Weird Science ? The Inner Workings Of The National Science Foundation

Posted by Nick Niesen on October 27th, 2010

The National Science Foundation is an independent government agency in the United States. The National Science Foundation is responsible for providing support to basic science research, which is primarily accomplished through research funding.

The National Science Foundation mostly provides research funding in the form of grants. These grants are most often given in the form of individual grants to graduate students and professors. In fact, with an annual budget of approximately $5.5 billion, the National Science Foundation provides about 20% of federally supported funding for basic research to America?s universities and colleges.

Under the leadership of its director, Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr., the National Science Board meets six times per year to determine the policies of the National Science Foundation. The National Science Board consists of 24 members, all of which are appointed by the President of the United States to 6 year terms.

History of the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation was originally established as the result of the 1950 National Science Foundation Act. The mission of the National Science Foundation, as stated within this act, was ?To promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense.?

The National Science Foundation has competed with defense research agencies, such as the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, for funding. This battle for funding has led many science historians to claim that the National Science Foundation is an ?inept compromise? between visions within the federal government in regards to the scope and purpose of the foundation.

Programs of the National Science Foundation

Fields within the National Science Foundation include: astronomy, physics, behavioral science, biology, chemistry, and computer science. Economic science, social sciences, science education, engineering, environmental science and education, polar research, geoscience, mathematics, and statistics are also fields covered by the National Science Foundation.

In addition to working within its regular fields, the National Science Foundation promotes a variety of special programs. These programs are sometimes put into place in order to increase the participation of under-represented minorities in the sciences. The Research Experience for Undergraduates program, for example, targets minorities and women. This program provides grants to institutions in order to assist them in providing opportunities for summer research to undergraduate students.

In addition, the GK-12 Crosscutting Program was established by the National Science Foundation to provide universities with money to encourage graduate students to interact with k-12 students. The goal of this program is to increase science retention in children at an early age.

The National Science Foundation also funds projects on a national scale. One such project is the National Science Digital Library. Also, the National Science Foundation helps pay for the establishment of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers that are located in some research universities.

Space exploration and the National Science Foundation

At times, there is conflict between the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This is because both agencies strive to increase knowledge regarding the universe, space, and the human body. Neither, however, wants to pay more than its fair share for this research. Furthermore, clear guidelines concerning which agency is responsible for which aspects of the fields have not been established.

Currently, the two agencies have developed a truce of sorts. Under the unofficially structured guidelines, NASA is responsible for paying form space based operations. These include projects such as Chandra, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The National Science Foundation, on the other hand, funds ground based operations. These include the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, and Kitt Peak.


Nick Niesen

About the Author

Nick Niesen
Joined: April 29th, 2015
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