Accelerating our Big Ideas

Part of what makes
NSF so special is our deep connection to the research community. We don’t just
provide funding and support for institutions and researchers – we connect with
them, to make sure that our work is effective in stimulating innovation. As
often as possible, I try to travel to research institutions and meet with the
people whom our programs and policies affect.

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Photo credit: 

The University of Texas at Austin

Recently, I was
able to travel to the University of Texas at Austin and Rice University to
discuss a promising new development at NSF: Convergence Accelerators.

NSF currently has
10 Big Ideas for future investments, areas that we have identified as ripe for
developments that could transform the science and engineering community. We
plan to make sustained investments in all of these 10 areas, but when working
to turn our ideas into practice, it became clear that some are on fast tracks
to producing deliverables, returns on our investments with substantial
potential benefits to the nation.

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Photo credit:  Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

We want to nurture
that growth, so we are developing Convergence Accelerators, new entities within
NSF that will leverage external partnerships to boost development. Currently,
we are applying this model to two Big Ideas: The Future of Work at the Human
Technology Frontier and Harnessing the Data Revolution.  

I’m excited about
this new development. It’s taking the notion of an accelerator, something that
works in the private sector to get start-ups running and producing results
quickly, and applying it to basic research. New research and new discoveries
will feed these Convergence Accelerators, keeping them on the cutting edge of
science and engineering. And they will tackle specific challenges, linking
researchers working to solve them. For example, within the Future of Work at
the Human Technology Frontier, our accelerator will focus on developing smarter
manufacturing environments, engineering smarter classrooms and developing smarter
cybersecurity.

On my trip to
Texas, I wanted to share that excitement, and get input from researchers
working in these fields about how to make this implementation as successful as
possible – particularly young researchers.

The feedback I
received was invaluable, and I’ll be using it to help shape our Convergence
Accelerators approach.

Visits like these
also give me the opportunity to share with the research community some of the
ways that NSF is working to improve the U.S. STEM ecosystem. I was pleased to
share with these groups some of the things NSF is doing to create pathways to
STEM learning and STEM careers for groups that have traditionally been
underrepresented in the sciences.