Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

NSF’s SEES Initiative: Key Roles for Computing Researchers

September 26th, 2011 / in research horizons, resources / by Erwin Gianchandani

Krishna Kant, NSF/CISEThe following is a special contribution to this blog by Krishna Kant, a Program Director in the Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS) within the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). Krishna is CISE’s point person for the Foundation-wide Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) initiative. Here he provides guidance to the computing research community about the various SEES solicitations NSF has released in recent weeks. If you have questions or comments, post them below or e-mail Krishna directly.

Sustainability has been defined as the ability to meet the needs of current and future generations while preserving earth’s ecosystems. Meeting this challenge requires a substantially better understanding of the integrated system of society, the natural world, and the alterations humans bring to the Earth. It also includes development and adoption of technologies with lower environmental impact, migration from finite resources to renewable or inexhaustible resources, mitigation of and adaptation to the adverse impacts of global change, and applying technologies to improve human well-being. NSF’s Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) initiative addresses this need through support for interdisciplinary research and education.

The SEES initiative started in 2010 with focus on climate change. In 2011-12, its scope was extended to include clean energy and research networks to address large scale challenges. In the future, the scope is expected to further expand and include new dimensions of the problem.

For 2012, NSF has released a number of solicitations, at least four of which are relevant to CISE researchers. Read about them after the jump…

The SEES focus in 2012 on sustainable energy is represented by the Sustainable Energy Pathways (SEP) solicitation. SEP is intended to support research on aspects of sustainable energy including sustainable production of energy and fuels, sustainable transmission and distribution of energy and fuels, and efficient and effective use of available fuels and energy. SEP proposals by design are required to be interdisciplinary and must involve PIs from at least 3 disciplines. The proposals should address — to the extent the PIs see appropriate — economic, social and environmental aspects of the technologies being discussed. The intent is to ensure that important issues of cost effectiveness, environmental impact, and societal adoption are not entirely ignored in favor of the science/technology aspects.

Sustainability problems are often very complex and require not only multidisciplinary approach but also an active collaboration of research teams focused on different but related aspects of the overall problem. This requires a well-organized network of research teams around an overall theme — a need that is the topic of the SEES Research Coordination Networks (RCN-SEES) and Sustainability Research Networks (SRN) solicitations. RCN-SEES supports small-scale networking needs (e.g., networking of a few institutions and/or sustainability themes covering a somewhat limited research space). The main characteristic of RCN-SEES is that it only supports networking of existing research efforts (e.g., travel, meetings, short-duration researcher/student/postdoc visits, etc., required to effectively coordinate the research efforts) and not the research effort per se. SRN is designed to support large-scale networking needs (e.g., networking among many institutions and/or sustainability themes covering a large research space). Please note that SRNs are considered center-level activities and thus involve substantial investment (up to $12 million over five years), a rigorous selection process (pre-proposal, proposal, reverse site visit), and a rather small number of awards. Unlike the RCN-SEES, SRN awards can request support for additional research efforts that would be crucial for a holistic examination of the chosen theme.

The most crucial and difficult aspect of enabling sustainability research is the preparation of researchers, educators and students to effectively work on multi-disciplinary research. This is a multifaceted problem and will required concerted effort from all stakeholders. NSF’s SEES  Fellowships solicitation is a small step in this direction. It is geared toward early career researchers who can avail of this program to get a deeper understanding of another chosen discipline and advance sustainability research by working with researchers in the chosen discipline. The fellows are also expected to engage in imparting inter-disciplinary education, and can request additional support for more extensive educational endeavors.

With sustainability problems being truly global in nature, it is crucial to take advantage of global resources in tackling them, be they in the area of observations (e.g., drivers and impacts of climate change), target regions or societies for deploying solutions, new technologies, education and research capacities, etc. Thus, international collaboration is key to addressing many of the sustainability challenges. International collaboration is encouraged in all of the solicitations discussed above. NSF’s Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) provides several programs to enable international engagement, including Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) supporting large-scale projects primarily focused on international participation. In FY 2012, the PIRE solicitation is entirely focused on sustainability and thus provides a unique opportunity to engage with international partners in this crucial area.

NSF’s CISE directorate is participating in all of these solicitations since it is believed that they are of direct interest to a majority of CISE researchers, who can benefit from and play key roles in corresponding research projects. In particular, CISE researchers are already engaged in energy research in areas like the smart grid, smart homes/buildings, smart transportation networks, etc. The opportunities provided by SEP in conjunction with RCN and SRN allow CISE researchers to participate in much broader and larger energy-related issues. Similarly, the fellows program provides CISE researchers opportunities to work more effectively with domain scientists and allows the CISE community to better prepare the next generation for multidisciplinary research. PIRE-SEES opens up opportunities for CISE researchers to take advantage of unique research strengths, data collection opportunities, and  social, policy, and environmental contexts.

The SEES is not limited to the above solicitations, however. There are several other solicitations, though not sponsored by the CISE directorate, that could also be of interest to CISE researchers. These include:

And still others for which deadlines have already passed:
For complete details, visit the SEES website.
NSF’s SEES Initiative: Key Roles for Computing Researchers