; (8) End-user enhancement technology, including large-scale robotics and very small-scale, embedded systems, designed to assist the humans in performing complex physical or information management tasks; and (9) Integrated, very large knowledge repositories for the creation, preservation, distribution, and use of digital information or objects in various knowledge domains over high speed networks.

References National Science Foundation. Computer and Information Science and Engineering. Information, Robotics, and Intelligent Systems Division.

Computing, Information, and Communications R&D (CIC R&D) Subcommittee. Description of Program Component Areas,

National Science and Technology Council. Technology in the National Interest.

Survey of the State of the Art in Human Language Technology, Ronald A. Cole et al.

Imielinski, T. and Korth, H. (Eds.) MOBIDATA: NSF Workshop on Mobile and Wireless Information Systems, Workshop Report, November 1994;

Jain, R. (Ed.) Workshop Report: NSF-ARPA Workshop on Visual Information Management Systems, Boston, MA, June 1995;

Ullman, J. (Ed.) Database Systems: Achievements and Opportunities Into the 21st Century; NSF Workshop Report, May 1995;

References and information on software and hardware for shared interactive environments:


A. Scope of Research

Technological progress in the 20th century has been dominated by the influence of electrical, electronic and photonic systems, which have leveraged human capacities and revolutionized mankind's every-day existence. Topic 20 (Electrical and Communications Systems) supports engineering research essential for innovation and advances in these systems, which have led to the information-rich, knowledge-oriented, technological society we know today.

Topic 20 is divided into three synergistic subtopics, designed to enable visionary, engineering research endeavors which promise substantial commercial impact. The Physical Foundations of Enabling Technologies subtopic and the Knowledge Modeling and Computational Intelligence subtopic are designed to advance core engineering competencies which impact electrical, electronic and photonic systems. The former subtopic focuses upon key enabling technologies relevant to these systems, while the latter program focuses upon system control, optimization and computational strategies. The Integrative Systems subtopic is designed to stimulate innovative systems-oriented activities, which promote the infusion and integration of research advances generated in the ECS community, and linkages with other engineering and science communities. The small business community is encouraged to seek out promising research advances generated within the academic community in each of these subtopic areas, and to accelerate application of these advances in the commercial sector.

B. Suggested Subtopics

a. Physical Foundations of Enabling Technologies The Physical Foundations of Enabling Technologies subtopic encourages creative research endeavors which generate new knowledge, and contribute to the underlying physical structure of key enabling technologies in electrical, optical, electronic and photonic systems. Research areas such as microelectronics, photonics, lasers and optics, plasmas, electromagnetics, nanotechnology, micromachining, microelectromechanical sensors and systems, to name a few, are expected to spur continued scientific and technological advances in areas important to the nation's economic vitality. The subtopic has been designed to encourage submission of innovative proposals that explore new engineering concepts and scientific phenomena; that identify emerging technologies which may promise substantial applications impact; that can lead to advances in performance, through component, device and materials optimization, design, modeling and simulation tool development, fabrication and processing advances, and manufacturing effectiveness and/or related environmental issues; and that push the frontiers on applications of these enabling technologies in the marketplace.

b. Knowledge Modeling and Computational Intelligence The Knowledge Modeling and Computational Intelligence subtopic encourages creative research activities in analytical, knowledge-based and computational methods for modeling, optimization and control of engineering systems. The emphasis is on development of basic methodologies, tools and designs that are motivated by a wide variety of fundamental systems issues, including nonlinearity, scaleability, complexity and uncertainty. The subtopic is designed to enable leading-edge research in learning and intelligent systems, neuro networks, nonlinear and hybrid control, and advanced computational methods in distributed problem-solving and decision-making environments. These directions impact important industry sectors, including manufacturing and production systems, electronics, electric power, and transportation, among others. Rapid technological advances and paradigm shifts in many systems areas, as for example those occurring in modern interconnected power networks, with environmental concerns and deregulation in their technical, social and economic manifestations, are creating operational complexities that require innovative research approaches to expand the envelope of understanding of their impact in the marketplace.

c. Integrative Systems The Integrative Systems subtopic has been designed to stimulate innovative systems-oriented research activities utilizing electrical, electronic, optical and/or photonic technologies. The promise of these activities might be expected to spur significant scientific, technological and educational advances in communications, computing, information, learning, sensing and instrumentation, healthcare and the life sciences, transportation, electric power, manufacturing and other important and emerging areas. Visionary, systems-oriented research activities with significant commercialization potential, and which promise clear technological and societal benefit are strongly encouraged.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Design, Manufacture, and Industrial Innovation supports research in the processes, machinery, and systems of modern manufacturing, with the goal of making the country's manufacturing base more competitive through innovation and responsiveness to changing needs. The approach is to create, develop, and expand the scientific and engineering foundations of processing methods for current and future engineering materials and of design and manufacturing methods and systems for making useful products from these materials. The Division supports a blend of experimental, analytical, and computational efforts directed toward economically competitive and environmentally compatible technologies.

