Science Policy & Funding News

NSF and Air Force Plan to Better Coordinate Research Projects

A newly released letter of intent sets up a new partnership that could benefit both agencies. Initial focus areas for consideration include space operations and geosciences.


The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of the Air Force today signed a letter of intent to develop a new partnership to coordinate mutual research interests. Over the coming months, the agencies will refine the nature and structure of the partnership and explore four mutually identified initial focus areas for consideration. Those areas are space operations and geosciences, advanced material sciences, information and data sciences, and workforce and processes, according to the letter.

The letter states that the partnership, which is one of many for NSF, will foster increased research information exchange, support collaboration in common research areas, and identify opportunities for complementary research and development activities. With the two agencies having “many overlapping research goals,” the Air Force would benefit from greater access to NSF’s expertise in basic research, the document continues. NSF, meanwhile, would benefit by having “a direct pathway” for the maturation of some research efforts and products “and increased relevance afforded by its direct support of the Nation’s defense posture.”

NSF director France Córdova told Eos that it’s too early to know what specific projects and themes the two agencies might consider for partnerships. However, she said that some topics of mutual interest might include researching weather, better understanding a new and rapidly changing Arctic, and mapping the night skies. “Anything that the Air Force and NSF think is useful and important to do together could be under the umbrella in principle of these four areas of initial focus,” she stated.

“What the American people get out of this [partnership] is more efficient use of their tax dollars,” Córdova continued. “When we fund basic research, we want to be sure that investment is open to every possible application and that it eliminates duplication and accelerates the pace of breakthroughs and the development of useful tools.”

Building on Previous Agreements

Córdova, who signed the letter along with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, noted that the partnership builds on previous agreements between the two agencies, including their cooperation on some polar operations. Córdova added that the partnership “aligns with [NSF’s] goal of supporting national security through basic research.” NSF’s foundation act of 1950, which established the agency, states that one of the agency’s principal purposes is “to secure the national defense.”

“Seventy years after our founding, we are ensuring that that important part of our mission is revitalized, and it will carry in this day and age new meaning and new discoveries,” Córdova said, adding that the partnership will not affect other aspects of what NSF does.

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2018), NSF and Air Force plan to better coordinate research projects, Eos, 99, Published on 09 May 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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