Empowering Innovation: A Spotlight on the National Science Foundation

March 14, 2024


The National Science Foundation (NSF) forms a critical piece of the state-funded research and development ecosystem in the United States. Since its inception in 1950, the NSF has been at the forefront of advancing research and development across a multitude of scholarly fields, empowering researchers and institutions to push the boundaries of human knowledge and transform society. The NSF, like many R&D agencies in the US, receives bipartisan support as it is viewed as a key drive of economic output for the country. NSF grants listed on Peeref can be browsed here.

Unveiling Funding Dynamics: Metrics and Descriptive Statistics

In the fiscal year 2023, the NSF allocated a staggering $9.5 billion to fuel scientific research and education initiatives throughout the United States. This funding was distributed across various grant types, each tailored to address specific research needs and priorities. The approximate funding distribution for the majority of the NSF expenditure is showcased below:

Grant Type

Total Funding (in billions)

Percentage of Total

Research Grants



Education Grants






Grant Types: The Thematic Focus of NSF Expenditures

  1. Research Grants:
    • Core Research Programs: Funding for fundamental research in all areas of science and engineering.
    • Cross-Disciplinary Research: Support for projects that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries.
    • Early Career Development: Grants targeting early-career researchers to kickstart their independent research careers.
  2. Education Grants:
    • STEM Education Initiatives: Funding to enhance the quality and accessibility of STEM education at all levels.
    • Workforce Development: Support for programs aimed at training the next generation of STEM professionals.
  3. Infrastructure:
    • Facilities and Equipment: Funding for the construction and maintenance of cutting-edge research facilities and instrumentation.
    • Cyberinfrastructure: Support for the development and maintenance of advanced computational and data infrastructure.

Exploring Scholarly Fields: Areas of Emphasis for NSF Science

The NSF casts its net wide, supporting research across an extensive array of scholarly fields. Some of the most common fields receiving NSF funding include:

  • Biological Sciences
  • Computer and Information Science and Engineering
  • Engineering
  • Geosciences
  • Mathematical and Physical Sciences
  • Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences

A Legacy of Investment: Historical Funding Levels

Throughout its history, the NSF has been instrumental in driving research and development in the United States. As depicted in the timeline below, funding levels have steadily increased over the decades, reflecting the nation's commitment to scientific progress and innovation.


Funding (in billions)



















Enabling Discovery: Role in Research and Development

The NSF plays a pivotal role in driving research and development in the United States by providing critical funding, fostering collaboration, and supporting innovation. Through its grants and programs, the NSF catalyzes breakthrough discoveries, fosters the development of new technologies, and cultivates the next generation of scientists and engineers. The NSF's investments serve as a cornerstone of the nation's scientific enterprise, driving economic growth, enhancing national security, and addressing societal challenges.

Top 10 NSF Funded Institutions

  1. University of California, San Francisco = $1.806 billion
  2. University of Pennsylvania = $1.791 billion
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor = $1.771 billion
  4. University of Washington, Seattle = $1.560 billion
  5. University of California, Los Angeles = $1.536 billion
  6. University of California, San Diego = $1.533 billion
  7. University of Wisconsin-Madison = $1.524 billion
  8. Duke University = $1.391 billion
  9. Stanford University = $1.385 billion

A Driver of US Economics

The NSF plays a crucial role in driving research and development (R&D) in the United States economy through its multifaceted initiatives and investments. Here's how the NSF contributes to fostering innovation, economic growth, and competitiveness:

  1. Funding Basic Research: The NSF provides substantial funding for basic research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. By supporting fundamental research that explores the underlying principles of nature, technology, and society, the NSF lays the groundwork for transformative discoveries and technological breakthroughs. This basic research often serves as the building blocks for applied research and commercial innovation.
  2. Promoting Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Research: The NSF encourages collaboration and interdisciplinary research by bringing together researchers from different fields and institutions. By fostering partnerships between academia, industry, and government, the NSF facilitates the exchange of ideas, expertise, and resources, leading to synergistic advancements and innovative solutions to complex challenges.
  3. Training the STEM Workforce: Through its educational programs and initiatives, the NSF plays a key role in training the next generation of scientists, engineers, and innovators. By supporting STEM education at all levels, from K-12 to graduate school, the NSF ensures a steady pipeline of skilled professionals equipped with the knowledge and expertise to drive innovation and fuel economic growth.
  4. Stimulating Technology Transfer and Commercialization: The NSF invests in translating research findings into real-world applications through technology transfer and commercialization initiatives. By supporting the development of new technologies, products, and services, the NSF helps to spur entrepreneurship, create new industries, and generate economic value. Programs such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) provide funding and support to small businesses to bring innovative ideas to market.
  5. Addressing Societal Challenges: The NSF funds research that addresses pressing societal challenges, such as climate change, healthcare, energy, and cybersecurity. By investing in research that tackles these complex issues, the NSF not only drives scientific discovery but also fosters innovation that can lead to tangible solutions and improvements in quality of life. This, in turn, can have significant economic benefits by reducing costs, increasing efficiency, and creating new market opportunities.

Overall, the NSF serves as a catalyst for innovation and economic growth by supporting research and development that expands the frontiers of knowledge, fosters collaboration and interdisciplinary inquiry, trains the STEM workforce, stimulates technology transfer and commercialization, and addresses critical societal challenges. By investing in science and engineering research, the NSF helps to ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of innovation and competitiveness in the global economy.

-An AI-supported funder profile-

Organizational Spotlight: The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Organizational Spotlight: The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Organizational Spotlight: The European Research Commission (ERC)
Organizational Spotlight: The European Research Commission (ERC)
Organizational Spotlight: The Fulbright Program
Organizational Spotlight: The Fulbright Program
Organizational Spotlight: UK Research and Innovation
Organizational Spotlight: UK Research and Innovation
Funding Spotlight: Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA)
Funding Spotlight: Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA)

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