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Grand Ideas for NSF

France Córdova, the director of the US National Science Foundation, has outlined her research plans for the agency for the coming decades, ScienceInsider reports.

Senior NSF managers settled on these nine big ideas — which range from understanding the rules of life to multimessenger astrophysics — during a two-day retreat. According to ScienceInsider, the managers were instructed to identify two grand challenges facing the scientific fields their department supports. Those challenges were combined and whittled down to make this list, the article adds.

By presenting these ideas, Córdova hopes to advertise the agency's capabilities during an election year to stimulate interest in NSF as well as increased funding for the agency, ScienceInsider says. "We can't do any of these things without future investments. So yes, we need an infusion of money," Córdova tells the magazine.

Her plans include six "research" ideas that aim to spur interdisciplinary studies and tackle key issues facing society. The ideas include fundamental data science research, being able to predict phenotypes from genotypes, and shaping the human-technology frontier. The plans also include three "process" ideas, including one that was inspired in part by the National Institutes of Health's Common Fund. NSF plans to develop its own fund to support bold research questions that don't quite fit into any of the agency's boxes.

ScienceInsider adds that the National Science Board was supportive of the plans. "I'm blown away by what I just heard," Dan Arvizu, the board's outgoing chair, tells ScienceInsider. "It's an intellectual exercise unparalleled in government, and demonstrates the value of NSF to the nation."