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Understanding the Federal Program Descriptions

Content provided by the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance
47.049 Mathematical and Physical Sciences




National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, Public Law 106-377, 42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.
OBJECTIVES: Click here for help!
To promote the progress of the mathematical and physical sciences and thereby strengthen the Nation's scientific enterprise; to increase the store of scientific knowledge and enhance understanding of major problems confronting the Nation. Most of the research supported is basic in character. The program includes support of research project grants in the following disciplines: physics, chemistry, astronomical sciences, mathematical sciences, materials research, as well as support for symposia and conferences. Basic research in multidisciplinary areas related to these disciplines is especially encouraged. Support is also provided for state-of-the-art user facilities in astronomy, physics, and many areas of materials science; science and technology centers; institutes; undergraduate student research; faculty enhancement; curriculum development; instrumentation; laboratory improvement; and for research opportunities for women, minority, and disabled scientists and engineers.


Project Grants.
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Grant funds may be used for paying costs necessary to conduct research or studies, such as salaries and wages, permanent equipment, expendable materials and supplies, travel, participant support; publication costs, and other direct and indirect costs. Primary responsibility for general supervision of all grant activities rests with the grantee institution; the principal investigator is responsible for the scientific work. Funds may not be used for purposes other than those specified in the proposal.


Applicant Eligibility:   Public and private colleges and universities and nonprofit, nonacademic research institutions. Private profit organizations, foreign institutions, State and local governments, other Federal agencies or Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC's), and unaffiliated scientists under special circumstances. Grants are made on a competitive basis.

Beneficiary Eligibility:   Public and private colleges and universities and nonprofit, nonacademic research institutions. Private for profit organizations, foreign institutions, State and local governments, FFRDC's, and unaffiliated scientists under special circumstances.

Credentials/Documentation:   Proposals must be signed electronically by an official authorized to commit the institution or organization in business and financial affairs and who can commit the organization to certain proposal certifications. Costs will be determined in accordance with OMB Circular Nos. A-21 for colleges and universities and A-122 for nonprofit organizations. This program is excluded from coverage under OMB Circular No. A-87.

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Pre-application Coordination:   None. This program is excluded from coverage under E.O. 12372.

Application Procedure:   By electronic submission via FastLane of a formal proposal describing the research or study to be undertaken. Guidelines are contained in publication, "Grant Proposal Guide," NSF 03-2 and "Guide to Programs Fiscal Year 2003" NSF 03-009. This program is subject to the provisions of OMB Circular No. A-110. This program is excluded from coverage under OMB Circular No. A-102.

Award Procedure:   NSF staff members review and evaluate all proposals generally with the assistance and advice of other qualified scientists and other appropriate persons who are specialists in the field covered by the proposal. Proposals are accepted on the basis of merit to the extent permitted by available funds. States will be notified of Federal assistance awards through the Federal Assistance Awards Data System (FAADS).

Deadlines:   Unsolicited proposals may be submitted at any time. Some specific programs have formal announcements with deadlines. The program announcement should be consulted.

Range of Approval/Disapproval Time:   From 4 to 6 months.

Appeals:   The principal investigator may request, in writing, that the Foundation reconsider its action in declining any proposal application, renewal application, or continuing application.

Renewals:   Proposals for renewals, containing the same type of information as the original proposal, should be submitted at least 6 months before the expiration date of the award. Renewals are treated in competition with all other pending proposals.


Formula and Matching Requirements:   Some equipment programs have cost-sharing. Cost-sharing is not required for awards made solely for symposia, conferences and workshops, publication, education and training, facilities, or travel. The Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) (Chapter II) and the Grant Policy Manual (Sec. 330) provide additional information on the general NSF policy on cost-sharing.

Length and Time Phasing of Assistance:   Normally 3 to 5 years.


Reports:   For all multi-year grants (including both standard and continuing grants), the PI must submit an annual project report to the cognizant program office at least 90 days before the end of the current budget period. Within 90 days after the expiration of a grant, the PI is required to submit a final project report. Quarterly Federal Cash Transaction Reports are required. Other reporting requirements may be imposed via the grant instrument.

