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Move Away From Basic Research?

Proposed changes to the US National Science Foundation have raised concerns that the agency's traditional focus on basic research may be shifting, Nature News reports.

A new bill introduced in May has proposed not only renaming the agency as the "National Science and Technology Foundation" but also reshaping it. In particular, the Endless Frontiers Act would establish a new agency directorate to focus on key technological areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, and genomics, biotechnology, and synthetic biology. The bill would also boost the agency's funding by $100 billion over five years.

And now, Nature News reports that a change made to the guidance for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) may also push the agency down a more applied research path. The program, which awards about 2,000 graduate fellowships a year, previously accepted applications across 11 different fields, but now is focusing on those high-priority research areas, it says. This shift concerns some researchers who say focusing on the buzzy field of the day will reduce basic research funding and affect the diversity of researchers who are funded, Nature News adds.

In a statement, an NSF spokesperson tells Nature News that the "changes are not intended to exclude any areas of science supported by NSF" and that the agency "is simply signifying that these are areas of national importance and we are encouraging students to apply."