Super solar telescopes, seafloor explorations, human-technology partnerships: NSF looks ahead!

What big breakthroughs or new developments is NSF looking forward to in 2020 and beyond? Here’s what some of our experts had to say …

“I have watched in amazement as the cars and trucks I dreamed of driving as a little girl have changed over time. They are loaded with technology that grew from basic research into sensors, control systems, automation, algorithms, artificial intelligence — to name a few. Every time we get into a modern vehicle, we enter the interface between human beings and technology. One cool thing NSF is doing is exploring that future interface, the human-technology frontier, in a way that involves not only understanding the engineering but also the social science of how humans behave. It’s only by understanding both sides together – through the convergence of the disciplines into something greater – that we will be able to take the collaboration of people and technology to the next level. NSF is uniquely positioned to provide the foundational research to create a better world for us all, and I’m so proud to be part of it.”

Linda Blevins, NSF Deputy Assistant Director for Engineering

“I am excited and optimistic that the next decade in ocean sciences will bring a surge of discoveries as we interrogate the ocean, seafloor and sub-seafloor at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales using an ever-expanding suite of new technologies. We will have three new regional class research vessels join the U.S. Academic Research Fleet and the depth range of the Human-Occupied Vehicle (HOV) Alvin will be extended. Innovative science questions will be addressed using new and existing infrastructure. I am also optimistic because of the breadth and depth of human capital within the ocean sciences. A talented cadre of graduate students and early-career scientists will drive ocean discoveries over the next decade. The ocean decade is here, and with it, a new era of ocean discovery is upon us!”

Terry Quinn, NSF Division Director for Ocean Sciences

Caption: Terry Quinn (right) and Alvin pilot Drew Bewley inside the HOV Alvin.

“Advances in biotechnology (for creating, gathering and analyzing data) are opening new avenues of research that will allow us to understand the myriad innovations that have emerged in living systems over evolutionary time. In the coming decade, I am very enthusiastic about the huge potential for advances across the biological spectrum, from synthetic biology to eco-forecasting, that will enable life to adapt to a changing planet.”

Joanne Tornow, NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

Caption: Tornow at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

“The social, behavioral and economic sciences are vital to so many aspects of our lives. Their insights improve education, make our nation more secure, and create millions of American jobs. I’m excited about the new ways in which we are helping people and empowering communities. Advances in fields like neuroscience are showing new ways to help people live healthier lives. Advances in fields like economics are helping to create new industries. Our collaborations with experts in data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping people better harness the incredible wealth of digital information to make better decisions. Our collaborations with engineers hold the promise of stronger and better infrastructure … and there’s so much more. The social, behavioral and economic sciences are dedicated to you and to answering critical questions that can improve quality of life for everyone. This is our time.”    

Arthur “Skip” Lupia, NSF Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences

“I am very much looking forward to a future when high-quality, personalized learning can take place anywhere at any time. Current education research on how people learn, as well as development on emerging learning technologies – such as virtual and mixed reality systems and artificial intelligence – have the potential to build a future for education that is inclusive for everyone, regardless of location, socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity and age. I am also quite excited to envision how the fluid human-technology partnership in teaching and learning can enable and support new generations of the education workforce to respond to social and job changes easily through lifelong learning tools.”

Chia Shen, NSF Program Director for Research on Learning, Co-Lead for NSF’s Future of Work at Human- Technology Frontier Big Ideas

“In the coming decade, I’m excited about having a better understanding of dark matter and dark energy, continued discoveries about exoplanets, fantastic insights from observations at radio frequencies, and, in my field, a clearer view of supermassive black holes. I’m looking forward to the discoveries made by some of our newer facilities. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii will be the world’s most powerful solar observatory and provide a better understanding of how our sun works. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory will deliver game-changing results for all of astronomy, in particular for objects that change brightness on shorter timescales. Every new telescope, every new observation, has the potential of showing us something we didn’t know about before. It’s an exciting time for astronomy!”

Joe Pesce, NSF Program Director for Astronomical Sciences

Caption: Pesce at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.

“I’m excited about opportunities to address societal and scientific challenges by bringing together the nation’s computer and information science community with colleagues from other disciplines and economic sectors. For example, I look forward to strengthening ties between the computer and information science and social, behavioral and economic sciences to better understand the interplay between technology and people; deepening the connections between universities and their surrounding communities via national competitions like the NSF Civic Innovation Challenge; and growing the multidisciplinary, multi-institutional National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes to advance AI and improve people’s lives. We invite colleagues in other agencies, industry and non-profits to join us in pursuing these and other transformative efforts in the year – and decade – ahead!”

Erwin Gianchandani, NSF Deputy Assistant Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering

Want to know more about black holes, frozen ships and other 2019 achievements brought to you by NSF? Check out some of these science highlights!