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The U.S. to Advance Ocean Ecosystem Research

By investing US$30 million to promote six convergent research teams from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator Track E: Networked Blue Economy, the foundation is addressing climate, sustainability, food, energy, pollution and economic concerns.

The track’s main objectives include advancing research on convergence across ocean sectors and integrating the blue economy, as well as developing a smart, open, integrated, and linked ecosystem for ocean innovation, exploration and sustainable use. The Phase 2 teams are working together to create tools, techniques, and educational materials to enhance how people interact with the oceans.

Six Phase 2 grantees were chosen from 16 Phase 1 award winners after a formal proposal and pitch in September 2021. The Phase 2 teams will take part in innovation and entrepreneurial programmes over the course of two years, which includes instruction in product creation, intellectual property, financial resources, sustainability planning, and outreach and communications. To address unresolved ocean-wide concerns associated with the blue economy, academic researchers, industry, government, nonprofits and other organisations must collaborate more closely.

The Phase 2 teams are building solutions and collaborations to promote human connection with the ocean and reduce plastic waste and coastal erosion. In two years, the teams are anticipated to produce high-impact deliverables beyond NSF support.

The solutions include empowering indigenous and other coastal communities to gather and use ocean data to support maritime activities, food security, and coastal hazard protection, linking community organisations across watersheds to solve economic and health concerns caused by nitrogen pollution.

In addition to delivering interactive 4D visualisations of reef environments to local communities, helping ensure a sustainable future for all coral reefs; enabling a healthier ocean through safe and rapid ocean degradation of plastic equipment components and accelerating the processing of underwater visual data with artificial intelligence and ensuring ecological safety and mitigating land loss through coastal community recycling programmes.

Meanwhile, engineering breakthroughs and discoveries have the potential to have a transformative positive impact on society. For decades, the National Science Foundation has been a staunch supporter of research centres that integrate engineering with other disciplines, foster collaboration, and champion innovation to create value and address national needs.

NSF has announced the establishment of four new Engineering Research Centres, which will transform technology for sustainable solutions in agriculture, manufacturing, health and urban planning.

The new NSF centres will carry on the legacy of making a difference in people’s lives across the country. The Engineering Research Centres for 2022 are:

  • NSF Engineering Research Centre for Advancing Sustainable and Distributed Fertiliser Production will make food production more stable and long-lasting by creating next-generation, modular, distributed, and efficient technology for capturing, recycling, and making nitrogen-based fertilisers that are low in carbon;
  • NSF Engineering Research Centre for Hybrid Autonomous Manufacturing Moving from Evolution to Revolution will expedite the development and deployment of intelligent, autonomous manufacturing technologies, allowing for mass customisation in local production facilities;
  • NSF Engineering Research Centre for Precision Microbiome Engineering will develop microbiome technologies that address issues at the interface of human health and the built environment, enabling the proliferation of beneficial bacteria and inhibiting the colonisation of infectious pathogens; and
  • NSF Engineering Research Centre for Smart Streetscapes will create livable, safe, and inclusive communities using real-time, hyperlocal street and neighbourhood technology.

The centres form alliances with educational institutions, government agencies, and industry stakeholders to promote innovation and inclusion in both established and emergent engineering research.

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