NSF invests in bio-inspired and bioengineered systems for artificial intelligence, infrastructure and health
The U.S. National Science Foundation announces an investment of $30 million to support new interdisciplinary, fundamental research projects for the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation, or EFRI, program. Awardees will work on projects that involve engineering brain-inspired systems and creating safe and sustainable engineered living systems. Each $2 million, four-year award integrates research with ethical, legal, and social considerations and with broadening participation activities.
"The biological world is a rich source of inspiration and building blocks for engineering new solutions to address national challenges and improve our lives," said Susan Margulies, NSF assistant director for Engineering. "With NSF's investment, engineers and scientists will bring their knowledge and creative ideas together to transform our fundamental understanding and enable bio-inspired solutions for climate change adaptation, preservation of health, and novel approaches to algorithms, circuits and devices."
Seven research awards will advance a new science of engineered learning systems inspired by the brain, including neuromorphic devices, that emulate the flexibility, robustness and efficiency of biological intelligence and reduce the energy costs of information processing. These projects will advance understanding of biological learning principles and design better algorithms, circuits, networks and devices. Themes include theoretical neuroscience, brain-informed hardware design and algorithmic learning for resilient adaptive technologies.
Eight research awards will engineer cells, plants and other organisms in living systems and technologies that enhance safety and sustainability. These projects have the revolutionary potential for new capabilities such as self-replication, self-regulation, self-healing and environmental responsiveness. Themes include designing resilient and sustainable built environments, pathogen monitoring for a safe built environment, and biomining for eco-friendly supply and recovery of critical minerals, metals and elements.
The Fiscal Year 2022 investment in EFRI Brain-Inspired Dynamics for Engineering Energy-Efficient Circuits and Artificial Intelligence will support seven new projects:
- Dendritic Processing of Spike Sequences in Biological and Artificial Brains, Stanford University
- Neurally Inspired, Resilient Closed-Loop Feedback Control of Learned Motor Dynamics, University of California San Diego
- Optical Neural Co-Processors for Predictive and Adaptive Brain Restoration and Augmentation, University of Washington
- Principles of Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation for Adaptive and Continual Learning in Artificial Intelligence, University of California San Diego
- Rapid Contextual Learning in Resilient Autonomous Systems, Cornell University
- Unsupervised Continual Learning With Hierarchical Timescales and Plasticity Mechanisms, West Virginia University
- Using Proto-Object Based Saliency Inspired by Cortical Local Circuits to Limit the Hypothesis Space for Deep Learning Models, Johns Hopkins University
The Fiscal Year 2022 investment in EFRI Engineered Living Systems will support eight new projects:
- Autonomous Engineered Living Materials for Construction and Repair of Outdoor Built Environments, University of Washington
- Bacteria-Bacteriophage Hybrid System for Rare-Earth Element Biomining, University of California, Berkeley
- Biofilm-Functionalized and -Maintained, Living Infrastructure Systems, Montana State University
- Bioweathering Dynamics and Ecophysiology of Microbially Catalyzed Soil Genesis of Martian Regolith, Arizona State University
- Developing Probiotic Interventions to Reduce the Emergence and Persistence of Pathogens in Built Environments, University of California San Diego
- Living Microbial Sensors for Real-Time Monitoring of Pathogens in Wastewater, Rice University
- Mechanically Adaptive Living Structural Materials, Cornell University
- Three-Dimensional Printable BioReactors for Sustainable Rare-Earth Metal Recovery, The University of Texas at Austin
"NSF's investments in emerging frontiers and potentially transformative, fundamental science and engineering research will help the U.S. lead globally and bring the benefits of technology to people across the nation," said Sohi Rastegar, head of the Office of Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities, which oversees the EFRI program.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency and NASA partnered with NSF to support the 2022 awardees.
NSF’s EFRI program seeks to inspire and enable researchers to work across disciplines to expand the limits of engineering and address pressing national needs and grand challenges. More information about NSF's EFRI program can be found on NSF's website.