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NSF 15-086

Dear Colleague Letter: Enabling the Future of Making to Catalyze New Approaches in STEM Learning and Innovation

June 4, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has contributed substantially to the development of the US Maker Movement and the exploration of Making as a pathway to innovations and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NSF’s strategic fundamental research investments enabled many of the innovations underlying 3-D printing, computer-aided design, geometric modeling and computer-integrated systems. NSF has made a series of investments in the systematic discovery of new knowledge about learning through Making in diverse formal and informal settings including fab lab classroomstelevision and interactive web media, undergraduate engineering, and the first-ever World Maker Faire.

Today, a growing number of people engage in STEM practices and learning through various forms of Making. The Maker approach encourages people to understand how things work, to experiment, invent and redesign things through multiple iterations, to democratize and understand processes of engineering, science, and innovation, and to commercialize new products by developing and testing prototypes quickly and in a cost-effective manner. Making frequently takes place in social contexts, often called Maker spaces, where collaborators, mentors, advisors, and others can be found. These emerging ideas are pointing the way to how the STEM research and education community can both benefit from and contribute to the Maker Movement, improving U.S. innovation and STEM workforce development.

NSF, with its strengths in fundamental science, engineering, and education research, citizen science, and the integration of research and education activities, is uniquely positioned to leverage the burgeoning Maker Movement and the large network of Maker spaces. Making has the potential to:catalyze new possibilities for formal and informal STEM learning, stimulate innovative design thinking, increase retention and broaden participation in STEM, empower citizen engineers, and enable new ways of STEM learning and design thinking that will enrich the U.S. innovation ecosystem.

Building on NSF's early investments in Making, the purpose of this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) is to encourage EAGER proposals to conduct exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches that advance the frontier of knowledge with respect to STEM learning and design thinking. Specifically, NSF challenges and encourages the community to submit innovative proposals for fundamental research or the integration of research and education that:

  • Elucidate the processes and potential benefits of learning, e.g. design thinking, in the Maker context;
  • Leverage Making to develop and test its role in improving the effectiveness of formal and informal learning pathways for increasing retention and broadening participation in STEM for students and faculty;
  • Explore new ideas and models of formal and informal STEM learning by leveraging existing knowledge in Making;
  • Investigate and test effectiveness of new approaches to design and innovation enabled by Maker spaces and practices;
  • Enable new tools and knowledge for design and prototyping across all disciplines that can significantly increase Making capabilities; and
  • Further the understanding of innovation processes from prototypes through their transition to products that have greater societal and economic impact through enhanced marketability and large-scale market adoption.

Submission Process

This is not a special competition or new program. EAGER proposals in response to this Dear Colleague Letter must meet the requirements of NSF’s Grant Proposal Guide (GPG; see Chapter II.D.2 at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf15001/gpg_2.jsp#IID2). As noted in the GPG, EAGER is a funding mechanism for supporting exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches. The EAGER proposals must transcend typical approaches supported by NSF core research programs, and be considered “high-risk, high-payoff,” for example, in the sense that it involves radically different approaches, applies new expertise, or engages novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives.

Submissions should begin with “EAGER: MAKER:” in the proposal title. Interested investigators are required to contact the cognizant program director(s) (see below) in the directorate to which they are considering submitting an EAGER proposal prior to submission. Investigators are strongly encouraged to provide a two-page (or less) statement explaining the core idea of their projects. Program officers for this DCL are:

Erick Jones (EJONES@nsf.gov), Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR)
Elliot P. Douglas (edouglas@nsf.gov), Directorate for Engineering (ENG)
David Corman (dcorman@nsf.gov), Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE)

EAGERS in response to this DCL are due December 17, 2015 and December 15, 2016, after which this DCL will expire.

Related Program

A related program, the Cybermanufacturing Systems DCL may also be of interest. For investigators who are interested, please refer to https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2015/nsf15061/nsf15061.jsp and contact the cognizant Program Officers listed in the Cybermanufacturing Systems DCL directly. That DCL will fund EAGERs to explore the requirements for a knowledge, software and network infrastructure to enable the evolution of a manufacturing service infrastructure.  Ultimately, such an infrastructure would provide a suite of ‘virtual maker’ tools that incorporate what is known about the design-to-part realization process in easy-to-use software apps.  The DCL encourages that project apps be exercised in classroom activities and university-based networks.

Joan Ferrini-Mundy
Assistant Director, Education and Human Resources

Pramod Khargonekar
Assistant Director, Engineering

James F. Kurose
Assistant Director, Computer & Information Sciences & Engineering