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NSF Launches Chemical Bonding Centers Program


Initiative targets highly innovative research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced its first three Chemical Bonding Centers--multi-faceted research groups that will each tackle a “big problem” in chemistry, in an atmosphere that’s intended to be flexible, tolerant of risk, and open to thinking far outside the box.

The new Chemical Bonding Centers (CBCs) will be based at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Washington. Their respective goals, discussed in more detail below, are to synthesize artificial chemical systems that can undergo Darwinian evolution; to carry out the rational design of materials having new kinds of electrical, magnetic, and optical properties; and to explore new kinds of “green chemistry,” in which materials can be synthesized on an industrial scale using environmentally friendly methods.

The initiative, says Philip B. Shevlin, one of the NSF program officers who manages the CBC program, “we wanted to encourage very talented people to attack major problems that would engage the public and have a long-term societal benefit—and that would not be what they were already doing.”

Because problems of this type will almost always require many investigators and many kinds of expertise, adds Shevlin, he and his colleagues also looked for a new level of agility and flexibility in the centers’ organization. “So if the research leads off in unexpected directions,” he says, “the groups should be able to change personnel as needed, and bring in new kinds of expertise.”

The initiative is being funded through NSF’s division of chemistry. Each award provides $1.5 million to the CBC over a three-year period. At the end of that time, those centers showing high potential will be eligible to continue their work with a Phase II award, which will provide $ 2 million to $3 million per year for up to five years. These awards are also potentially renewable for an additional five years.

| NSF news
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