Included are methodologies for concurrent design of materials, processing, and manufacturing methods for products with engineered microstructures and properties, devices using innovative fabrication and assembly procedures, and systems that integrate various unit processes. Manufacturing machine, sensor, and computer control technologies for manufacturing processes and operations are of interest, as are operations research and production systems methodologies that underlie the full range of engineering systems. Integration engineering addresses a complete manufacturing enterprise and its infrastructural components.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Proposals should show a clear commercial application of the research to the current or prospective industrial manufacturing environment. This is not to exclude proposals of a theoretical or speculative nature, but they must exhibit strong commercial relevance. Proposals may be submitted on any subject within the scope of the Division. Subtopics of particular interest include but are not limited to the following:

a. Tools for Design Many critical economic problems can be traced to issues related to the design of products for quality, performance, cost and environmental impact. New theories of and methodologies for design are needed, as are new applications of computer and cognitive technologies to design systems. Specific areas include the following:

b. Rapid Prototyping The ability to prototype a design rapidly reduces the lead time to bring a new product to market. One means of reducing the time to design a product may be through the use of virtual product prototyping in software, using novel information technologies. To the extent possible, all phases of the product life-cycle should be considered simultaneously. Examples include the following: the synthesis of shape and geometry from engineering analysis, the association of manufacturing processes with product features, the transformation from design geometry to manufacturing procedures, and novel methods for the physical realization of electronic models.

c. Advanced Manufacturing Processes Generic research toward advanced processing technologies and new processes for difficult-to-manufacture materials. The goal is to reduce costs and improve productivity, quality, performance, and reliability of manufactured products. The scope includes processing bulk materials into engineering materials (primary processing) and processing engineering materials into discrete parts (secondary processing). Increasing productivity means reducing the lead time between design and manufacture (leading to simultaneous engineering), raising production rates, reducing costs, and improving product quality and reliability while meeting product safety requirements both during manufacture and in service.

d. Next Generation Manufacturing Machines and Equipment Research on integratable, intelligent equipment and machines that support automation systems and manufacturing processes. Specific areas include the following:

e. Next Generation Manufacturing Systems NSF is interested in operational issues such as cost and performance analysis, inventory management, production planning and control, scheduling, reliability, quality, facilities design, material handling, logistics, distribution and man-machine integration within the production environment. While the main focus of the program is on manufacturing systems, research with application to the full range of production systems including communication, transportation, and distribution systems is also sought. Also of interest are advanced or innovative systems for production planning, scheduling, materials management, and distribution.

f. Service Systems Design and manufacturing may be viewed as the inner loop that supports a broader activity responsible for much of the gross national product and the service industries. Some of the technologies derived from manufacturing systems, such as resource allocation and scheduling, and those associated with automation systems, such as networking and communication protocol, may be applied to automation in the service industries such as health care, banking, transportation, delivery, and maintenance.

g. Operations Research Improved understanding and modeling of production systems will ultimately lead to better system design and operation and, consequently, to higher system performance. Research leading to the development of improved analytical and computational techniques for modeling, analysis, design, optimization, and operation of natural and man-made systems is supported. Research areas supported by the program range from new mathematical techniques to application-oriented algorithmic procedures. The areas of interest focus on large-scale integrated problems with a variety of tightly and loosely interconnected components that generally involve people, information, machines, and controls. Examples of specific areas of interest include basic research in optimization, scheduling, routing, location, simulation, queuing theory, statistics, and stochastic processes.

h. Integration Engineering The goal is to provide a framework upon which a manufacturing enterprise operates and within which a number of components of engineering design, manufacturing, and sociotechnical aspects overlap. It has a design component in the context of cross-functional drivers that deal with product realization. Its mission, however, is broad and includes the complete product life cycle. Specific areas of interest include, but are not limited to the following:

i. Environmentally Conscious- Manufacturing The emphasis is on the development of resource and energy efficient design methodologies, production processes, and manufacturing systems to minimize the process waste stream, and/or to utilize recycled material, waste materials and energy as feedstock for subsequent processes. Specific areas of interest include, but are not limited to the following:

[Note: Also see Topic 27.d, which focuses on environmentally conscious manufacturing as it relates to microelectronics manufacturing.] References Compton, W.D. Ed. 1988. Design and Analysis of Integrated Manufacturing Systems. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Improving Engineering Design: Designing for Competitive Advantage. 1991. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Kegg, R.L.; Jeffries, N.P.; Eds. 1982. Directory of Manufacture Research Needed by Industry. Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Manufacturing Systems: Foundations of World-Class Practice. 1992. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Materials Research Agenda for the Automotive and Aircraft Industries. 1993. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Merchant, M.E. Ed. March 11-12, 1987. Research Priorities for Proposed NSF Strategic Manufacturing Research Initiative. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation.

Sutton, J.P. Project Leader. October 1980. Technology of Machine Tools: Machine Tool Task Force Reports. VCRL-52960.

Technology for a Sustainable Future: A Framework for Action. 1994. Washington, DC: The National Science and Technology Council.

