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About the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical
Sciences (MPS)

MPS comprises the Divisions of Astronomy, Chemistry, Materials Research, Mathematical Science, Physics, and the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities. The scope of scientific and educational activity supported is enormous, ranging from phenomena at cosmological distances, to environmental science on the human scale, through quantum mechanical processes in atomic and subatomic physics, to phenomena of the unimaginably small. To capture the vigor of this portfolio, we use the following profile:

Fundamental and Applied Mathematics: The mathematical sciences play essential roles in both independent discovery and in support of other fields of research; indeed, mathematics-linked with science and engineering- provides the computation, visualization, algorithms, models, and theoretical foundations of discovery.

The Quantum Realm: This is the arena where quantum mechanics plays a decisive role in natural processes. It covers such diverse topics as the fundamental makeup of the natural world at the smallest distance scales, the basic nature of the chemical reactions that control our environment, and the development of new materials. Newly discovered links between quantum theory and fundamental mathematics are proving very important.

Integration of Research and Education: MPS activities play a key role in integrating science and education at the graduate and undergraduate level, and in helping people of all ages experience the thrill of "discovering science." MPS activities currently support several thousand postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates involved in research each year. Today MPS supports well more than half of all NSF REU sites, and is involved in several other programs aimed at better preparation of undergraduates. MPS also sponsors many outreach programs at its centers and facilities that help bring the excitement of current scientific discovery into K-12 teaching and into the public domain.

Molecular Connections: Enhanced capabilities to synthesize, characterize, and model complex systems help solve important problems in biology, geology, environmental science, and engineering. MPS supports much work that explores the properties of nanostructures and participates in NSF's cross-disciplinary nanotechnology programs.

Origins of the Universe: How did the universe begin? How did matter, planets, stars, and galaxies form? Did life exist elsewhere in the universe? Does it now? What is the full nature of the Sun's impact on the earth? These questions require contributions from astrophysics, particle physics, nuclear physics, exobiology, and chemistry.

Interdisciplinary Activities: MPS sciences are increasingly interconnected to each other and to work in other Directorates, especially in engineering and biology. To foster these connections, the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities was created in 1994. The Office has acheived a number of successes, and has helped to build important partnerships between the MPS Divisions, between MPS and other Directorates, and between MPS and other Federal agencies.

Major Facilities and Partnerships: MPS has responsibility for many facilities that serve thousands of US and international scientists and students. These include optical and radio telescopes, nuclear and particle accelerators, synchrotron light sources, neutron sources, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, and the Laser Interferometer Gravity-wave Observatory (LIGO). MPS is involved in many long-standing, very valuable, partnerships with its sister US agencies (e.g. DOE, NASA, NIH), as well as with several international consortiums (e.g. CERN, the Gemini project). This mode of operation is sure to be augmented in the coming years.

To learn more about MPS please visit:

  1. MPS Organizational Page
  2. MPS Staff
  3. Vacancies
  4. Budget

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