The National Science Foundation (NSF) I
By Violet Chen
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of the major federal organizations granting funding for research projects conducted by the INFORMS community. On Monday afternoon, Dr. Rance Cleaveland, Division Director of Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF) at the NSF, gave an informative talk about the Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate at NSF. This session was chaired by Dr. Sheldon H. Jacobson from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Dr. Jacobson started by welcoming the audience and recognizing that this session serves as one of the new visions of INFORMS 2019: providing the community broader exposure to the operations of the NSF.
Dr. Cleaveland began his talk by sharing his background as a faculty member at the University of Maryland before joining the NSF. He then continued with a brief introduction of the NSF. The core operating principle of the NSF is to promote basic research and education in seven research directorates. Among these directorates, the CISE is the one in charge of computing research. Through CISE, the NSF provides over 85% of federal funding for basic computing research. CISE contains four divisions, each focusing on a different aspect of computing. CISE distributes grants via programs (core or cross-cutting), and program proposals are evaluated through peer review. Dr. Cleaveland also talked about the agency-wide initiative “10 Big Ideas” launched in 2016. The NSF plans to fund $150 million over five years to programs related to each big idea, and two ideas most relevant for CISE are “Harnessing the Data Revolution” and “Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier.” He shared that the NSF and CISE have been putting greater emphasis on building external partnerships to provide joint sponsorship to programs. The external partners include other government agencies, international organizations, and companies.
Dr. Cleaveland then continued with more detailed discussion of research activities in the CCF and Intelligent Information System (IIS) divisions of CISE. He pointed out that the key to CCF’s mission is to “inspire, challenge and sustain the CISE foundations research community” and CCF aspires to support research with top-level creativity and impacts as well as educate next-generation researchers. He discussed in detail the four core programs (“Clusters”) at CCF, including Algorithms Foundation, Communication and Information Foundations, Foundations of Emerging Technology, and Software and Hardware Foundations. In addition, he gave an overview of five CCF-related cross-cutting programs, such as Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science (TRIPODS).
The IIS division is primarily dedicated to AI research. Its core programs are Robust Intelligence focusing on foundational AI, Information Integration & Informatics for data science, and Human Cyber Systems for human-computer interaction. IIS also leads cross-cutting programs, such as National Robotics Institute 2.0 and Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience. Regarding these programs, Dr. Cleaveland mentioned specific topics that are of potential interest to the OR/MS community. He then introduced NSF’s ongoing solicitations for National AI Research Institutes, which NSF wishes to establish to accelerate AI research and promote positive societal changes.
After wrapping up his presentation, Dr. Cleaveland and the audience continued to discuss how the OR/MS community could utilize NSF resources and benefit from NSF support in the Q&A session.