Towards a New Era in U.S. Manufacturing: The Need for a National Vision. 1986. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

U.S. Department of Defense. 1987. Proceedings of the Department of Defense, 1987 Machine Tool/Manufacturing Development Conference. AFWAL-TR-4137. Dayton Convention Center, Dayton, OH. June 1-5, 1987.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Chemical and Transport Systems supports research contributing to the knowledge base for a large number of industrial processes involving the transformation and transport of matter and energy. The research lays the foundation for technological innovation in many manufacturing industries, including petrochemical, advanced materials, environmental systems, aerospace, electronics and communications, power production, natural resources, biochemical, materials, food, pharmaceutical, and allied industries that use chemical, biochemical, and thermal processes. Research support is organized in the following areas: kinetics and catalysis; process and reaction engineering; interfacial, transport, and thermodynamics processes; particulate and multiphase processing; separation and purification processes; thermal transport and thermal processing; and combustion and thermal plasmas.

B. Suggested Subtopics Proposals may be submitted on any subject within the programs of the Division of Chemical and Transport Systems. Proposals on the following subtopics, however, are of particular interest:

a. Photochemical and Electrochemical Processes Examination of processes using radiation or electric current to effect chemical reaction, including principles for design of industrial-scale reactors for such processes. Included in the scope are photocatalytic and electrocatalytic systems. Prime interest is in processes suitable for commercial chemical production or for environmental control.

b. Heterogeneous Catalysis Generation of new catalysts or catalytic systems, or new uses for known catalysts, with applications in consumer products, environmental control, and chemicals production. [Note: Proposals relating to fuels production or utilization should be submitted to the Department of Energy rather than to NSF.] Of particular interest are systems with promise of reducing the release of acid rain precursors and/or greenhouse gases or systems for the production of high-value-added products, including pharmaceuticals.

c. Chemical Process Design and Control Research on the control of chemical plants and studies of new design strategies for complex integrated chemical processes as well as for system optimization. Software development, for example, is an appropriate area of investigation.

d. Separation and Purification Processes Since separation is often a major cost of chemical processing, improved and new separation processes are increasingly important. Emerging technologies such as bioengineering and electronic materials processing are primary examples of application areas where cost-effective separations are critical. Research of interest encompasses highly selective, energy-efficient, and economic processes and mass separating agents for the separation and purification of all types of substances. Example areas of support include supercritical extraction, membrane processes, desalination, filtration, adsorption and chromatography, absorption, ion exchange, fractionation, and crystallization. Research in novel separation processes and those based on a combination of various techniques is encouraged. Specific areas of ongoing emphasis include the following:

e. Interfacial, Transport, and Thermodynamic Phenomena Recent needs and developments in information storage have led to an examination of small aggregates of molecules that exhibit unusual interfacial and transport properties. Small businesses can play a major role in applying this scientific concept to the design of artificial layers and structures at the molecular level; in the design of chemical processes for new organic and inorganic chemicals and materials; and in making phase equilibria and transport predictions for environmentally hazardous chemicals. Examples of relevant research are the following:

f. Fluid, Particulate, and Hydraulic Systems Supports research on mechanisms and phenomena governing single and multiphase fluid flow, particle formation and transport, and fluid-particle system characterization. No bias exists with respect to methods, whether analytical, numerical, experimental, or a combination of these. Research is sought that aims at markedly improving our understanding of important fluid engineering processes or phenomena, and/or that creates advances with high potential for significant industrial and environmental impacts. Since fluid and particulate behavior control many processing and manufacturing technologies, the desired impact is improvement in the predictability, precision, and control of existing systems, as well as in the suggestion of entirely new ones. Research support areas under this program include the following:

g. Thermal Transport and Thermal Processing Innovative concepts and novel devices which relate to the use and transport of thermal energy, and to the manipulation of thermal history and thermal gradients to accomplish engineering and manufacturing goals. Examples include:

h. Combustion and Thermal Plasmas Innovative concepts that can lead to clean and efficient combustion of gaseous, liquid, and solid fuels, with a concurrent reduction of pollutants. Also of interest are the combustion processes in low-grade fuels and toxic materials, with a view toward an improvement in current combustor/incinerator technologies.

i. Chemically Benign Manufacturing This is a relatively new area in which proposals are also being sought. These proposals need to address pollution prevention or reduction, not waste treatment. Projects should focus on chemical and synthetic processes and should be design-oriented as opposed to analytical and computer-oriented. Typical ideas might include the following: alternative chemical syntheses that bypass toxic feedstocks and solvents, improved membranes and membrane/molecular sieve technologies that integrate selective catalysts to reduce by-product formation, recycling foaming agents in polymer foam production, developing nonfiberglass in-wall insulation, and new chemistries for on-demand, on-site production and consumption of toxic intermediates in manufacturing. Proposals that address processes to remove pollutants from waste streams or that address conventional end-of-pipe environmental engineering are not responsive to this interest.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Civil and Mechanical Systems supports research driven both by intrinsic interest in fundamental phenomena and by the need for solutions to problems in civil and mechanical engineering, mechanics, and materials. NSF will focus on breakthrough fundamental research initiatives that are high-risk yet offer potential for eventual widespread commercialization and high pay-off. The ultimate goal, though it need not be realized in the proposed research initiative itself, must be full-scale deployment. The objective is thus twofold: to encourage technological innovation within the small business community and to promote commercialization of research developments originally developed within the academic community.

