Letter from APS leadership

APS President Responds to Request for Information on Developing a Roadmap for the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships at NSF

July 31, 2023

Chaitan Baru
Senior Advisor
Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships Directorate
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22314

Dear Dr. Baru:

On behalf of the American Physical Society (APS) — the nation’s largest physics membership organization with more than 50,000 members in academia, the private sector and national labs — I want to thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Request for Information on Developing a Roadmap for the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

NSF is the largest funder of physical science research at higher education institutions in the United States, directly supporting more than 330,000 people in 2022 and research activities at more than 600 campuses across the country. From the foundational, curiosity-driven research that increases our understanding of our world to the use-inspired, solution-oriented research that directly impacts people's everyday lives — NSF investments have had a profound positive impact on our economy and society.

APS greatly appreciates NSF’s effort to craft a deliberate and strategic roadmap for its new TIP Directorate, which will expand and amplify the agency's long-standing commitment to support use-inspired research and the translation of research results to the marketplace. Such an approach is critical to ensuring that this early-stage ramp-up for TIP ultimately strengthens — and does not come at the expense of — the important interplay between foundational, curiosity-driven and use-inspired research that is essential to enhancing the full cycle of discovery and innovation. As you design the initial roadmap for the TIP directorate, we would like to bring special attention to four of the areas requested — workforce, prioritization, crosscutting investments and other relevant topics. Our perspectives on each are outlined below.

  • Workforce: The US faces a persistent shortage of STEM workers that threatens our country’s global leadership and competitiveness in science, technology and innovation. Recent reports from Deloitte and McKinsey project workforce shortages in critical industries, e.g., semiconductors, greater than hundreds of thousands by 2030 if actions are not taken to further the creation of a STEM domestic workforce at all levels.
    • Any strategic plan must include a strong workforce component that addresses the current crisis-level shortage of high-quality K-12 STEM teachers. During the last 10 years, US STEM teacher production has decreased by more than 30%, with some states experiencing decreases as large as 70%. This situation is effectively eliminating pathways for millions of students to join the future STEM workforce, in particular, students from rural and underserved schools. For example, as of 2016, only 60% of high schools in the US offered physics courses, and when a physics course is offered, fewer than half of the instructors are content-area experts. An expanded NSF Noyce program would help address this issue, and the TIP Directorate’s strategic roadmap should include the necessary support.
    • Building an equitable and welcoming innovation ecosystem in the US is vital for a strong STEM workforce. APS supports developing standards to improve the ability of the Federal Government and the scientific community to make data-informed policy decisions that advance equity for the LGBTQI+ community. The inclusion of optional anonymous sexual orientation and gender identity questions on all NSF surveys, including those involving TIP directorate programs, should be a priority.
    • Maximizing the investments from the TIP Directorate across the geographic and demographic diversity of our nation is critical. Access to local research experiences can be career-changing for many students who otherwise may have not considered pursuing a career in STEM. We applaud NSF’s programs and structures to build research capacity at Emerging Research Institutions (ERIs), Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). We urge investments from the TIP Directorate to include efforts to build research capacity at institutions outside America’s researchintensive institutions.
  • Prioritization:
    • The key technology focus areas that are central to the TIP Directorate’s investments are — and will continue to be — some of the fastest evolving research and development areas. As part of TIP’s prioritization process for determining its key technology focus areas, NSF should ensure that industry perspectives from established companies, as well as startups and investors, are included.
  • Crosscutting Investments:
    • For more than 70 years, NSF’s broad research portfolio has shown that investments in both curiosity-driven and use-inspired research are required to continually advance our understanding of the world, spawn paradigm-shifting discoveries, and improve people’s lives. The TIP Directorate should expand on NSF’s successful track record and operate in close coordination with NSF’s established directorates, quickly identifying opportunities for translational research investments that spawn out of curiosity-driven projects, as well as opportunities for new foundational research that emerges from use-inspired projects.
  • Other Topics:
    • It is expected that — during the TIP Directorate's initial ramp-up phase — NSF might dedicate a significant portion of increases received through the annual appropriations process to the new directorate. It is also critical that NSF recognizes the importance of continuing to allocate increased funding for its established directorates responsible for funding foundational, curiosity-driven research. Long-term support for the TIP Directorate must not come at the expense of flat — or decreased — support for the established NSF Directorates.

Thank you for considering our comments as you and your colleagues work to develop a roadmap for the TIP Directorate. We appreciate your leadership and commitment to advancing science, technology and innovation at NSF. If you have questions or would like to further discuss our priorities, please do not hesitate to contact APS Director of Government Affairs Mark Elsesser (elsesser@aps.org; 202.662.8710).


Robert Rosner

PresidentAmerican Physical Society


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