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NSF Fact Sheet


Media contacts:

 Leslie Fink

 (703) 292-8070



 Bill Noxon

 (703) 292-8070


National Science Foundation

February 2004

Congress established the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense." With an annual budget of about $5.58 billion (fiscal year 2004), NSF funds the people, ideas and tools to boost U.S. leadership in all aspects of science, mathematics and engineering research and education. In contrast, other federal agencies support research focused on specific missions, such as health, energy or defense.

Results. NSF funding invests in the future, and results include such developments as: Doppler radar, the Internet, Web browsers, American Sign Language, bar codes, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ink jet printers, computer-aided design (CAD) systems, artificial retinas, tissue engineering, buckeyballs, camcorders and motion picture special effects.

Research Infrastructure. NSF support is present throughout the U.S. and international research communities, through cooperative projects between U.S. scientists and engineers and their foreign colleagues, and through NSF's support for scientific research infrastructure. This infrastructure includes:

  • the world's largest single-dish radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile, the Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile and other astronomy facilities around the globe,
  • the new Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) that will be able to identify faint ripples in space-time that may extend knowledge about such things in the universe as colliding black holes and other violent events,
  • shared high-performance computing resources at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, and the San Diego Supercomputing Center,
  • 24 U.S. Long-Term Ecological Research sites on unique ecosystems,
  • observation and computation facilities at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.,
  • operation support for research ships at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
  • the Protein Data Bank, a repository of the structures of more than 24,000 biological macromolecules to which life scientists from around the world contribute,
  • shake tables, geotechnical centrifuges, tsunami wave basins and other instruments linked by information technology as part of the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES),
  • Earthscope, a developing network of facilities to investigate the geological structure and evolution of the North American continent and the processes that control earthquakes and volcanic eruptions,
  • the new National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), a partnership of 13 user facilities that will provide unparalleled opportunities to explore and share research in nanoscience and engineering, and their societal implications,
  • operation of McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and Palmer Station in Antarctica, management of the United States Antarctic Program, and coordination of all U.S. scientific research done in Antarctica.

Organization. As an independent federal agency, NSF does not fall under any cabinet department. NSF's activities are guided by the 24-member National Science Board, which also serves as a policy advisory body to the President and Congress.

NSF program activities are organized by directorates and offices: Biological Sciences; Computer and Information Science and Engineering; Education and Human Resources; Engineering; Geosciences; Mathematical and Physical Sciences; Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences and Polar Programs. Some offices or divisions focus on specific areas, such as integrative and cross-disciplinary activities, international research collaboration, or survey data collection and reporting. NSF increasingly emphasizes cross-directorate and multi-disciplinary programs and projects.

In addition to its "core" research and education activities, NSF supports continuing priority areas of: Biocomplexity in the Environment; Nanoscale Science and Engineering; Mathematical Sciences; and Human and Social Dynamics.

Internal operations--including salaries and expenses for about 1,300 staff members--account for only about 5-6 percent of NSF's overall budget.

Useful Web Sites



National Science Foundation
Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA
Tel: 703-292-8070
FIRS: 800-877-8339 | TDD: 703-292-5090

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