Problems of interest are related to the design and behavior of new materials, mechanical systems, structures, geosystems, infrastructure systems and construction processes. Research focus is placed on the analysis and synthesis of mechanical and structural component systems, including surface engineering, tribology, dynamics, geotechnics and geo-environmental applications, bridge engineering systems, composites for construction, nondestructive evaluation and improved materials with enhanced useful life and performance in extreme environments. The Division also supports research to strengthen and implement the knowledge base on the following subjects: (1) the physical phenomena of natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, floods and droughts, landslides, subsidence and other ground failures; (2) the interactions of natural hazards with, and their impacts on, populations, the natural environment, and constructed facilities; (3) methods of assessing the nature, magnitude, risk, and costs of these impacts; (4) the prediction of natural hazard occurrences (except earthquakes); and (5) the creation and dissemination of technical information for mitigating and preventing the consequences of disasters.

B. Suggested Subtopics

Although any proposal within the general scope of research of the Division may be considered, the following subtopics are of particular interest.

a. Mechanics and Materials Proposals are sought in the design, mechanical response, and failure of all classes of solids. Theoretical, experimental, and computational investigations of deformation, fatigue, fracture and corrosion, accounting for the underlying phase, defect, and microstructural state and its origin, transformation, and evolution are emphasized.

b. Civil Infrastructure Materials, Structures, and Systems Advanced technologies must be utilized to meet the demands of the next century in terms of improved life-cycle cost and performance, safety, and environmental sensitivity. Innovations are sought which lead to enhancements for design, construction, maintenance, operation and recycling of safe, long-lived, efficient, and economical civil engineering systems and facilities. Also sought is research on a deteriorating civil infrastructure and actions that can be taken to diagnose, repair, restore, retrofit, and enhance the performance of existing components, facilities, and systems. Proposals that focus on traditional construction methodologies and do not involve any of the subtopics described below will not be reviewed.

c. Dynamic Systems and Control Research on the dynamic behavior and control of machines, processes, structures, and vehicles, including physical modeling of all types of dynamic systems to improve the knowledge base for analyzing performance and control. Areas of particular interest include the following:

d. Surface Engineering and Tribology Research on the characterization, structure, properties, modification, behavior, and life prediction of surfaces; corrosion, friction, tribosensing and wear; lubrication and modeling of tribosystems; and coatings and tribomaterials. Current emphasis is on innovative research leading to new ways of generating or characterizing surfaces that are engineered for optimal mechanical properties, topography, and microstructure leading to improved tribological materials, lubricants, and coatings for operation under severe condition. Modeling of tribosystems and the use of signals from tribological events for tribosensing and process control are also supported as well as tribological problems in materials processing and manufacturing.

e. Earthquake Hazard Mitigation Research to minimize the impacts of earthquakes, including investigation of ground motion and ground failure due to earthquakes for different kinds of sites; development of analytical methods for prediction of effects on structures, lifelines, and foundations and for the experimental verification of predictions; new passive and active systems of sensors and instruments for monitoring and control of structural motions; improved ways of designing earthquake-resistant structures; new methods for reducing the impact of tsunamis on coastal areas and structures; and dissemination of research results to users.

f. Natural and Technological Hazard Mitigation NSF seeks new knowledge needed to design engineering systems that cope with natural hazards such as extreme floods and droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes, accelerated erosion, wind and water, ice jams and snow drifts, landslides, subsidence, and expansive soils.

g. Bridge Engineering To include self-monitoring systems by fiber optics, or other novel methods, new design concepts using the advanced composites, innovative methods for repair, retrofit, and rehabilitation of existing bridges which have deteriorated for one reason or another. This includes all types of bridges built with the usual construction materials, and preferably the composites for the repair, etc. Condition assessment and reliability investigations may be included.


American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 1994. Research Needs and Opportunities in Friction, CRTD-Vol. 28.

Chong, K.P.; Moraff, H.; Albright, G.H. 1995. Fundamental Construction Automation Research in Civil Infrastructures. In Infrastructure (Wiley). Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 24-30.

Civil Engineering Research Foundation. 1991. Setting a National Research Agenda for the Civil Engineering Profession: Report for NSF. CERF Report 91-F1003.

Civil Engineering Research Foundation. 1994. Materials for Tomorrow's Infrastructure: A Ten-Year Plan for Deploying High-Performance Construction Materials and Systems, CERF Report 94-5011.

Komanduri, R.; Larsen-Basse, J. 1989. Tribology: The Cutting Edge. In Mechanical Engineering. Vol. 111, January, pp. 74-79.

National Research Council, Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment. 1995. Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance. National Academy Press.

National Research Council, Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment. 1994. Toward Infrastructure Improvement: An Agenda for Research. National Academy Press.

