‘Talent and ideas are everywhere’: Importance of broad research funding highlighted at NSF Day at MSU

Sethuraman Panchanathan speaks during NSF Day, held at The Mill at MSU
National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan speaks during NSF Day, held at Mississippi State University on Monday [Nov. 21]. (Photo by Grace Cockrell)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—If the United States is going to continue to grow its research and technological capabilities, ideas and talent from every corner of the country must be incorporated.

That was the message from leaders representing the National Science Foundation, U.S. Senate and academia during NSF Day on Monday [Nov. 21] at Mississippi State University. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan shared details of the NSF’s mission and highlighted the significance of restarting the organization’s NSF Day series in Mississippi.

“Talent and ideas are democratized, we all know that,” Panchanathan said. “They’re everywhere. Which means that unless we unleash talent and ideas everywhere, we will not be successful. NSF will work really hard to ensure that every bit of idea, every bit of talent, all across our great nation and all across the great state of Mississippi, is energized and brought to life.”

Monday’s event brought together researchers from Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning for a day of engagement with leaders from multiple NSF directorates. Magnolia State scientists learned about current NSF and national research priorities, as well as potential funding opportunities.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum noted that 17 current MSU faculty members are enhancing their research with funding from the prestigious NSF CAREER Award, one of the top honors that can be awarded to an early career faculty member. With MSU leading 86 active NSF-funded research projects, Keenum said the foundation’s funding boosts MSU’s research capabilities while helping students and faculty thrive. He highlighted one particular NSF-funded project that continues to make a significant impact more than 30 years after the initial award.

MSU’s history in high-performance computing began in 1990 when MSU was awarded an NSF Engineering Research Center focused on computational field simulation. MSU researchers leveraged the computing resources to develop self-sustaining programs as the university successfully graduated from the NSF program. When Mississippi was recruiting Nissan, those resources were used to create the MSU Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, which has had a $3 billion economic impact over the last decade alone. MSU’s high-performance computing capabilities have steadily grown over the decades, with the university now ranking 5th in U.S. academic supercomputing capability.

“These high-powered computers help our researchers thrive in areas like climate modeling and forecasting, precision agriculture, autonomous systems and more,” Keenum said. “As a state, Mississippi is ranked fourth in the total number of Top 500 systems. That’s a lot of capability for a state that isn’t always thought of as being a leader in technology and innovation. It was that NSF Engineering Research Center funding award 32 years ago that played such an important role in our success. It continues to deliver an incredible return on investment to this very day.”

Group photo in front of the MSU seal and holding an NSF logo
Academic leaders and researchers from across Mississippi gathered at MSU for NSF Day on Monday [Nov. 21]. Pictured, from left, are MSU Provost and Executive Vice President David Shaw, Miss. Sen. Briggs Hopson, NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, MSU President Mark E. Keenum, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and MSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Julie Jordan. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Wicker, who serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, noted the strong research capabilities that are present throughout Mississippi and the role technological innovation plays in boosting economies in Mississippi and throughout the country. He also highlighted the significance of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, a piece of federal legislation signed into law this summer. In addition to boosting overall research and development funding, the legislation increases the percentage of NSF funding that goes to the 25 states and three territories that are part of NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The EPSCoR program aims to increase scientific capabilities in rural states, broadening and diversifying the country’s R&D activity. Wicker also emphasized the importance of the U.S. leading the country’s adversaries in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum mechanics.

“This is the opportunity over the next five to seven years to have the quantum leap that we’ve been looking for for decades in Mississippi,” Wicker said.

As part of NSF Day, researchers from MSU, Jackson State University, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi detailed how NSF funding has impacted their research and their careers. Matthew Brown, the Donald L. Hall Professor of Biology in MSU’s Department of Biological Sciences, discussed the importance of NSF’s funding for basic scientific research.

“The National Science Foundation has been instrumental to my research program, which is focused on single cell microbial eukaryotes,” Brown said. “By funding basic science research, NSF allows for unique scientific endeavors that do not always have immediately obvious outcomes tangible to things like human health, agriculture or industry. NSF aids in the dissemination of our research discoveries through traditional means like presentation and publications, but also through outreach activities at local schools. NSF supports the training of the next generation of scientists.”