January 2010 Directorates, Organizations and Acronyms

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January 2010

Directorates, Organizations and Acronyms

Advancing STEM Education

Two students work on a research project as part of Rutgers' I3 effort. Rutgers' goal is to develop a model that will recruit, retain, mentor and educate graduate students to become leading scientists in the nation.

William Bell, Fort Belknap College instructor, with students doing research on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation about transmission of the West Nile virus.



NSF leadership has two major components: a director who oversees NSF staff and management responsible for program creation and administration, merit review, planning, budget and day-to-day operations; and a 24-member National Science Board (NSB) of eminent individuals that meets six times a year to establish the overall policies of the foundation.

NSF is divided into the following seven directorates that support science and engineering research and education: Biological Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Engineering, Geosciences, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, and Education and Human Resources.

Each is headed by an assistant director and each is further subdivided into divisions like materials research, ocean sciences and behavioral and cognitive sciences. Some of the divisions within NSF's Office of the Director also support research and researchers. These include the Office of Polar Programs, the Office of Integrative Activities (covering activities that span many areas), the Office of International Science and Engineering and the Office of Cyberinfrastructure. Other sections of NSF are devoted to financial management, award processing and monitoring, legal affairs, outreach and other functions. The Office of the Inspector General examines the foundation's work and reports to the NSB and Congress.


As described in our strategic plan, NSF is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences. NSF is tasked with keeping the United States at the leading edge of discovery in a wide range of scientific areas, from astronomy to geology to zoology. So, in addition to funding research in the traditional academic areas, the agency also supports "high risk, high pay off" ideas, novel collaborations and numerous projects that may seem like science fiction today, but which the public will take for granted tomorrow. And in every case, we ensure that research is fully integrated with education so that today's revolutionary work will also be training tomorrow's top scientists and engineers.

We fulfill our mission chiefly by issuing limited-term grants -- currently about 10,000 new awards per year, with an average duration of three years -- to fund specific research proposals that have been judged the most promising by a rigorous and objective merit-review system. Most of these awards go to individuals or small groups of investigators. Others provide funding for research centers, instruments and facilities that allow scientists, engineers and students to work at the outermost frontiers of knowledge.

NSF's goals--discovery, learning, research infrastructure and stewardship--provide an integrated strategy to advance the frontiers of knowledge, cultivate a world-class, broadly inclusive science and engineering workforce and expand the scientific literacy of all citizens, build the nation's research capability through investments in advanced instrumentation and facilities, and support excellence in science and engineering research and education through a capable and responsive organization. We like to say that NSF is "where discoveries begin."

An essential element in NSF's mission is support for science and engineering education, from pre-K through graduate school and beyond. The research we fund is thoroughly integrated with education to help ensure that there will always be plenty of skilled people available to work in new and emerging scientific, engineering and technological fields, and plenty of capable teachers to educate the next generation.

No single factor is more important to the intellectual and economic progress of society, and to the enhanced well-being of its citizens, than the continuous acquisition of new knowledge. NSF is proud to be a major part of that process.

Specifically, the Foundation's organic legislation authorizes us to engage in the following activities:

A. Initiate and support, through grants and contracts, scientific and engineering research and programs to strengthen scientific and engineering research potential, and education programs at all levels, and appraise the impact of research upon industrial development and the general welfare.

B. Award graduate fellowships in the sciences and in engineering.

C. Foster the interchange of scientific information among scientists and engineers in the United States and foreign countries.

D. Foster and support the development and use of computers and other scientific methods and technologies, primarily for research and education in the sciences.

E. Evaluate the status and needs of the various sciences and engineering and take into consideration the results of this evaluation in correlating our research and educational programs with other federal and non-federal programs.

F. Provide a central clearinghouse for the collection, interpretation and analysis of data on scientific and technical resources in the United States, and provide a source of information for policy formulation by other federal agencies.

G. Determine the total amount of federal money received by universities and appropriate organizations for the conduct of scientific and engineering research, including both basic and applied, and construction of facilities where such research is conducted, but excluding development, and report annually thereon to the President and the Congress.