National Research Council. 1989. Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990's--Maintaining Competitiveness in the Age of Materials. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

National Science Foundation. 1993. Civil Infrastructure Systems Research: Strategic Issues. NSF Publication 93-5. Washington, D.C.

National Science Foundation. 1994. Civil Infrastructure Systems (CIS) Strategic Issues. NSF Publication 94-129. Washington, D.C.


A. Scope of Research

The Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Systems supports research which expands the knowledge base of bioengineering and addresses problems at the interface of engineering with biology and clinical medicine; or applies engineering principles to the prevention of the pollution of land, air, and water resources and to the remediation of those that have been adversely affected by environmental pollution. The small business community is encouraged to seek out promising research activities, alone or in cooperation with the academic community, in each of the areas described below and to accelerate application of these advances in the commercial sector for the benefit of the nation's economic well-being and for the benefit of society.

B. Suggested Suptopics

a. Biomedical Engineering/Research To Aid Persons With Disabilities The Biomedical Engineering/Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities subtopic supports fundamental engineering research that has the potential to contribute to improved health care and the reduction of health care costs. Other areas include models and tools for understanding biological systems. Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, fundamental improvements in deriving information from cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems; extraction of useful information from complex biomedical signals; new approaches to the design of structures and materials for eventual medical use; and new methods of controlling living systems. This program is also directed toward the characterization, restoration, and/or substitution of normal functions in humans. The research might lead to the development of new technologies or the novel application of existing technologies. Projects are also supported that provide "custom-designed" devices or software for persons with mental and/or physical disabilities.

b. Biotechnology/Biochemical Engineering The Biotechnology/Biochemical Engineering subtopic supports research that links the expertise of engineering with life sciences in order to provide a fundamental basis for the economical manufacturing of substances of biological origin. Projects are supported that utilize microorganisms for the transformation of organic, raw materials (biomass) into useful products. Fermentation and recombinant DNA processes are important technologies to this program. Food processing, especially the safety of the nation's food supply, is an emerging area. Engineers or small groups of engineers and life scientists are encouraged to apply; synergy among the various disciplines in these types of projects is a very important evaluation criterion. Research areas include, but are not limited to, cell culture systems; metabolic engineering; sensor development; bioreactor design; separation and purification processes; monitoring, optimization and control methods; and process integration.

c. Environmental Systems The Environmental Systems subtopic supports sustainable development research with the goal of applying engineering principles to reduce adverse effects of solid, liquid, and gaseous discharges into land, fresh and ocean waters and air that result from human activity and impair the value of those resources. This subtopic also supports research on innovative biological, chemical, and physical processes used alone or as components of engineered systems to restore the usefulness of polluted land, water, and air resources. The subtopic emphasizes engineering principles underlying pollution avoidance as well as pollution treatment and reparation. Improved sensors, innovative production processes, waste reduction and recycling, and industrial ecology are important to this subtopic. Research may be directed toward improving the cost effectiveness of pollution avoidance as well as developing fresh principles for pollution avoidance technologies.


"Basic Research Needs for Environmentally Responsive Technologies of the Future: An Integrated Perspective of Academic, Industrial, and Government Researchers." 1996. Workshop Sponsored by National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. []

"Biotechnology for the 21st Century: New Horizons" A report from the Biotechnology Research Subcommittee of the Committee on Fundamental Science, National Science and Technology Council. 1995. U. S. Government Printing Office (038-000-0590-11)

"Meeting the Challenge. A Research Agenda for America's Health, Safety and Food." National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Health, Safety and Food. 1996. U. S. Government Printing Office (ISBN-0-16-048521-5)

National Research Council, Water Science and Technology Board. 1993. Managing Wastewater in Coast Urban Areas. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

National Science and Technology Council. 1995. Bridge to a Sustainable Future. []

Proceedings of the First International EPRI/NSF Symposium on Advanced Oxidation, EPRI TR-102927-V2 (November 1993), Prepared by CK & Associates for the Electric Power Research Institute, 3412 Hillview Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304.

Research Priorities for the 21st Century. 1997. Environmental Science and Technology News, 31(1):20A-27A.

"Strategies for the Future. The Role of Technology in Reducing Health Care Costs." 1996. Sandia National Laboratories, SAND 60-2469.


A. Scope of Research

The Directorate for Education and Human Resources seeks to provide leadership in improving the quality of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education for all students (pre-kindergarten through graduate studies); to increase the participation of underrepresented populations (women, minorities, and persons with physical disabilities) in the scientific enterprise; and to expand opportunities for the public understanding of science and technology. Proposals submitted under this topic must support one or more of the major long-term goals of the Directorate:

B. Suggested Subtopics

Advanced technologies have revolutionized many segments of the economy. While showing great potential for the education sector, this impact has been limited. Emerging technologies can play an important role in enhancing student learning and participation in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Emphasis is on the development of innovative hardware or software that promises (1) to improve the learning of scientific and technical principles, as well as problem solving at all education levels; (2) to broaden access to quality science and technology education; and (3) to promote equal access for those with physical disabilities. [Note: Research on the reading process and learning to read through computer-aided and other means should be addressed to Topic 14.f.]

