NSF News

NSF's Convergence Accelerator invests $30 million to tackle challenges related to the blue economy

6 NSF-funded multidisciplinary teams will further develop prototypes for practical application to improve the ocean ecosystem

The U.S National Science Foundation is tackling challenges related to climate, sustainability, food, energy, pollution and the economy through a $30 million investment to advance six convergent research teams from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of NSF's Convergence Accelerator Track E: Networked Blue Economy.

The focus of the track includes interconnecting the blue economy and accelerating convergence research across ocean sectors — including creating a smart, integrated, connected and open ecosystem for ocean innovation, exploration and sustainable use. Collectively, Phase 2 teams are producing tools, methods and educational resources to improve human engagement with the world's oceans.

In September 2021, the program issued 16 Phase 1 awards from which the six Phase 2 awardees were selected after a formal proposal and pitch. Over the course of two years, the Phase 2 teams will participate in an innovation and entrepreneurial curriculum that includes training on product development, intellectual property, financial resources, sustainability planning, and communications and outreach.

"A convergence approach between academic researchers, industry, government, nonprofits and other communities is vital to developing solutions to address unresolved ocean-wide challenges related to the blue economy," said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. "The teams selected for Phase 2 are building solutions and strong partnerships to improve human engagement with the ocean and to tackle some of the most pressing ocean-related challenges such as plastic waste and coastal erosion. Within the next two years, we expect the teams to provide high-impact deliverables that will be sustained beyond NSF support."

The Phase 2 awardees include:

  • Backyard Buoys: Led by the University of Washington, Backyard Buoys empowers Indigenous and other coastal communities to collect and use ocean data to support maritime activities, food security and coastal hazard protection.
  • BlueGAP: Led by the University of South Florida, the BlueGAP project connects community organizations across watersheds to address economic and health challenges caused by nitrogen pollution. BlueGAP empowers people to reach well-informed decisions for better living through storytelling, reliable water quality information and tailored decision trees that link to next steps for action.
  • Digital Reefs: Led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Digital Reefs delivers interactive 4D visualizations of reef environments into the hands of local communities, helping to ensure a sustainable future for all coral reefs.
  • Nereid Biomaterials: Led by the University of California, Santa Barbara, Nereid Biomaterials is enabling a healthier ocean through safe and rapid ocean degradation of plastic components of equipment. By merging marine microbiology, synthetic biology, materials science and robotics, the team is developing "ocean degradable" polymers with embedded additives to accelerate and control degradation.
  • Ocean Vision AI: Led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Ocean Vision AI accelerates the processing of underwater visual data with a globally integrated network of services, tools and diverse community of users. Ocean Vision AI streamlines access and analysis of ocean visual data to enable effective marine stewardship.
  • ReCoast: Led by Tulane University, ReCoast is ensuring ecological safety and mitigation of land loss through coastal community recycling programs to keep glass out of landfills by creating glass sand products that support coastal restoration and preservation projects.

Launched in 2019, the Convergence Accelerator — a Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, or TIP, program — builds upon NSF's investment in basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal and economic impact. Convergence Accelerator multidisciplinary teams use convergence research fundamentals and innovation processes to stimulate innovative idea sharing and development of sustainable solutions.

More information about the Convergence Accelerator program is available at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/initiatives/convergence-accelerator.