NSF builds science and engineering capacity in communities around the United States

February 24, 2010

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced five new Science and Technology Center (STC) awards as a result of a recent, merit-based competition. The STC program supports integrative partnerships that require large-scale, long-term funding to produce research and education of the highest quality. In October of 2008, NSF received 247 preliminary proposals. Following extensive panel review, 45 full proposals were invited and reviewed by both panel and ad hoc experts, 11 sites were visited, and 5 were recommended for awards by a Blue Ribbon panel. Well over 100 program directors from throughout NSF assisted in the review process. "These five new STCs will involve world class teams of researchers and educators, integrate learning and discovery in innovative ways, tackle complex problems that require the long-term support afforded by this program, and lead to the development of new technologies with significant impact well into the future," said NSF Director Arden L. Bement.

Brief descriptions of the new STCs follow:

Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI)

Katrina J. Edwards from the University of Southern California in partnership with faculty members at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of California (UC)-Santa Cruz, University of Hawaii, Pacific Northwest National Labs, University of Rhode Island, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science & Technology, Harvard University and the University of Bremen will establish a center to facilitate exploration of the Earth's "deep biosphere" beneath the oceans. Although nearly half of the total biomass on Earth resides in sub-surface habitats such as mines, aquifers, soils on the continents and sediments and rocks below the ocean floor, little is known about these sub-surface communities. C-DEBI will explore such fundamental questions as: What type of life exists in the deep biosphere? What are the physical and chemical conditions that promote or limit life? How does this biosphere influence global energy and material cycles such as the carbon cycle? A number of educational and outreach activities such as "science at sea" will inspire students and the public.

BEACON: An NSF Center for the Study of Evolution in Action

Erik D. Goodman from Michigan State University in partnership with colleagues at the University of Texas-Austin, University of Washington, North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of Idaho will establish a center that will promote the transfer of discoveries from biology into computer science and engineering design, and use novel computational methods to address complex biological questions that are difficult or impossible to study using natural organisms. BEACON will bring together scientists who, through research in their own disciplines, hold the interlocking keys to solving complex and fundamental problems in domains as diverse as cyber-security, epidemiology, and environmental sustainability. BEACON education and human resource development plans include K-12 programs, novel curricula development, undergraduate and graduate training, a mentoring program for faculty and post-docs, and outreach programs to educate the general public.

Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems

Roger D. Kamm from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in partnership with researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Georgia Institute of Technology will establish a center to develop the science and technology to engineer clusters of living cells or "biological machines" that have desired functionalities and can perform prescribed tasks. This research will help to establish the nascent field of engineering biological systems. The center will develop programs aimed at attracting students to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, and particularly to the growing area of bioengineering. An integrated inter-institutional graduate program will be developed and courses will be made accessible via OpenCourseWare.

Emerging Frontiers of Science of Information

Wojciech Szpankowski from Purdue University in partnership with colleagues at Bryn Mawr College, Howard University, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UIUC will establish a Center for the Science of information that has the potential to launch the next information revolution. These researchers will develop a unifying set of principles to guide the extraction, manipulation, and exchange of information integrating elements of space, time, structure, semantics & context. The center will bring together researchers from diverse fields (physics, life science, chemistry, computer science, economics, etc.) to develop models and methods to apply to these diverse applications. The center will also build an active community of scholars through education and mentoring activities.

Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science (E3S)

Eli Yablonovitch from University of California Berkeley in partnership with faculty members at MIT, Stanford, Contra Costa College, Los Angeles Trade Technical College and the Tuskegee Institute, proposed a center that will take on the challenge of increasing the energy efficiency of electronic information-processing equipment. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the share of electricity usage from electronics, and the trend is expected to continue unless fundamental changes are made to the power requirements of the basic logic switch. E3S will research concepts and scientific principles that could enable a few millivolt electronic switch as a successor to the transistor, laying the foundation for a million-fold reduction in power consumption by electronics. The center will also support a number of educational programs and promote energy awareness through outreach activities.

National Science Foundation

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