Categories of proposals most strongly encouraged are as follows:

a. Development of Low-Cost Instrumentation, Data Acquisition, or Distance Learning Equipment

Development of low-cost instrumentation, data acquisition, or distance learning equipment that broadens opportunities for quality laboratory experiences; provides access to data, enhancing research experiences in classrooms; or provides access to quality learning experiences for teachers and students of science and mathematics in geographic areas that are underserved.

b. Computer Simulation and Modeling Computer simulation and modeling that promotes enhanced student learning through such means as virtual experimentation, virtual instrumentation, and visualization.

c. Specialized Educational Equipment for Persons with Physical Disabilities Specialized educational equipment for persons with physical disabilities that aids in the delivery, support, or access of quality education in science and/or mathematics through such means as adaptive equipment, instructional methods, and technologies.

Proposals are generally grouped by content area and targeted grade level and reviewed by a panel of individuals with an appropriate mix of disciplinary, education, and technology expertise. To assist in identifying a panel most appropriate for review of your proposal, you should indicate both the content category of the subtopic (a-c, as shown above) and the educational level (1-4, as shown below). Education categories are as follows:

1. Elementary (grades pre K-5).

2. Middle school (grades 6-8).

3. Secondary school (grades 9-12).

4. Undergraduate (both two- and four-year institutions) and graduate education.

For example, if the proposal primarily concentrates on developing a low-cost laboratory instrument for use at the secondary school level, the cover page should list "a-3" as the "subtopic letter."

C. Education and Human Resources Specific Evaluation Criteria

Proposals submitted under this subtopic should be focused on establishing the feasibility of developing an innovative and cost-effective product which promises to have a major impact on science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education. In addition to the five SBIR general research evaluation criteria specified earlier in this solicitation, the following must be addressed, as appropriate:

a. Demonstrated need for the proposed product.

b. Evidence that the proposed product is unique and innovative, e.g., with promise to advance the state-of-the-art in educational technologies.

c. Demonstrated knowledge of accepted content standards in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.

d. Demonstrated awareness of research on student learning and teaching ensuring sound pedagogical techniques and developmentally appropriate content and instructional strategies.

e. Demonstrated involvement of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology educators at appropriate grade levels.

f. Promise of transportability (i.e., replication across sites) and scalability (i.e., increasing the number of users) so as to maximize impact on the education community.


A. Scope of Research

The goal of this topic is to fund advanced research that will substantially further the effort to commercialize Next Generation Vehicles (NGVs). Because many of the technological challenges of commercializing NGVs have been resolved in recent years, the NSF seeks proposals that are aware of the progress made thus far in NGV-related research and that address those technological issues that remain relevant to the commercialization of NGVs.

Proposals which involve more traditional forms of automotive research (e.g., development of new heat engines, combustion research, etc.) will not be reviewed. Proposals which do not address any of the subtopics below may be returned without review. NGV activities will be funded by many agencies, in many different contexts. The NSF SBIR activity will focus on high-risk efforts aimed at addressing the critical obstacles that continue to hinder the commercialization of NGVs. Foremost among these obstacles is the ability to manufacture low-cost NGV componentry at mass production levels. For example, recent advances in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology have largely resolved the issues of power density and catalytic loading of the electrodes. Nevertheless, the commercial viability of PEM fuel cell vehicles hinges on the ability to manufacture large quantities of PEM fuel cells at low cost without compromising the advances made in either power density or catalytic loading.

Additional issues that need to be addressed in order to make NGVs commercially viable include the development and integration of intelligent controls, sensors, and power systems for NGVs. Furthermore, because NGVs will be introduced into the marketplace at modest levels, there is a significant need to develop technologies that will enable the delivery of cost-competitive alternative fuels at low levels of demand.

The NSF seeks proposals that provide innovative solutions to the many diverse challenges of the long-term component of the NGV initiative, with an emphasis on those challenges which appear most difficult for conventional technology. Testbed applications of short-term value to industry are certainly acceptable, but the evaluation will be based on the long-term potential and uniqueness of the work relative to what is already funded elsewhere. The NSF will not support commercial vehicle development, but it will give due consideration to research proposals which demonstrate that their results, if successful, would be valuable to industry. Priority will be given to projects which reduce the lead time or cost in manufacturing NGVs and their subsystems and to projects which would ultimately lead to better vehicle designs. Regardless of topic, priority will be given to new collaborations across disciplines and/or institutions.

NSF will consider a wide range of advanced research within the various subtopics identified below. The issues of cost reduction and improved manufacturability are central to almost all of these areas and will be major factors considered by the reviewers.