H. Initiate and support specific scientific and engineering activities in connection with matters relating to international cooperation, national security and the effects of scientific and technological applications upon society.

I. Initiate and support scientific and engineering research, including applied research, at academic and other nonprofit institutions and, at the direction of the President, support applied research at other organizations.

J. Recommend and encourage the pursuit of national policies for the promotion of basic research and education in the sciences and engineering. Strengthen research and education innovation in the sciences and engineering, including independent research by individuals, throughout the United States.

K. Support activities designed to increase the participation of women and minorities and others underrepresented in science and technology.
NSF Strategic Framework

NSF uses a multi-layer performance assessment approach, integrating qualitative and quantitative goals. Central to assessment of agency-wide strategic goals is the Advisory Committee for GPRA Performance Assessment, which annually reviews outcomes of NSF’s investments in research and education. NSF’s Directorates and Offices also have advisory committees, which usually meet semi-annually to review program directions and outcomes. Committees of Visitors for each NSF Division or crosscutting program also provide external, independent advice on program management and conduct a review of program outcomes.

Directorates and Organizations

Biological Sciences (BIO)

Computer and Info Science and Eng (CISE)

Engineering (ENG)

Education and Human Resources (EHR)


Math and Physical Sciences (MPS)

Polar Research

Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE)

Office of International Science and Engineering (ISE)

About Biological Sciences (BIO)

The mission of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is to enable discoveries for understanding life.  BIO-supported research advances the frontiers of biological knowledge, increases our understanding of complex systems, and provides a theoretical basis for original research in many other scientific disciplines.

Areas of Support

The Directorate for Biological Sciences provides support for research to advance understanding of the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life. Research studies range across progressively more complex systems and scales encompassing the structure and dynamics of biological molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems up to and including the global biosphere. Comprehensive concepts that span and unify the diverse areas of biology include complexity, robustness, communication, resilience, adaptability and cooperation.  Achieving a coherent understanding of the complex biological web of interactions that is life is a major challenge of the future.  This challenge will require that knowledge about individual biological units, networks, sub-systems and systems be compiled and connected from the molecular to the global level and across scales of time and space.  Integral to all activities across the directorate is a commitment to integrate research and education, to broaden participation, and to promote international partnerships. 

 NSF/BIO plays a major role in support of research resources for the biological sciences including living stock centers, systematics collections, biological field stations, computerized databases including sequence databases for plants and microorganisms. NSF/BIO is also the nation's principal supporter of fundamental academic research on plant biology, environmental biology and biodiversity.

Biological Infrastructure (DBI)

  • Human Resources Cluster

  • Research Resources Cluster

  • Plant Genome Research Program

Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)

  • Behavioral Systems

  • Developmental Systems

  • Neural Systems

  • Physiological and Structural Systems

Environmental Biology (DEB)

  • Ecological Biology

  • Ecosystem Science

  • Population and Evolutionary Processes

  • Systematic Biology and Biodiversity Inventories

Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB)

  • Biomolecular Systems Cluster

  • Cellular Systems Cluster

  • Genes and Genome Systems Cluster

Emerging Frontiers (EF)

(Cross-disciplinary solicited programs; e.g., Human and Social Dynamics, Biology and Society, Assembling the Tree of Life, Environmental Genomics, etc.)

CISE - About Computer and Info Science and Eng

The Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering has three goals:

  • To enable the U.S. to uphold a position of world leadership in computing, communications, and information science and engineering

  • To promote understanding of the principles and uses of advanced computing, communications and information systems in service to society

  • To contribute to universal, transparent and affordable participation in an information-based society.

To achieve these, CISE supports investigator initiated research in all areas of computer and information science and engineering, helps develop and maintain cutting-edge national computing and information infrastructure for research and education generally, and contributes to the education and training of the next generation of computer scientists and engineers.

