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NSF Picks New Science and Technology Centers

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen six new projects for its long-running and once-controversial experiment in large, collaborative research. The new class of Science and Technology Centers (STCs) will each receive up to $40 million over the next 10 years to explore everything from space weather to new technologies for detecting cancer. NSF also expects the centers to find innovative ways of training young scientists, improving diversity in the scientific workforce, and fostering public understanding of science.

"These centers allow NSF to support large, cooperative activities," says Nathaniel Pitts, head of NSF's Office of Integrative Activities, which runs the STC program. "It's a chance for PIs to do something that their department or discipline can't do on its own."

The STC program was started in 1987 by then-NSF director Erich Bloch as an attempt to move beyond the agency's traditional emphasis on small grants to individual investigators. Many scientists initially feared that the centers would focus on applied research and drain support for basic research, but over the years a fistful of outside reviews have endorsed the concept. The first class of 11 centers completed its 11-year run in 2000, and a second group of 12 is finishing up this year. Some of the original centers have also served as springboards for bigger projects, Pitts says, including NSF's proposed EarthScope seismic monitoring network and the IceCube neutrino detector at the South Pole.

The six new centers, chosen from 143 applications, will join five centers created in 2000. Another competition is scheduled to begin next year. All the new centers have multiple institutional partners--the University of California, Berkeley, for example, is involved in four of the six new STCs. Several centers also include schools that train predominantly minority students. The centers are negotiating their budgets and marching orders with NSF, which expects to make an official announcement this summer.

The centers, principal investigators, and lead institutions are:

* Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling       Jeffrey Hughes, Boston University

* Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology       Dennis Matthews, University of California, Davis

* Center for Embedded Network Sensing       Deborah Estrin, University of California, Los Angeles

* Center for Advanced Materials for Water Purification       James Economy, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

* National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics       Gary Parker, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

* Materials and Devices for Information Technology Research       Larry Dalton, University of Washington, Seattle