B. Suggested Subtopics

a. Manufacturing, Process Control and Materials Technology that will reduce the cost of manufacturing and enable the large volume production of critical NGV components such as membranes, fuel cell membrane-electrode assemblies (MEAs), fuel cell stacks, energy storage devices (e.g., batteries, flywheels and ultracapacitors), fuel processors and gaseous fuel storage systems. Issues ranging from manufacturing process control to alternative materials are of potential interest if the issue of manufacturing cost is credibly addressed. Strictly as an example, the characterization of conductive polymers suitable for use as an alternative to bulky and heavy graphite bipolar plates in PEM fuel cell stacks would be of interest.

b. Alternative Fuel Infrastructure and Utilization Technologies that will enable the delivery of cost-competitive alternative fuels as well as their utilization on-board vehicles. Proposals submitted under this subtopic should be limited to the investigation of technologies relevant to the production, transport, delivery or on-board utilization (e.g., storage, reformation, etc.) of hydrogen, methanol or distillate fuels.

The problems associated with low-level demand for alternative fuels in the short term need to be addressed. For example, technology is currently available to reform natural gas into hydrogen for a station designed to serve a fleet of approximately 300 vehicles. When NGVs are initially introduced, one may reasonably expect, however, a fleet of only 30 vehicles to utilize such a station. Therefore, proposals investigating new approaches for delivering cost-competive alternative fuels at low levels of demand (such as small-scale, economic natural gas reformers to produce on-site hydrogen) are of interest to the NSF.

Proposals addressing long-term issues of high-volume alternative fuel production, transport and delivery are also encouraged. For example, developing cost-effective alternative paradigms for transporting hydrogen, methanol or distallate fuels or new processes that would enable existing gasoline infrastructure to be converted to handle methanol or distillate fuel would be of interest.

Because the DOE supports considerable work in "conventional" techniques for hydrogen storage and methanol/distillate fuel reformation, the NSF's support for technologies addressing the on-board utilization of alternative fuels will be focused on those proposals that offer more novel approaches to these critical problems.

c. Intelligent Control, Sensors and Systems Integration Advanced control designs applicable to a next generation automobile or to major subsystems such as the engine or power plant. For example, some researchers have argued that the quality of thermal control may be important to reducing the size of fuel processors used to convert on-board hydrocarbons to hydrogen for injection into a fuel cell. Research using benchmark versions of this control problem or using/upgrading new intelligent control designs could be of great interest. Reports on natural gas and methanol reformers based on work supported by DOE are available from Los Alamos National Laboratories and from Arthur D. Little (ADL). Some of the NSF-supported work in intelligent control is described in the Handbook of Intelligent Control, White and Sofge (eds.), Van Nostrand, 1992 and the Website . Development of solid-state, low cost "intelligent sensors" for gas concentrations and other key variables using on-chip pattern recognition could be an important component of some research efforts within this topic. "Interesting" stand-alone sensors, however, which do not fill critical gaps will not be funded.

In recent discussions, industry has reiterated the importance of demonstrating the feasibility (including controllability) of more compact fuel cell power plants and reformers for natural gas, methanol or distillate fuel. Access to credible models and data will be an important review consideration along with the level of innovation in control approaches and choice of a problem where new results could have a real strategic impact.

d. Membrane Research Improvement and analysis of membranes used in fuel cells with particular emphasis on PEM membranes. The objective is to develop new membranes capable of being used in very compact fuel cells. The ultimate goal is to develop low-cost, easy-to-manufacture membranes that demonstrate improved performance, lifetime, power density and/or tolerance of a broad range of operating conditions. Fundamental research which leads to a better understanding of these characteristics can also be supported.

e. Catalysis Improved catalysts and manufacturing technologies for incorporating catalysts in fuel cells or fuel reformers. Proposals developing improved techniques for integrating catalysts into fuel cell MEAs in a mass production environment will be given priority consideration. Lower-cost alternatives to platinum such as macrocyclic catalysts and methods to reduce catalyst loading and increase power density in PEM fuel cells will be given due consideration. Catalysts for the environmentally benign direct oxidation of methanol are also of interest. NSF would also support highly theoretical work related to this topic, such as the development of molecular modeling and analysis tools, focused on the issue of improved capabilities to design such new catalysts or structures at minimum cost, for use by the general research community. There would be special interest in novel algorithms embodying the quantum mechanical calculations relevant to predicting the electrochemical properties of alternative molecules.

f. Power Systems and Integration Power management issues--including but not limited to control, power semiconductors, energy storage, and strategies for coping with EMI interference--associated with systems-level design of NGVs. Los Alamos National Laboratories has published a number of papers describing some of these challenges. Industry is particularly concerned about cost and whole-cycle efficiency in this area along with the credibility and innovation issues mentioned above.

g. Enterprise Integration and Design Technologies Improved enterprise integration software, designed to minimize lead times in developing such vehicles. NSF already supports generic work in enterprise integration and CAD/CAM systems. There are special issues, however, in developing systems which facilitate anticipatory design for whole-systems cost and dynamic performance of NGVs, based on components which are only now being built. There are further issues in developing systems which could provide the backbone for collaboration between multiple enterprises and universities, using nationwide communications networks. The management of property rights within such networks is of some importance; there are economic issues involved in maximizing efficiency, while maintaining the incentives of all parties. Use of intelligent control techniques in simulation might also be used in design optimization with reference to dynamic test regimes.

g. Social and Economic Issues Research needed to better understand the social and economic processes of a transition to a whole new fuel infrastructure, and the issues involved in labor conversion, and the speed of adoption and technology diffusion. Particularly important would be research that improves our ability to calibrate and predict costs and markets in a fundamental way, so as to provide better decision trees to guide investment and research.

h. Environmental Issues Whole-systems environmental issues, ranging from recycling parts and fuel for a new class of vehicles to pollution control during and after fuel production. Environmental issues in the process of transition to a new fuel infrastructure are also of interest.