CISE is organized in three divisions: the Division of Computing & Communication Foundations (CCF); the Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS); and the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS). Each division is organized into a small number of programs that are responsible for managing a portfoflio of grants and proposal competitions within a broad area of research and education. While individual program directors may be designated as the point of contact for specific sub-disciplines, collaboration takes place within each program, across each division, and between divisions and directorates

Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF)

  • Theoretical Foundations Cluster

  • Foundations of Computing Processes and Artifacts Cluster

  • Emerging Models and Technologies for Computation Cluster

Computer and Network Systems (CNS)

  • Computer Systems Cluster

  • Computing Research Infrastructure Cluster

  • Network Systems Cluster

  • Education and Workforce Cluster

Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)

  • Human-Center Computing Cluster

  • Information Integration and Informatics Cluster

  • Robust Intelligence Cluster

General Information About ENG

About Engineering (ENG)

The National Science Foundation promotes the progress of engineering in the United States in order to enable the Nation's capacity to perform. Its investments in engineering research and education aim to build and strengthen a national capacity for innovation that can lead over time to the creation of new shared wealth and a better quality of life. Most NSF programs in engineering are funded through the Directorate for Engineering, which also sponsors the NSF's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Making Imagination Real

Engineers excel at Making Imagination Real, bridging the gap between what the mind can imagine and what the laws of nature allow. While scientists seek to discover what is not yet known, engineers apply fundamental science to design and develop new devices and engineered systems to solve societal problems. Learn more and view the special presentation.

Thrust areas

  • Nanotechnology Engineering and Science. Part of the National Technology Initiative (NNI).

  • Cyberinfrastructure. Investments that support engineering and research.

  • Human and Social Dynamics (HDS). Fosters knowledge in human interaction and development.

  • Network for Earthquake Simulation.(NEES). Model based earthquake simulation.

Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET)

  • Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Healthcare

    • Biomedical Engineering

    • Biophotonics

    • Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities

  • Chemical, Biochemical, and Biotechnology Systems

    • Chemical and Biological Separations

    • Biochemical Engineering

    • Biotechnology

    • Catalysis and Biocatalysis

    • Process and Reaction Engineering

  • Environmental Engineering and Sustainability

    • Energy for Sustainability

    • Environmental Engineering

    • Environmental Sustainability

    • Environmental Technology

  • Transport and Thermal Fluids Phenomena

    • Interfacial Processes and Thermodynamics

    • Thermal Transport Processes

    • Combustion, Fire and Plasma Systems

    • Fluid Dynamics

    • Particulate and Multiphase Processes

Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI)

  • Engineering Infrastructure Systems

    • Geo Environmental Engineering and Geo Hazards Mitigation

    • Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation Research

    • Information Technology and Infrastucture Systems

    • Infrastructure Management and Hazard Response

    • Manufacturing Machines and Equipment

    • Structural Systems and Hazards Mitigation of Structures

  • Innovation Sciences and Decision Engineering

    • Control Systems Program

    • Dynamical Systems

    • Engineering Design

    • Manufacturing Enterprise Systems

    • Operations Research

    • Sensor Innovation and Systems

    • Service Enterprise Engineering

  • Material Transformation and Mechanics

    • GeoMechanics and GeoTechnical Systems

    • Infrastructure Materials Applications and Structural Mechanics

    • Material Design and Surface Engineering

    • Materials Processing and Manufacturing

    • Mechanics and Structures of Materials

    • Nano and Bio Mechanics

    • NanoManufacturing

Electrical, Communications and CyberSystems (ECCS)

  • Electronics, Photonics & Device Technologies

  • Integrative, Hybrid & Complex Systems

  • Power, Controls and Adaptive Networks

Engineering Education and Centers (EEC)

  • Centers Programs Cluster (Engineering Research Centers)

  • Engineering Education Programs Cluster

    • Engineering Education programs

    • CAREER

    • REU

Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI)

  • Solicitation 06-596

Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP)

  • Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST)

  • Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI)

  • Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program (IUCRC)

  • Partnerships for Innovation (PFI)


About Education and Human Resources (EHR)

The mission of EHR is to achieve excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels and in all settings (both formal and informal) in order to support the development of a diverse and well-prepared workforce of scientists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians and educators and a well-informed citizenry that have access to the ideas and tools of science and engineering. The purpose of these activities is to enhance the quality of life of all citizens and the health, prosperity, welfare and security of the nation.

Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)

Advanced Technological Education

Cooperative Activity with Department of Energy Program for Education and Human Resource Development

  • Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement

  • Federal Cyber Service: Scholarship for Service

  • Interdisciplinary Training for Undergraduates in Biological and Mathematical Sciences

  • Math and Science Partnership

  • Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education in Engineering

  • National STEM Education Distributed Learning

  • NSF Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars

  • NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

  • Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring

  • Research Coordination Networks in Biological Sciences

  • Robert Noyce Scholarship Program

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program

Division of Graduate Education (DGE)

  • Graduate Research Fellowship Program

  • Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT)

  • NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education

  • Science Master’s Program

Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings

  • Advanced Technological Education

  • Cooperative Activity with Department of Energy Programs for Education and Human Resource Development

  • Discovery Research K-12

  • Informal Science Education

  • Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers

  • Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering

Human Resources Development (HRD)

  • ADVANCE: Increasing the Participation and Advancement of women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers

  • Alliances for Broadening Participation in STEM

  • Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology

Research Infrastructure for Science and Engineering

  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program

  • Cooperative Activity with Department of Energy Programs for Education and Human Resource Development

  • Research in Disabilities Education

  • Research on Gender in Science and Engineering


Atmospheric Sciences (ATM)

  • Lower Atmosphere Research Section

    • Atmospheric Chemistry

    • Climate and Large-Scale Dynamics

    • Paleoclimate

    • Physical and Dynamic Meteorology

  • Upper Atmosphere Research Section

    • Aeronomy

    • CEDAR, GEM and SHINE Postdoctoral Research

    • Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions

    • Faculty Development in the Space Sciences

    • Geospace Environment Modeling

    • Magnetospheric Physics

    • Solar Terrestrial

    • Upper Atmospheric Facilities

  • UCAR and Lower Atmospheric Facilities Section

  • Other Programs

    • Solar, Heliospheric, and INterplanetary Environment (SHINE)

    • Annual Solicitation for Research in Support of the National Space Weather Program

    • Geoscience Education

    • Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences

    • Graduate Student and Optical Instrumentation Support Related to the Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar

    • Environmental Molecular Science Institutes

    • Carbon and Water in the Earth System

    • Competition for the Management and Operation of the national Center for Atmospheric Research

    • Geoscience Teacher Training

Earth Sciences (EAR)

  • Continental Dynamics

  • Geophysics

  • Hydrological Sciences

  • Petrology and Geochemistry

  • Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology

  • Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry

  • Geomorphology and Land Use Dynamics

  • Tectonics

  • Education and Human Resources

  • Other Programs

    • Earthscope National Office

    • Cooperative Studies of the Earth’s Deep Interior

    • Geoscience Education

    • Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences

    • Carbon and Water in the Earth System

    • Critical Zone Observatories

    • Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory

    • EarthScope

    • Geoscience Teacher Training

    • MARGINS Program

Ocean Sciences (OCE)

  • Ocean Section

    • Biological Oceanography

    • Chemical Oceanography

    • Physical Oceanography

  • Marine Geosciences Section

    • MARGINS Program

    • Marine Geology and Geophysics

    • Ocean Drilling Program

  • Integrative Programs Section

    • Improvements in Facilities, Communications and Equipment at Biological Field Stations and Marine Laboratories

    • OCE Education

    • Ocean Technology and Interdisciplinary Coordination

    • Oceanographic Centers and Facilities

  • Carbon and Water in the Earth System

Math and Physical Sciences (MPS)

Astronomical Sciences (ASI)

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants

(Planetary Astronomy, Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics, Galactic Astronomy, Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology)

  • Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation (ATI)

  • Other Programs

    • National Observatories

    • University Radio Observatories Program

    • NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowships

    • Program for Research and Education with Small Telescopes

Chemistry (CHE)

  • Analytical & Surface Chemistry

  • Inorganic, Bioinorganic and Organometallic Chemistry

  • Organic and Macromolecular Chemistry

  • Physical Chemistry

  • Other Programs

    • Chemical Bonding Centers

    • Chemistry Research Instrumentation and Facilities

    • Collaborative Research in Chemistry

    • Cyber-Enabled Chemistry

    • Discovery Corps Fellowships

    • Environmental Molecular Science Institutes

    • NSF-NIST interaction in Chemistry, Materials Research, Molecular Biosciences, Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering

