Environmental Protection

NSF Celebrates World-class Research at Five U.S. Centers

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is celebrating the achievements of five Science and Technology Centers (STC) that have been conducting world-class research and education programs since 2000 in various disciplines with NSF funding. Each STC received a total of $38 million under its own cooperative agreement with NSF that concluded in 2010.

Three of the five have been conducting environmental research.

Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes: Led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this STC is the world's leading center for enabling and discovering sustainable processes and products that use carbon dioxide-related technology. Applied to the development of sustainable energy alternatives, medical diagnostics, and therapeutics via targeted delivery, this STC's innovative research has produced broad societal benefits.

Science and Technology Center on the Sustainability of Water Resources in Semi-Arid Regions Led by the University of Arizona, this STC uses an interdisciplinary approach to provide science-based technical, economic, legal, and policy expertise necessary for water development, use, and conservation policies. These efforts are designed to help Arizona sustain a high-quality water supply for economic development and offer an enhanced quality of life. Water management issues addressed by this STC are particularly timely because they are contentious and because ever-expanding semi-arid regions currently account for one-quarter of the contiguous United States. Testifying to the center's success was its receipt of the 2007 International Great Man-made River Prize from UNESCO, which is the United Nations' Education, Science and Culture Organization.

The NBTC Nanobiotechnology Center: Led by Cornell University, this STC researches applications of miniature biotechnologies to varied health care challenges. This STC's projects are devoted to, among other things, developing devices that will help contain pesticides at their application sites and thereby reduce their environmental threats; illuminate cancerous tumors for their removal; create engineered tissues that may replace tissues that have been damaged by injury, burns or surgery; and detect disorders, such as mad cow disease, that are notoriously difficult to identify in people and animals before symptoms arise. As another example, this STC is also working to reveal how SARS and other viruses invade their hosts and cross species barriers.

"These … centers have achieved remarkable advances across broad areas of science and engineering," said W. Lance Haworth, director of NSF's Office of Integrative Activities. "They have opened up new research directions, ... they have developed state-of-the-art facilities, including the Science and Technology Center on the Sustainability of Water Resources in Semi-Arid Regions' ecohydrological observatory in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico; and they have demonstrated significant technological and societal impact, including the catalytic role of the Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes' launch of eight start-up companies, and they have successfully engaged the public in science through various forums, including the NBTC Nanobiotechnology Center's traveling exhibit, 'It's a Nanoworld.'"

In addition to conducting potentially transformative research, the "graduating" STCs run innovative programs that advance science education for students of all levels, promote technology transfer and increase diversity in science and engineering. They have also fostered partnerships with dozens of U.S. and international colleges and universities (including many minority-serving institutions), government labs, and private sector organizations. In so doing, these STCs have built new intellectual and physical infrastructures for interdisciplinary collaborations, and linked new knowledge to society. NSF still currently supports 12 STCs.

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