A. Scope of Research

The microelectronics industry is passing through a critical stage where a new manufacturing facility can require over $1 billion in capital investments. Technologies are urgently needed to reduce cost while significantly improving product quality and manufacturing output and flexibility, and minimizing impact on the environment. Microelectronics manufacturing also provides challenging research problems that will help in the development of new knowledge and technology for complex engineering systems. For example, each new generation of electronics products will incorporate integrated circuits with significantly higher performance and continued reduction in geometric dimensions. This will require innovations in optimizing the performance/cost of a product over its entire life cycle, including such issues as manufacturability, reliability, serviceability, and disposability. Microelectronics manufacturing is funded by many agencies, in many contexts. NSF will consider proposals for fundamental research that may be high-risk but which offers high-potential for the next generation of electronics manufacturing. The goal is to stimulate technological innovation in the small business sector and increase commercial application of research and development results from academic institutions.

NSF will consider a wide range of research proposals in microelectronics manufacturing with emphasis on cooperation and cross fertilization of ideas between different disciplines in science and engineering. The list of subtopics given below is intended to be illustrative, not comprehensive.

B. Suggested Subtopics

a. Materials and Processing Technologies Chemicals and materials of interest in mainstream integrated circuit fabrication include high and low K dielectrics, silicon-on-insulator technologies, resists, and interconnected metals among others. Other chemicals and materials include those relevant flat panel display applications, and in mass storage, compound semiconductors for microwave and radio frequency applications, and materials for optoelectronics applications including communications and mass storage. This subtopic also includes tools and processes used to fabricate devices, circuits and systems in all of the applications discussed above, including rapid thermal processing, dry etch processing, and materials synthesis. b. TCAD (Technology Computer Aided Design) for Improved Processes and Devices Process development uses many tools to model and implement improved processes, active devices, multilevel metal interconnect structures and integrated systems. TCAD is an array of tools linking data from various sources to assess independently and optimize many of the trade-offs in process development. The scope includes the development of robust TCAD (tools and software) to support all stages of IC design, manufacturing and testing as well as design for manufacturability, reliability and performance.

c. Closed-loop Control, Sensors, and Equipment Automation Classical statistical process control (SPC) will not meet the competitive requirements of advanced electronics devices since it makes use of statistics to establish when undesirable products have been already produced and to stop further production of bad product. The use of real-time sensors and closed-loop control systems will significantly reduce the volume of defective materials that pass through the manufacturing line. In addition to higher yields, the advanced control methods will greatly reduce set up times and improve the reliability of processes and equipment. The development of sensors and actuators is also of major importance for microelectronics manufacturing equipment and processes. Sensors and actuators of interest include chemical/gas sensors for control and optimization, high resolution sensors and actuators for sub-micron positioning in part assembly, tactile sensors for part assembly, and thermal sensors for process control.

d. Environmentally Conscious Manufacturing The electronics industry is also facing new environmental regulations that will significantly add to manufacturing costs. For example, Germany's proposed Electronic Waste Ordinance will place new obligations on electronics equipment manufacturers and distributors to take back used products for remanufacturing or recycling of materials. While the U.S. industry has made efforts to remediate toxic pollution, these after-the-fact measures typically add significant cost and reduce ability to compete. Explosive and toxic gases used in microelectronics manufacturing continue to be a major safety and environmental concern. Sensors that monitor gas and chemical purity and cleanliness are still not very reliable and are of major concern. Gas analyzers, mass controller calibrators, sensors that are chemically selective, and particle detectors are of interest in detecting process problems and generating appropriate control actions. The scope includes advanced control/optimization methods and innovative designs of chemically benign electronics manufacturing that will address pollution prevention or reduction, not waste treatment.

e. Manufacturing Equipment and Systems The next-generation of integrated circuits manufacturing requires affordable, intelligent, and reliable tools. Wafer carriers must be non-contaminating, and they must integrate into flexible manufacturing systems. Handling of components, such as wafer carriers, enclosures, stockers, and wafer handling robots, must evolve to address the process and contamination control requirements, factory automation capabilities, and operational requirements. Another major challenge in microelectronics manufacturing is the complexity and repetitive use of many processing operations. The machines are expensive, and many return repeatedly at different stages of their production to the same service stations for further processing. The research interest includes new concepts and designs for equipment manufacturing and the development of efficient scheduling policies to optimize and reduce the cycle-time .


The National Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors. 1994. Semiconductor Industry Association, San Jose, California.

The Greening of Home Electronics: Special Report, IEEE Spectrum, August 1994.

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