About the National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent Federal agency created by the
National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended (42 USC 1861-75). The Act states the
purpose of the NSF is "to promote the progress of science; [and] to advance the national
health, prosperity, and welfare by supporting research and education in all fields of science
From those first days, NSF has had a unique place in the Federal Government: it is
responsible for the overall health of science and engineering across all disciplines. In
contrast, other Federal agencies support research focused on specific missions such as health
or defense. The Foundation also is committed to ensuring the nation's supply of scientists,
engineers, and science and engineering educators.
NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. It does this
through grants and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12
school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations
throughout the US. The Foundation accounts for about one-fourth of Federal support to
academic institutions for basic research.
NSF receives approximately 30,000 proposals each year for research, education and training
projects, of which approximately 10,000 are funded. In addition, the Foundation receives
several thousand applications for graduate and post-doctoral fellowships. NSF grants typically
are awarded to universities, colleges, academic consortia, non-profit organizations and small
businesses. The agency operates no laboratories itself but does support National Research
Centers, user facilities, certain oceanographic vessels and Antarctic research stations. The
Foundation also supports cooperative research between universities and industry, US
participation in international scientific and engineering efforts, and educational activities
at every academic level.
NSF is structured much like a university, with grants-funding divisions for the various
disciplines and fields of science and engineering and for science, math, engineering and
technology education. NSF also uses a variety of management mechanisms to coordinate research
in areas that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. The Foundation is helped by advisors
from the scientific and engineering communities who serve on formal committees or as ad hoc
reviewers of proposals. This advisory system, which focuses on both program directions and
specific proposals, involves approximately 50,000 scientists and engineers each year. NSF
staff members who are experts in a certain field or area make award recommendations; proposers
get unattributed verbatim copies of peer reviews.
Grantees are wholly responsible for conducting their project activities and preparing the
results for publication. Thus, the Foundation does not assume responsibility for such
findings or their interpretation.
NSF welcomes proposals on behalf of all qualified scientists, engineers and educators. The
Foundation strongly encourages women, minorities and persons with disabilities to participate
fully in its programs. In accordance with Federal statutes, regulations and NSF policies, no
person on grounds of race, color, age, sex, national origin or disability shall be excluded
from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination, under any
program or activity receiving financial assistance from NSF, although some programs may have
special requirements that limit eligibility.
Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities provide funding
for special assistance or equipment to enable persons with disabilities to work on
NSF-supported projects. See Chapter II, Section D.2 for instructions regarding preparation of
these types of proposals.
The National Science Foundation has Telephonic Device for the Deaf (TDD) and Federal
Information Relay Service (FIRS) capabilities that enable individuals with hearing impairments
to communicate with the Foundation about NSF programs, employment or general information. TDD
may be accessed at (703) 292-5090, FIRS at (800) 877-8339.
The National Science Foundation Information Center may be reached at (703) 292-5111.