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National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports fundamental science and engineering research that leads to discoveries promoting national health, prosperity, and welfare. Advances in critical technology areas – for example, next-generation electronics, computing, communication, sensing, advanced manufacturing and clean sustainable energy – critically depend on the development, optimization, and industrialization of materials. Materials development involves a continuum of efforts that begins with basic research and progresses by tightly integrating engineering research, manufacturing, and deployment. NSF efforts support the entire materials enterprise, leading the development of new understanding and integrated approaches together with providing access to the research tools, data, and knowledge necessary for quickly responding to technology needs. The Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) delivers on these needs through the Materials Innovation Infrastructure (MII), which promotes the integration of all aspects of the materials continuum. At NSF, this interdisciplinary endeavor spans materials, physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, and computer science. Over the last decade, NSF has promoted MGI and helped build the MII primarily through the Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) program. DMREF unifies the materials enterprise across nine Divisions and three Directorates at NSF, including divisions of Materials Research (DMR), Chemistry (CHE) and Mathematical Sciences (DMS) in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) directorate, Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI), Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) and Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems (ECCS) in the Engineering directorate (ENG) and Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS), Computer and Network Systems (CNS) and the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure in the Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate. DMREF accelerates materials research through the development of novel chemical synthesis methodologies, materials characterization techniques, and innovative engineering processes. Through an iterative feedback loop among computation, theory, artificial intelligence, and experiment that includes different physical models to capture specific processes or phenomena, interdisciplinary DMREF projects provide molecular pathways to functional materials with desirable properties and harness new paradigms for knowledge generation and sharing. Multi-scale modeling and interrogation of materials systems from the molecular to the aggregate level is important to elucidate the interfacial properties and interactions of materials, which are critical for most materials applications.

NSF continues to partner with other federal agencies to provide DMREF researchers and their students opportunities to work with researchers at National Laboratories and in industry, through funding supplements and by including other federal agencies as partners, with the intention of moving DMREF research outcomes along the materials development continuum. The DMREF website serves the MGI goal to bridge, build, and bolster the MII by creating a place for researchers to share their science highlights, education activities, and products of research, including new data repositories, software, and machine-learning tools. 

NSF continues to build and connect parts of the MMI through programs such as the Cyberinfrastructure for Sustained Scientific Innovation and Harnessing the Data Revolution: Institutes for Data Intensive Research in Science and Engineering.  NSF also makes available to the DMREF research community a diverse set of computational resources and services through ACCESS and PaTH.

An NSF Division of Materials Research mid-scale infrastructure program – Materials Innovation Platforms (MIP) – responds to the increasing complexity of materials research that requires close collaboration across communities with access to cutting-edge tools. MIPs serve as pilots for the materials integrated platforms that are highlighted in this Strategic Plan. Each MIP is a scientific ecosystem that includes in-house research scientists, external users, and other contributors who, collectively, form a community of practitioners that shares tools, codes, samples, data, and knowledge. The knowledge sharing is designed to strengthen collaborations among scientists and enable them to embrace the MGI paradigm: Foster new modalities of research, education and training, accelerate discovery and development of new materials and novel materials phenomena, and promote their eventual deployment. 

NSF also supports two new Quantum Materials Foundries through Enabling Quantum Leap:  Convergent Accelerated Discovery Foundries for Quantum Materials, Science, Engineering, and Information (Q-AMASE-i). These foundries provide samples, data, and knowledge-sharing to advance the future of quantum information science and engineering in the U.S. Investment in research efforts to understand and control quantum phenomena are aimed to improve the design and fabrication of novel quantum materials with high precision that manifest desired quantum behavior. In addition, two new NSF-wide Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure programs (MSRI-1 and MSRI-2) provide opportunities for the materials community to seek funding for the tools that will enable realization of this strategic plan’s first goal: bridge, build, and bolster the MII.

All of these NSF programs marshal significant attention to workforce development and diversity and inclusion, and thereby address Goal 3 of the Strategic Plan: Educate, train, and connect the materials R&D workforce. NSF continues to provide opportunities in student training through the NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program and the NSF Division of Materials Research supports partnerships between Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and NSF centers, platforms, and foundries through the Partnerships in Research and Education in Materials (PREM)  program, targeted at building robust pathways to success in STEM for students from underrepresented groups. NSF further encourages the research community to help meet Goal 3 objectives of this Strategic Plan through developing activities and by addressing recommendations from the 2019 TMS study of the MGI workforce commissioned by NSF.