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A Guided Tour of DMS/NSF Programs for Math Scientists

Henry Warchall, deputy director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation, crafted his presentation for the Funding Agency Panel at the 2012 SIAM Annual Meeting by imagining himself in the shoes of a member of the SIAM community: “Which NSF programs,” he wondered, “fund the kind of research I have in mind?”

Warchall, who actually constituted a one-member panel, began with a helpful tip: Prospective proposal submitters can use to search existing NSF grants on keywords, e.g., “algebraic topology large data.” “You can do serious data mining with this URL,” he said.

NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences was well represented in Minneapolis. Shown here are DMS deputy director Henry Warchall (left), whose presentation of special funding opportunities for the SIAM community is outlined in the article "Thinking of Graduate School? Check Out NSF Fellowships," and DMS director Sastry Pantula, who was a member of another panel, convened to discuss big data.
After pointing out that the bulk (3/4) of the DMS budget goes to small-group and individual grants in disciplinary research programs, he devoted the remainder of the presentation to an overview of many special research opportunities, some of them NSF-wide, also available to mathematical scientists:

Computational and Data-enabled Research. Looming large in this category is Computational Data-enabled Science and Engineering in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (CDS&E-MSS), funded jointly by DMS and the Office of Cyberinfrastructure to promote the next generation of tools for research on challenges arising in CSE with the ongoing explosion of data. Several NSF-wide programs may be of interest as well, including Software Infrastructure for Sustained Innovation; Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace, in which the focus is on encryption and privacy (as for medical datasets); Core Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Big Data Science and Engineering, known as BIGDATA; and IGERT-CIF 21, an IGERT track introduced to meet educational needs in CDS&E and cyberinfrastructure. 

Materials-related Research. After pointing out that NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate is the home of DMS as well as of the Division of Materials Research, Warchall mentioned opportunities in the Materials Genome initiative program Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF). 

Research Related to Sustainable Civilization. Within the SEES (Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability) portfolio, Warchall identified some of the areas of particular interest to the SIAM community: earth system models for decadal and regional climate prediction (EaSM); sustainable energy pathways (SEP); and sustainable chemistry, energy, and materials (SusChEM).

Opportunities Related to Biology. DMS has a mathematical biology program that supports the development of mathematical and statistical tools. Warchall also mentioned a joint DMS/NIGMS (National Institute of General Medical Sciences) program; opportunities for collaborative research in computational neuroscience (with a new initiative in neuroscience to come); opportunities for work on algorithms for the detection of threats (biological and other); and the interdisciplinary BioMaPS partnership.

Research Networks in the Math Sciences. This program supports five- to ten-year collaborations of researchers addressing complex problems that cross intellectual, institutional, national, and other boundaries; an example is the Mathematics and Climate Research Network (Chris Jones, director; Mary Lou Zeeman and Hans Kaper, co-directors). The next deadline for proposals is in 2015. Warchall also referred the audience to the list of other special research programs available at this site.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. See the accompanying article.

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The discussion that followed Warchall’s presentation included a request from the audience: Do you have suggestions for first-time proposal submitters? Get advice or help from someone who has been successful, Warchall suggested. Most proposals are reviewed by panels, he added, not all members of which will be expert in the area of a proposal. “You need to put your work in context: Why should anyone care about the project you propose?”

Citing common errors made by inexperienced grant seekers, he mentioned the preparation of exciting proposals that relate exciting challenges, but do not state what the researcher plans to do. Deborah Lockhart, formerly of DMS and currently deputy director of the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems in the CISE directorate, pointed out that junior researchers need to give themselves credibility. “Show that you know what’s being done in your area, how your work ties in” to the big picture, she said. 

SIAM president-elect Irene Fonseca, also in the audience, pointed out that PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education), a large grant of which she is the PI, holds one-day grant-writing workshops. Other programs and institutions, she said, hold similar (and similarly well-attended) events.

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