Washington, DC - For more than six decades NSF has funded science and engineering research   from astronomy to zoology and everything in between that has led to discoveries and innovations that transform our world. This is how we imagine the inaugural National Science Board (July 1951) would celebrate our 66th birthday:

Did you know NSF funded…

Discovery of Gravitational Waves

A century ago, Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time that result from the universe’s most violent phenomena. NSF-funded researchers, using one of the most precise instruments ever made — the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) — have detected gravitational waves that emanate from 1.3 billion years ago. More, here.


During the Internet’s infancy, NSF recognized the need for searchable interfaces for the growing collection of online information and supported the Stanford Integrated Digital Library Project. Two graduates students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, working on this project developed a new way to search the Web by using page ranking. Today, this methodology is at the core of the search engine used by Google.

Bar Codes

NSF funding played a crucial role in the development of bar codes. In the 1970s, NSF helped fund bar-code research to perfect the accuracy of the scanners that read bar codes. In the early 1990s, research in computer vision conducted at the State University of New York-Stony Brook led to major advances in algorithms for bar-code readers. That research led to commercial development of a new product line of barcode readers that has been described as a revolutionary advance, enabling bar-code readers to operate under messy situations and adverse conditions.

Kidney Exchange

Economist and 2012 Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth led a team of researchers that developed a computational technique that greatly expands the pool of safe kidney exchanges in a chain of cooperating pairs of donors and recipients. As a result, paired transplants have risen dramatically from two in 2000 to 544 in 2014. Since 2008, more than 1,600 paired transplants have been performed.

Bionic Eye

In 2013, the FDA granted market approval of an artificial retina, the first bionic eye approved for U.S. patents. This prosthetic system, developed with early, crucial support form NSF, will allow people with blindness to locate objects, detect movement, improve orientation and mobility discern shapes such as large letters.

Graduate Research Fellowship Program

To ensure human capital for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, NSF created in 1952 the Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) program. Since the creation of this program, NSF has funded over 42,000 graduate research fellows. More than 40 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. Other notable GRFP awardees include the former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

DNA Fingerprinting

DNA fingerprinting, also called forensic DNA analysis, was first used in a criminal investigation in England in 1986. Since then, DNA fingerprinting has become an essential part of the American legal system. NSF-funded projects in basic biological research were critical to the discovery of a microbe’s enzyme that makes modern DNA fingerprinting possible.

Doppler Radar

Research at the NSF-supported National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and at universities was instrumental in the development of Doppler radar as a meteorological research tool. Doppler radar is what Americans see every day on TV news and weather reporting. Conventional radar provides information about the location and intensity of precipitation associated with a storm, while Doppler radar adds the capability to discern air motions within a storm.

Plant Genome Projects

Arabidopsis thaliana, the first plant to have its entire genome sequenced, paved the way for the sequencing of over 90 other plant genomes and made possible the genetic engineering of crops with improved diseases resistance, enhanced nutritional value and increased yields.

And much, much, more!

NSF: The early years

NSF was created in the aftermath of a World War, born out of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which coordinated government research related to national defense. The office’s work was conducted in the “utmost secrecy,” President Franklin Roosevelt once wrote, “but its tangible results can be found in the communiques coming in from the battlefronts all over the world. Some day the full story of its achievements can be told.”

Here are some highlight’s from NSF’s early history, from 1945–1950.

Nov. 17, 1944 — By letter, President Roosevelt asks his science advisor, Vannevar Bush, whether an effective, federal scientific program could be created following World War II.

July 25, 1945 — Vannevar Bush responds to President Roosevelt’s request with his now-famous report, Science: The Endless Frontier. He writes that in his judgement, the “national interest in scientific research and scientific education can best be promoted by the creation of a National Research Foundation.”

“The pioneer spirit is still vigorous within this nation. Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task. The rewards of such exploration both for the Nation and the individual are great. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.”

Oct. 9, 1945 — Famed head of General Motors’ research Charles Kettering testifies before a Senate subcommittee, saying he’s not bothered by German scientific advances because he’s been in competition with them all his life. But he says a National Science Foundation would be “an important experiment.”

August 6, 1947 — President Harry Truman vetoes legislation passed by Congress establishing NSF, because it does not give the president authority to name the foundation’s director.

April 25, 1949 — Washington Post editorial writers cheer Congress’ renewed consideration of “a workable National Science Foundation.” At the same time, they point out that “since the war, the accent has been largely on applied sciences, as financed by the military, but basic science has lagged badly.”

“It is imperative that there be no further delay.”

April 26, 1950 — House and Senate conferees agreed on a compromise bill to set up a National Science Foundation and provide $15 million a year for federal scholarships, fellowships and research.

May 10, 1950 — President Truman signs Public Law 81–507, creating the National Science Foundation. The act provides for a National Science Board of 24 part time members and a director as chief executive officer, all appointed by the president.

Feb. 1, 1952 — NSF awards its first set of research grants: 28 awards in total.