    • Undergraduate Research Collaboratives

Materials Research (DMR)

  • Biomaterials

  • Ceramics

  • Condensed Matter and Materials Theory

  • Condensed Matter Physics

  • Electronic Materials

  • Metals

  • Polymers

  • Solid-State Chemistry

  • Other Programs

    • Instrumentation for Materials Research

    • Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers

    • Office of Special Programs

      • International Materials institutes

      • Materials World Network

Physics (PHY)

  • Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics

  • Biological Physics

  • Elementary Particle Physics

  • Gravitational Physics

  • Nuclear Physics

  • Particle and Nuclear Astrophysics

  • Physics at the Information Frontier

  • Theoretical Physics

  • Other Programs

    • Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory

    • Education and Interdisciplinary Research

    • NSF/DOE Partnership in Basic Plasma Science and Engineering

Division Mathematical Sciences (DMS)

  • Algebra, Number Theory and Combinatorics

  • Analysis

  • Applied Mathematics

  • Computational Mathematics

  • Foundations

  • Geometric Analysis

  • Mathematical Biology

  • Probability

  • Statistics

  • Topology

  • Other Programs

    • Conferences, Workshops and Special Meetings in the Mathematical Sciences

    • National Institutes in the Mathematical Sciences

    • Collaboration in Mathematical Geosciences

    • Focused Research Groups in the Mathematical Sciences

    • Infrastructure

    • Joint DMS/NIGMS Initiative to Support Research in the Area of Mathematical Biology

    • Mathematical Sciences: Innovations at the Interface with Computer Sciences

    • Mathematical Social and Behavioral Sciences

    • Training Programs (including Postdoctoral Research Fellowships)

Polar Research

Antarctic Sciences

  • Antarctic Research

    • Antarctic Aeronomy and Astrophysics Program

    • Antarctic Biology and Medicine Program

    • Antarctic Geology and Geophysics

    • Antarctic Glaciology Program

    • Antarctic Ocean and Climate Systems Program

  • Antarctic Artists and Writers Program

Arctic Sciences

  • Arctic Research Opportunities

    • Arctic Natural Sciences Program

    • Arctic Research and Education Program

    • Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program

    • Arctic Social Sciences Program

    • Arctic System Science (ARCSS) Programs

  • Other Programs

    • Synthesis of Arctic System Science

    • Study of the Northern Alaska Coastal System

    • Arctic Freshwater Cycle: Land/Upper-Ocean Linkages

    • Bering Ecosystem Study

    • Western Arctic Shelf-Basin Interactions

Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics
Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE)

Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)

  • Archaeology and Archaeometry

  • Cognitive Neuroscience

  • Cultural Anthropology

  • Developmental and Learning Sciences

  • Geography and Regional Science

  • Linguistics

  • Physical Anthropology

  • Perception, Action & Cognition

  • Social Psychology

  • Other Programs

    • Human Origins

    • Documenting Endangered Languages

    • SBE Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants

    • Mathematical Social and Behavioral Sciences

    • High-risk Research in Anthropology

Social and Economic Sciences (SES)

  • Decision, Risk and Management Sciences

  • Economics

  • Innovation and Organizational Change

  • Law and Social Sciences

  • Methodology, Measurement and Statistics

  • Political Science

  • Science and Society

  • Sociology

  • Other Programs

    • Ethics Education in Science and Engineering

    • Mathematical Social and Behavioral Sciences (MSBS)

Science Resources Statistics (SRS)

(Provides data and analyses about the nation’s science and engineering resources – does not fund research.)

Office of International Science and Engineering (ISE)

International science and engineering research and education activities are funded by all NSF directorates and offices.

Investigators seeking funding for international collaborative research may include an international component in new proposals submitted to their relevant NSF research program, or request supplemental funding to add international collaboration to projects supported by current NSF grants. 

Also oversee various programs, e.g.,

  • Developing Global Scientists and Engineers

  • East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students

  • International Research and Education: Planning Visits and Workshops

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