October 6, 2008

NSF Awards Grants For Emerging Frontiers In Research And Innovation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) has announced 12 grants for fiscal year 2008, awarding a total of $23,779,056 over four years to 54 investigators representing 20 institutions.

Interdisciplinary teams will pursue transformative, fundamental research in two areas of great promise: understanding the brain and how its abilities may be used through cognitive optimization and prediction; and developing ways to make complex, interdependent infrastructure systems more resilient and sustainable.

What researchers learn from the brain may open many new paths of discovery, in areas such as computing, robotics, medicine and education. Understanding how the brain moves the hand, for example, could illuminate entirely novel ways to help people who are paralyzed or use prosthetic limbs. Understanding how the brain visually recognizes objects will enable advances in artificial vision systems, robotic intelligence and more.

The second area of research will examine complex challenges in our nation's interwoven infrastructures as demands on these interdependent systems are changing. Researchers will investigate how to increase their resiliency and sustainability as, for example, numerous electric vehicles interact with the power grid. In addition to drawing electricity from the grid, electric vehicles may send stored energy to the grid. New research may find a role for these vehicles in stabilizing the electric power grid during a catastrophe and in managing fluctuations in electricity from renewable energy sources.

"These areas represent two exciting, emerging frontiers of engineering inquiry that can address important national needs and grand engineering challenges," says Sohi Rastegar, director of EFRI. "They will require an interdisciplinary approach to achieve a significant leap or paradigm shift in engineering knowledge."

The NSF Directorate for Engineering created EFRI in 2006 to fund high-risk, interdisciplinary research that has the potential to transform engineering and other fields. The grants demonstrate the EFRI goal to inspire and enable interdisciplinary teams of experts to expand the limits of our knowledge.


Image Caption: The Anatomically Correct Testbed Hand has three fully actuated fingers that have the same biomechanical structure as the human hand. This hand is used to understand the human hand's biomechanical structure and neural control strategies, and will serve as a prosthetic and surgical tool one day. Credit: Ellen Garvens, University of Washington

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