NSF Funds Centers to Research Water, Solar, Energy, Health

A U.S. university leads each of the four Engineering Research Centers that are sharing $74 million in National Science Foundation funding to address significant societal issues.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $74 million to create four new Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) that will advance interdisciplinary research and education in four areas that are societal concerns: health, solar energy, water infrastructure, and energy transmission.

NSF's investment in two of the centers will be matched by the Department of Energy, which will co-fund the ERCs investigating solar energy and energy transmission. "Through this partnership, as with partnerships between NSF and industry, we bring together complementary strategic objectives," said Thomas Peterson, NSF's assistant director for Engineering. "Jointly funded ERCs will have unique opportunities to advance basic and translational research and to shape the energy workforce -- all of which will be essential for energy innovation."

The ERC program has been in existence since 1985, and these four new centers are the third generation of them. "The Gen-3 ERCs are designed to speed the process of transitioning knowledge into innovation and to provide young engineers with experience in research and entrepreneurship, strengthening their role as innovation leaders in the global economy," said Lynn Preston, the leader of the program. "Because they build on the rich understanding we gained from two previous generations of ERCs, we expect these new centers to make even more significant impacts on the competitiveness of U.S. industry."

NSF currently supports 17 ERCs in biotechnology and health care; energy, sustainability, and infrastructure; and microelectronics, sensing, and information technology.

The four new ones are:

  • The NSF ERC for Re-inventing America's Urban Water Infrastructure, led by Stanford University, which will seek sustainable urban water systems to supply, treat, and reuse water.
  • The NSF ERC for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, led by the University of Washington, which will pursue the ideal mind-machine interface and other devices to restore and augment health.
  • The NSF-DOE ERC for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies, led by Arizona State University, which will aim to make solar energy technologies sustainable, ubiquitous, and multifunctional.
  • The NSF-DOE ERC for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks, led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which will create transforming technologies to allow reliable, secure, and efficient operation of the electricity transmission infrastructure across vast distances.

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