Texas A&M Congratulates National Science Foundation For Its 70th Anniversary
Texas A&M University was one of the first universities in the nation to receive research funding from the National Science Foundation, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this month.
Texas A&M received two grants in 1952, the first year that the NSF began funding research. The two institutions have worked in concert ever since with the common goals of promoting science, improving lives and advancing knowledge through research. In the last 10 years alone, Texas A&M has received more than $1 billion in research funding from the NSF.
In honor of this partnership, we look back at the university’s enduring relationship with the federal agency that was born out of a president’s letter.
“NSF grants have allowed Texas A&M to be at the leading edge of discovery and impact in a wide range of scientific areas,” said Michael K. Young, President of Texas A&M University. “We are so proud to be among the first institutes of higher education to partner with this inspirational organization known for thinking big. We look forward to taking more quantum leaps in collaboration with the National Science Foundation.”
“New Frontiers of the Mind”
On Nov. 17, 1944, as the U.S. and its allies were less than a year from declaring victory in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a letter to Vannevar Bush, director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, asking how wartime scientific developments could be applied to help the nation during peacetime.
“New frontiers of the mind are before us, and if they are pioneered with the same vision, boldness, and drive with which we have waged this war we can create a fuller and more fruitful employment and a fuller and more fruitful life,” Roosevelt wrote.
Bush responded the following July with the report “Science – The Endless Frontier,” which proposed the establishment of a “National Research Foundation,” later renamed the “National Science Foundation.”
It took another six years and a new president was in office, but President Harry S. Truman signed the bill that created the NSF – its board members and director appointed by the president.
“The partnership between Texas A&M and NSF extends to virtually every corner of a scientific research portfolio that Vannevar Bush could only have dreamed of,” said Mark Barteau, Texas A&M vice president for research. “It connects our efforts at every scale, from advancing the development of students and early-career faculty, to individual research grants, to large collaborative research centers that attract industry and university partners.”
The NSF funds research in all 50 states and all U.S. territories, and its funding has resulted in countless advances for society, said Amanda Hallberg Greenwell, head of the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.
“Our mission is vital because the National Science Foundation (NSF) supports fundamental research across all fields of science and engineering that create knowledge that is key to driving a healthy economy, bolstering our security and keeping the U.S. a global leader,” she said.
NSF funding has resulted in everything from Doppler radar to MRI scans; from the Internet to nanotechnology; from Google to bar codes; and from computer-aided design systems to tissue engineering, Greenwell said.
Among its many success stories, NSF-funded research has resulted in the development of the American Sign Language Dictionary, confirmation of the presence of an enormous black hole at the center of our galaxy, identification of the hantavirus, the development of fiber optics, the National Observatories and Gemini Telescopes, and many more groundbreaking achievements.
Check out the NSF’s “Nifty 50” – a list of 50 inventions, innovations and discoveries that have become commonplace in our lives.
Aggies At The Forefront
It took a few years to appoint members of the National Science Board and the foundation’s first director, so the NSF didn’t issue its first grants until 1952. It was in that year that Texas A&M received its first NSF grants, placing the university among the agency’s inaugural recipients.
Records show that in 1952, NSF awarded a three-year, $16,000 research grant to Raymond Reiser, who was with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, for “Tracer Studies on Glyceride Absorption,” a study that examined the absorption of fat in the intestine.
Additionally, a five-year, $7,100 grant was awarded to James Nevin Weaver, also with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Department of Entomology, for “Nutritional Factors in Differentiation of the Honeybee.”
With an annual budget of $8.3 billion for fiscal year 2020, NSF is the funding source for about 25 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by the nation’s colleges and universities. The agency’s annual reports may be viewed on the NSF website.
Texas A&M On the Rise
Since receiving those first two grants in 1952, Texas A&M has grown to become a Tier-One research institution and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), with research projects across the nation and on every continent.
Texas A&M ranked 19th in the nation out of 902 institutions in total research and development expenditures of more than $905 million during the 2017 fiscal year. This sum includes funding from all sources, including federal and state coffers, as well as other public and private sources. Texas A&M’s total research expenditures for FY 2018 was $922 million, placing the university at 20th in the nation out of 912 institutions.
Texas A&M ranked third in the nation (FY 2018) in NSF funding at $114.7 million. Cornell University was second with $116.4 million and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was first with $134 million.
“It’s very hard to overestimate the importance that the NSF has had on the success of Texas A&M University and the College of Science,” said Valen E. Johnson, dean of the College of Science.
