National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently announced 15 Emerging Frontiers
in Research and Innovation (EFRI) grants for fiscal year 2012, awarding
nearly $30 million to 68 investigators at 26 institutions.
the next four years, teams of researchers will pursue transformative,
fundamental research in three emerging areas: flexible electronic
systems that can better interface with the body; design of self-folding
materials and structures; and optimizing large-scale chemical production
from photosynthesis. Results from this research promise to improve
human health, engineering design and manufacturing, and energy
Flexible bioelectronics systems
EFRI research teams will pursue biocompatible electronic systems that
offer new capabilities for health care. Integrating microelectronics
with conformable substrates, these flexible bioelectronics systems will
interact seamlessly with the body to advance medical monitoring,
detection and/or treatment in a patient-friendly form.
BioFlex researchers will investigate novel devices and flexible
materials, interfaces between devices and biological materials, and
approaches to systems integration. Successful new concepts will also
meet the challenges of biocompatability, weight, power consumption,
scalability and cost. The projects aim to transform cancer screening,
wound healing and emergency identification of toxins and bacteria.
four projects could lead to significant improvements in patient care,”
said Usha Varshney, the coordinating EFRI program officer for BioFlex.
“The teams will also contribute advanced scalability techniques so that,
in the future, flexible bioelectronics systems can be widely available
at low cost.”
Origami design for self-assembling systems
second set of EFRI research teams will explore the folding and
unfolding of materials and structures to create self-assembling and
multifunctional systems. The eight projects funded will build on
principles and patterns from the art of origami in order to design
structures that can transition between two and three dimensions. In the
process, the researchers will also address challenges in modeling
complex designs and behaviors, in shifting from small to large scales
and in working with active, or “smart,” materials.
materials can change their shape, size and/or physical properties with
changes in temperature, pressure, electro-magnetic fields or other
aspects of their environment. With such materials, the EFRI researchers
plan to create entire structures and systems out of single pieces that
are flexible, elastic and resilient. With new theory and understanding,
the researchers aim to predict and even program the behavior and
capabilities of the origami designs.
scientists, artists and mathematicians will pursue profound
collaboration to discover how to design single structures that can
collapse and deploy and even change functions as desired,” said Clark
Cooper, who coordinated the origami design awards with fellow program
officer Christina Bloebaum. “These eight awards could initiate a
transformation in design and manufacturing, impacting technologies as
diverse as information storage, space structures and medical devices.”
third set of EFRI research teams will investigate the large-scale use
of micro-organisms that harness solar energy to produce chemicals and
fuels from carbon dioxide. Some single-celled algae, for example, use
photosynthesis to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide and water into
lipids and hydrocarbons. However, the realization of photosynthetic
“biorefineries” that could accomplish this process on an industrial
scale must first overcome significant challenges, including low
productivity, large-scale feasibility and environmental sustainability.
researchers will investigate the optimization of micro-organisms
themselves and their growing conditions to produce easily processed
hydrocarbon chemicals in large quantities. The researchers also will
explore ways to obtain a variety of value-added compounds, whether by
using an array of micro-organisms or by combining biological processes
with chemical catalysis. Each project will pursue efficiency and
sustainability in a number of ways, for example, through the use of
wastewater as a low-cost nutrient source for the micro-organisms. All
three of the teams funded will be studying the photosynthetic
biorefineries as large and complex systems.
robust scaling and control principles using a systems approach is
critical to making photosynthetic biorefineries of the future productive
and efficient,” said George Antos, the coordinating program officer for
these EFRI projects. “Using photosynthetic biorefineries as a
significant source of chemicals and fuels would not only reduce
greenhouse gases, but it would enhance the nation’s energy security, as
these products are currently made mainly from petroleum. Oil from algae
is a reality, however there is much fundamental science that needs to be
done before a true industry is founded, and these EFRI researchers will
help make that happen.”
fiscal 2012 EFRI topics were developed with strong input from the
research community and in close collaboration between the NSF
Directorate for Engineering and the NSF Directorates for Biological
Sciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences. NSF also coordinated
closely with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and the
Department of Energy. AFOSR contributed to the funding of all origami
their collaborations, the EFRI research teams will initiate new lines
of inquiry and provide creative and exciting educational opportunities
for young students,” said Sohi Rastegar, director of the EFRI program.
Beginning with the fiscal year 2012 awards, EFRI projects must provide
more specific plans that enhance participation of underrepresented
groups in the field of engineering and in engineering research.
continued, “If we want to have a competitive edge for achieving
innovative outcomes, it is imperative to bring to the table ideas from
creative individuals from all segments of society. EFRI teams are
committed to working with undergraduate and high school students and
with new partners, such as teachers and museums, to help more people
engage in and appreciate the exciting possibilities from research.”
established by the NSF Directorate for Engineering in 2007, seeks
high-risk, interdisciplinary research that has the potential to
transform engineering and other fields. The grants demonstrate the EFRI
goal to inspire and enable researchers to expand the limits of our
Summaries of the four EFRI projects on Flexible Bioelectronics (BioFlex) Systems are found on the EFRI BioFlex Awards page.
of the eight EFRI projects on Origami Design for Integration of
Self-assembling Systems for Engineering Innovation (ODISSEI) are found
on the EFRI ODISSEI Awards page.
Summaries of the three EFRI projects on Photosynthetic Biorefineries (PSBR) are found on the EFRI PSBR Awards page.
Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation
Source: National Science Foundation