Audits:   In accordance with the provisions of OMB Circular No. A- 133 (Revised, June 24, 1997), "Audits of States, Local Governments, and Non-Profit Organizations," nonfederal entities that expend financial assistance of $300,000 or more in Federal awards will have a single or a program-specific audit conducted for that year. Nonfederal entities that expend less than $300,000 a year in Federal awards are exempt from Federal audit requirements for that year, except as noted in Circular No. A-133.

Records:   Grantees are expected to maintain separate records for each grant to ensure that funds are used for the general purpose for which the grant was made. Records are subject to inspection during the life of the grant and for 3 years thereafter.


Account Identification:   49-0100-0-1-251.

Obligations:   (Grants) FY 01 $854,080,000; FY 02 est $920,450,000; and FY 03 est $941,570,000.

Range and Average of Financial Assistance:  
Range Low $3,000
Range High $24,000,000
Average $155,182.

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In fiscal year 2001, 8,458 proposals were received and 4,710 awards were made. In fiscal year 2002, approximately 8,500 proposals will be received and about 4,750 awards will be made. In fiscal year 2003, approximately 8,500 proposals will be received and 4,750 awards will be made.


48 CFR Chapter 25; 45 CFR Chapter VI; "NSF Guide to Programs, Fiscal Year 2003," NSF 03-009 (; and "Grant Proposal Guide," NSF 03-2, (


Regional or Local Office:   None.

Headquarters Office:  
Dean Evasius 4201 Wilson Blvd., Stafford I-1005, Arlington, Virginia 22230 Email: Phone: 7032928132 Fax: 7032929151

Web Site Address:


1) Massachusetts, "Center for Ultracold Atoms;" 2) Massachusetts/Oklahoma, "The Geometry of Duality in Mathematics and Physics;" 3) Ohio, "Molecular Information of the Process that Controls Pollutants in the Environment;" 4) Wisconsin, "Nanostructured Materials and Interfaces;" and 5) California, "A Survey of Nearby Stars for Extrasolar Planets."


Proposals received by NSF are assigned to the appropriate NSF program where they will be reviewed if they meet NSF proposals preparation requirements. All proposals are carefully reviewed by a scientist, engineer, or educator serving as an NSF Program Officer, and usually by three to ten other persons outside NSF who are experts in the particular fields represented by the proposal. These reviewers are selected by Program Officers charged with the oversight of the review process. Proposers are invited to suggest names of persons they believe are especially well qualified to review the proposal and/or persons they would prefer not review the proposal. These suggestions may serve as one source in the reviewer selection process at the Program Officer’s discretion. Submission of such names, however, is optional. Care is taken to ensure that reviewers have no conflicts of interest with the proposal.

All NSF proposals are evaluated through use of the two National Science Board (NSB)-approved merit review criteria: intellectual merit and the broader impacts of the proposed effort. In some instances, however, NSF will employ additional criteria as required to highlight the specific objectives of certain programs and activities.

The two NSB-approved merit review criteria are listed below. The criteria include considerations that help define them. These considerations are suggestions and not all will apply to any given proposal. While proposers must address both merit review criteria, reviewers will be asked to address only those considerations that are relevant to the proposals being considered and for which the reviewer is qualified to make judgments. Relevant questions are: (1) What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?; (2) How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?; (3) How well qualified is the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project? (If appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the quality of the prior work.); (4) To what extend does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts; (5) How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity?; (6) Is the sufficient access to resources?; (7) What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?; (8) How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning?; (9) How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)?; (10) To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships?; (11) Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding?, and (12) What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?

NSF staff will give careful consideration to the following in making funding decisions:

Integration of Research and Education – One of the principal strategies in support of NSF’s goals is to foster integration of research and education through the programs, projects, and activities it supports at academic and research institutions. These institutions provide abundant opportunities where individuals may concurrently assume responsibilities as researchers, educators, and students and where all can engage in joint efforts that infuse education with the excitement of discovery and enrich research through the diversity of learning perspectives. Integrating Diversity into NSF Programs, Projects, and Activities – Broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens – women and men, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities – is essential to health and vitality of science and engineering. NSF is committed to this principle of diversity and deems it central to the programs, projects, and activities it considers and supports.

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