“The research of nearly all of our faculty has relied and continues to rely on support from the NSF, so much so that it is difficult to single out only one or two examples that exemplify its impact. The recent selection of Dr. Karen Wooley to the National Academy of Sciences immediately comes to mind. Dr. Wooley’s groundbreaking research in the area of organic nanomaterials-based chemistry has been supported by the NSF for decades.”
Another recent example of high-impact research sponsored by the NSF, Johnson said, is Dr. Gil Rosenthal’s research on evolutionary genomics and social behavior using hybrid swordtail fish.
“His research program has resulted in high-impact publications in PNAS and Science and was recently selected for a five year extension under the NSF’s Long Term Research in Evolutionary Biology (LTREB) program,” Johnson said.
He noted that this type of fundamental research would simply not be possible without support from the NSF.
“The NSF has also taken a leadership role in promoting diversity and inclusion within the scientific community, and it plays a prominent role in advancing ethical research standards,” Johnson said. “Viewed more broadly, support from the NSF underlies essentially all of the nation’s science research programs and has played a central role establishing our global leadership in these endeavors.”
An Ocean’s Worth of Knowledge
The Texas A&M program that has received the most NSF funding is the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), at more than $384 million. Last year, the NSF extended funding for Texas A&M to serve as the Science Operator of the JOIDES Resolution (JRSO), based in the College of Geosciences. The new agreement totals more than $350 million over five years.
The JOIDES Resolution is a premier scientific research vessel for deep-ocean drilling that travels throughout the oceans, sampling sediments and rocks beneath the seafloor. Scientists from all over the world, including Texas A&M students, faculty and staff, sail on ocean expeditions, collecting scientific samples and data used to study Earth’s past history, including plate tectonics, ocean currents, climate changes, evolutionary characteristics and extinctions of marine life, and mineral deposits. Drilling operations are conducted purely for scientific purposes and do not include oil exploration.
“The JOIDES Resolution provides the international marine science community its only access to the archive of sediments and rocks that lie buried beneath the deep ocean,” said JRSO Director Brad Clement. “This archive provides a rich record of the history of the ocean basins themselves, changes in the planet’s climate, the origin of tsunami-generating earthquakes and our planet’s newly discovered vast trove of microbes that survive deep within the ocean’s crust.”
In January of this year, College of Geosciences Dean Debbie Thomas co-led an IODP expedition on the JOIDES Resolution, sailing to the southwestern Pacific Ocean near the south of New Zealand to investigate the record of climate and oceanography over the past 67 million years.
On the Horizon
Currently Texas A&M has 507 active projects with the NSF, with expenditures for the 2020 fiscal year, which began Sept. 1, at $67 million through April.
Greenwell said she looks forward to seeing what the future holds as the NSF continues its partnership with Texas A&M and institutions across the nation.
“We will continue to push forward the frontiers of U.S. research and provide innovative approaches to solve some of the most pressing problems our country and the world faces, including the current pandemic, as well as lead to discoveries not yet known and develop a workforce that can shape and seize the opportunities offered by those discoveries,” she said.
Barteau said he, too, is eager to see what great discoveries and innovations are yet to come through the university’s partnership with NSF.
“On behalf of Texas A&M, I congratulate the NSF on 70 years of growing scientific talent, of strengthening the nation’s centers of basic research, investing in basic research as the ‘pacemaker’ of progress on challenges from human health and disease to national security, and so much more,” Barteau said. “The visionaries who launched this great endeavor all those years ago still inspire and guide us today. For NSF and Texas A&M, the frontiers of knowledge are truly endless.”
The Top 10
The 10 Texas A&M projects that are most highly funded by the NSF are:
- Management and Operations of the JOIDES Resolution as a Facility for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP)
Award Amount: $383,166,434
- Engineering Research Center for Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP)
Award Amount: $12,268,000
- Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)
Award Amount: $3,768,817
- PIRE- Coastal Flood Risk Reduction Program: Integrated, multi-scale approaches for understanding how to reduce vulnerability to damaging events
Award Amount: $3,598,501
- UNOLS: Management of Marine Technical Support
Award Amount: $3,472,943
- NRT-DESE: Data-Enabled Discovery and Design of Energy Materials
Award Amount: $3,096,836
- The Texas A&M Cyber Leader Scholarship Program: Developing Cyber Leader-Scholars for the Nation
Award Amount: $2,603,089
- BREAD PHENO: High Throughput Phenotyping Early Stage Root Bulking in Cassava using Ground Penetrating Radar
Award Amount: $2,486,669
- INFEWS/T3: Decision Support for Water Stressed FEW Nevus Decisions (DS-WSND)
Award Amount: $2,431,217
- Pathways to Promote Seamless Transitions for Undergraduate Engineering Majors
Award Amount: $2,392,470