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National Science Foundation - Celebrating 50 Years

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NSF: The Field Museum's Silent Partner

The National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent government agency that funds scientific research in the United States, will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2000.

Often called "America's investment in the future," NSF was established by President Truman "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes." And it has done just that by investing $3.3 billion of taxpayers' money each year in 20,000 research and educational projects at museums, research centers, universities and schools across the nation. In addition, NSF-backed scientists have chalked up a remarkable 100 Nobel Prizes over the past 50 years.

John W. McCarter, Jr.

John W. McCarter Jr.

The country's return on its investment has been phenomenal -- from the discovery by NSF-supported scientists of how bacteria develop and retain resistance to antibiotics, to the design of the computer framework that evolved into the Internet.

NSF and taxpayers also have received a remarkable return on their investment at The Field Museum, which has received $16 million from the agency since 1990. Following its inception, NSF has supported hundreds of research projects in the Museum's geology, botany, anthropology and zoology departments. These NSF-supported projects have probed everything from the role El NiƱo plays in the evolution of desert plant communities in Peru to the rise of "modern" precolonial cities and societies on the Swahili Coast of East Africa. Currently, NSF is supporting 15 research projects at the Museum, including zoological studies in South America and geochemical analyses of meteorites in Chicago.

The Museum also has used NSF grants to maintain and improve its research collections - the scientific athenaeum in which our curators have found answers to the world's most complex biological and cultural mysteries. For example, with NSF's support we have created computerized inventories of many of our zoological collections and thereby increased their utility to others. Similarly, the anthropology department is using NSF funds to recatalog and computerize its collection of Anasazi and Mogollon artifacts. When completed, this project will enable researchers to paint a more complete picture of these two early Native American cultures.

Additionally, we have relied on NSF funds over the years to hire and train graduate students to work alongside our curators in the field, and we have turned to NSF for assistance in developing programs designed to train undergraduate women and minorities in collections-based research. The main goals of this program are to encourage undergraduates to pursue careers in the biological sciences and to prepare them for service in the name of science.

During the 1990s, we also received more than $4 million from NSF that has helped us create a host of new exhibits, including Pacific (1990), Animal Kingdom (1991), Africa (1993) and Life Over Time (1994). More recently, NSF provided $1.6 million toward the funding of Underground Adventure, a new permanent exhibit that explores the complex world of soil ecosystems. Not only do we rely on NSF support to create these exhibits, but also to design educational outreach programs to carry their scientific and cultural message to school children throughout the Chicago area.

In all, NSF has been an invaluable partner in our constant drive to understand the biological and human world. Moreover, I believe that this nation would not be the technological and economic powerhouse it is today if it were not for NSF's half century of service.

NSF, we thank you for all the years you have supported our programs and we look forward to celebrating your next milestone in 2050.

 -- John W. McCarter Jr.
President & CEO

This article first appeared in In the Field, the Field Museum's membership magazine. It is reprinted with permission.


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Last Modified: Mar 28, '03