22 September 2014

News from NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST)

James Ulvestad National Science Foundation

Status Report on NSF's Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants (AAG) Program

FY 2014 Review Results

In fiscal year 2014 (FY 2014), running from October 2013 through September 2014, the final budget allocated to the AAG program was $43.7 million, compared to $42.4 million in FY 2013. The FY 2014 allocation was slightly larger than expected a few months ago, and was achieved by obtaining some funds from other NSF divisions for AST programs with overlapping scientific interest. As a result, awards were made to a total of 97 projects out of 606 reviewed. Counting the multiple proposals in collaborative projects, 122 out of the 731 reviewed FY 2014 proposals were funded primarily from AAG. The funding rate was 16% per submitted project and 17% per submitted proposal. These rates were two percentage points higher than those in FY 2013. AST is particularly grateful to those investigators who trimmed their budgets, as well as the over 200 reviewers who diligently served on panels.

Outlook for FY 2015 and Beyond

The FY 2015 deadline for the receipt of AAG proposals is 17 November 2014, at 5:00 pm in the proposer’s local time zone. AST continues to be concerned about the burden placed on the community in the writing and reviewing of proposals, especially in light of low funding rates. Guided by this, AST is seriously considering placing a limit on the number of proposals submitted by an individual principal investigator (PI) or co-PI at the November 2015 AAG deadline. Other divisions of the NSF Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences already have taken similar steps with varying levels of restrictions. In preparation for this possible change, AST encourages members of the community to be responsible when considering whether or not to submit multiple proposals at the November 2014 deadline.

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

We are pleased to report that an award was made to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in August 2014 for the construction of LSST. We are excited about the enormous scientific potential of LSST, which was the first-ranked large ground-based project in the 2010 National Research Council decadal survey in astronomy and astrophysics. If all goes according to plans, the full 10-year sky survey by LSST will begin in 2022.

Mid-Scale Innovations Program (MSIP)

AST has concluded the review of proposals in its new MSIP line, which was the second-ranked large ground-based project in the aforementioned decadal survey. The following awards were made in FY 2014:

  • Advanced ACTPol; PI: S. Staggs, Princeton; $9.98 million ($7.27 million in FY 2014 funds)
  • Zwicky Transient Facility; PI: S. Kulkarni, Caltech; $8.98 million (all FY 2014 funds)
  • HERA: Illuminating Our Early Universe; PI: A. Parsons, UC Berkeley; $2.14 million ($1.67 million in FY 2014 funds)

Additional awards are expected in FY 2015 and will be announced after those awards are made.

National Research Council Study of the US Optical/Infrared (OIR) System

NSF has commissioned the National Research Council to undertake a study entitled “A Strategy to Optimize the US Optical and Infrared System in the Era of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.” The primary goal of this study is to generate science-based recommendations regarding the priorities for instrumentation and synergies of optical/infrared assets in the era when LSST is in operation; we expect the panel will comment on mechanisms to support a healthy US community for development of the instrumentation and data-science techniques that are critical components of the future. A previous NRC study, “A Strategy for Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy” (the so-called “McCray report”), was commissioned by the NSF in 1993, when the operation of the 8-meter Gemini telescopes was approaching. For further details, including a call for input, please see the NRC committee webpage.