National Science Foundation speaker breaks down science funding

Jeremy Hebebrand

The department of biological sciences held its annual symposium yesterday morning, which covered undergraduate and graduate scholarship awards and included a speaker from the National Science Foundation.

Clifford J. Gabriel, senior adviser for National Science Foundation, spoke to a crowd of professors and students in the Kiva on behalf of the organization.

“It’s great to get out of Washington, even on a drizzly day like today,” Gabriel commented.

Gabriel covered key points about the National Science Foundation’s plans for the upcoming fiscal year as well as ideas within the science field itself.

He spoke first about priority setting and how federal research and development agencies decide in what to invest their sources.

“There are two major players when setting up the budget,” Gabriel said. “One is the executive branch headed by the President.”

Congress is the second player and actually passes the bill that eventually “flows” into the science programs that make its way to college campuses, Gabriel said.

The non-defense research and development section of the governmental budget, which the NSF is included in, has a projected $62.8 billion, Gabriel presented on a slide to the audience.

Ideas are coming up from the bottom and the direction they take comes from the top, both of them meeting in the middle, Gabriel said.

“It’s essentially a perfect storm all of these things have to come together,” Gabriel said.

The National Science Foundation has put in a $6.85 billion budget request for the 2009 fiscal year, which is a 13 percent increase from 2008, Gabriel said.

The funding will be used for areas including research, education and equipment for the National Science Foundation. Biology departments around the country would collectively see a $63 million funding increase from 2008 if the budget is accepted, Gabriel said.

Gabriel presented a set of slides showing exactly where the money would be spent. The four major parts being strengthening the core of the biology field, life in transition, adaptive systems and the dynamics of water processes.

Thirty-three million will go to strengthening the core. Life in transition, which focuses on the role of the living world in adapting to and shaping a changing earth, is projected to receive $10 million. Adaptive systems, involving technology mimicking natural systems like the artificial retina, will receive $15 million if the budget passes. Finally, dynamics of water processes would receive $10 million, according to the slides.

Gabriel said National Science Foundation is also enhancing the support of potentially transformative research ideas, which are important because they could lead to a change in the way people look at the world.

In closing, he stated that undergraduate and graduate students within the field are not limited to specific types of jobs.

“There are a lot of options,” Gabriel said.

Careers in law and medicine, journalism, policy and even K-12 teaching are just some of the options for emerging students, Gabriel said.

A handful of awards and scholarships were given out, and some were awarded to undergraduate and graduate students as well.

Contact sciences reporter Jeremy Hebebrand at [email protected].