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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Center for Environmental Research
Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program


Exploratory Research to Anticipate Future Environmental Issues

Research on Nanotechnology, Natural Sciences, and Socio-Economics

Opening Date: January 29, 2001
Closing Dates: Part 1: June 18, 2001
                             Part 2: July 11, 2001
                             Part 3: July 11, 2001

Scope of Research
    Part 1: Exploratory Research on Nanotechnology
    Part 2: Futures Research in Natural Sciences
    Part 3: Futures Research in Socio-Economics
Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application

Get Forms and Standard Instructions


 To support the mission of  EPA to protect human health and the environment, the Agency must have a base of sound science.  Research conducted under the STAR program is an important mechanism for promoting a sound scientific foundation for environmental protection, one that addresses current problems and anticipates future problems.  One of the approaches under STAR to build this foundation is the issuance of requests for applications (RFAs) for research that addresses gaps in today’s science and engineering knowledge.  A second approach is to allow open, investigator-initiated projects which apply new, novel, and highly innovative approaches to address environmental issues or the scientific or engineering principles that underlie them. The three parts of this  solicitation which follow combine these approaches.

The question often arises whether it is possible to predict or detect potential environmental problems before they occur so that preventive or remedial actions can be started before the issue becomes serious.  Early awareness of an environmental problem should result in the ability to cope with a less serious problem, one easier and cheaper to handle. The possibility of early detection of environmental problems was the subject of the Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board's 1995 report, Beyond the Horizon: Using Foresight to Protect the Environmental Future. The report discussed why thinking about the future is important, possible systems of inquiry, and recommended that "...EPA should move toward using futures research and analysis in its programs and activities, particularly strategic planning and budgeting...."  Specifically:

"As much attention should be given to avoiding future problems as to controlling current ones," and

"EPA should establish a strong environmental futures capability that serves as an early warning system for emerging environmental problems."

Our objective in this announcement is to support innovative, and possibly high risk, research that may help define and understand significant emerging  environmental problems. We seek novel approaches that can lead to significant breakthroughs which will provide enhanced environmental benefit.

Applications which are more appropriately responsive to other Fiscal Year 2001 NCER RFAs may not be submitted to this competition and will not be considered.


Part 1: Exploratory Research on the Application of Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology to Environmental Problems

In National Nanotechnology Initiative: Leading to the Next Industrial Revolution, a supplement to the President’s FY 2001 Budget produced by the Interagency Working Group On Nanoscience, Engineering and Technology of the Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council, nanotechnology is defined as “the ability to work at the molecular level, atom by atom, to create large structures with fundamentally new molecular organization.”  Nanotechnology is concerned with materials and systems whose structures and components exhibit novel and significantly improved physical, chemical, and biological properties by gaining control of structures and devices at atomic, molecular, and supramolecular levels.

Nanotechnology has the potential to be used to monitor and remediate environmental problems, curb emissions from a wide range of sources, and develop new, “green” processing technologies that minimize the generation of undesirable by-product effluents.  Also, integration of biological building blocks into synthetic materials and devices will permit the combining of biological functions with otherwise desirable materials properties.  The molecular building blocks of life – proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates – are materials that possess unique properties determined by their size, folding, and patterns at the nanoscale.  Analogous biosynthesis and bioprocessing offer fundamentally new ways to manufacture new chemicals and pharmaceutical products.  The measurement, control, and remediation of contaminants in various media may benefit from nanotechnological approaches.

In addition, nanotechnologies offer new dimensions in miniaturization, molecular motors, nanocomputers, ultraprecision machining. In this context, nanotechnologies contribute to dematerialization--less material usage and less environmental impact from the extraction, transport, manufacture, use and disposal of materials.

Research is needed to demonstrate the utility and value of nanoscale science and technology in environmental science.  Any revolutionary science and engineering approach to the existing infrastructure of consumer goods, manufacturing methods, and materials usage is sure to have major consequences on the environment.  What these consequences are and whether they are good or bad for the environment needs to be anticipated in nanoscience and nanotechnology.  In order to understand the environmental consequences of processing and transporting contaminants in the environment, interdisciplinary research on molecular and nanoscale processes that take place at one or more of the interfaces within nanoscale structures in natural systems is needed.  Such research would include studies of the interfaces between inorganic/inorganic, inorganic/organic, and organic/organic structures focused on specific processes characterized by small scales.  Research that involves novel approaches and that adapts newly developed experimental, theoretical, and computational methods for characterizing nanostructures is needed.  Projects might, for example, fit into one or more of the following categories:

(1) Synthesis and Processing.  Enable the atomic and molecular control of material building blocks and develop engineering tools to provide the means to assemble and utilize these tailored building blocks for new industrial processes which are environmentally benign and develop devices for environmental applications such as monitors and sensors;

(2) Characterization and Manipulation.  Discover and develop new experimental tools to broaden the capability to measure and control nanostructured matter, including developing new standards of measurement for environmental processes;

(3) Modeling and Simulation.  Accelerate the application of novel concepts and high-performance computation to the prediction of nanostructured properties, phenomena, and processes in the environment; and

(4) Device and System Concepts.  Stimulate the innovative application of nanostructure properties in ways that might be exploited in new technologies that are greener than existing  environmental technologies.

Examples of the application of nanotechnology  might include the following: efficient and rapid biochemical detection and mitigation in situ for pollutants and specific pathogens in the environment; understanding nucleation processes in air and water, and the process of mineralization; removal of the finest contaminants from water (under 300 nm) and air (under 50 nm) and continuous measurement in large areas of the environment; reducing emission of nanoparticle pollutants at
the source; water purification and desalinization of seawater with order-of-magnitude less energy that state-of-the-art reverse osmosis; molecular synthesis of new catalysts for industrial processes; building materials just in time in pint-sized reactors; reactive surface coatings that destroy or immobilize toxic compounds; building information into molecules which build new molecules analogous to DNA and proteins; and self-assembling molecules as the foundation for new materials.

In addition to the discussion of the research proposed in nanoscience and nanotechnology, applications will be assessed on the basis of their importance to environmental protection.  Each application must include a section which addresses how the proposed research will affect the environment.  Depending on the research topic, examples of questions to be answered are:  What pollutants will the proposed work prevent, minimize, or remove?  What is the importance of the parameters and processes measured in the environment?   Are the resulting new materials environmentally benign?  How will the proposed work result in dematerializing current processes?

Part 2: Futures Research in Natural Sciences

In order to perform its mission better, EPA wishes to engage the scientific community  in identifying and applying new knowledge, approaches, and techniques in novel ways to solve the emerging environmental problems of the future.  In this part of this RFA emphasis must be on issues that the research community needs to start working on now before headlines have emerged.  Research may be considered “high risk” or deal with fundamental principles, but should lead to creative or innovative solutions to potential high risk environmental problems.  Applications should describe the nature and significance of the environmental issue being targeted, along with the nature and expected benefits of the proposed research in leading to a solution to that issue or significantly advancing the understanding of the science that underlies it.

 In the application, proposers should:

1. suggest an area where scientific data are minimal, scattered, or conflicting that could portend a future environmental problem or describe an emerging field of knowledge which may be applied to an environmental problem in a unique way;

2. justify and defend that choice in detail, including consideration of potential environmental risk or the potential benefit of using the new knowledge.;

3. propose a research program of up to two years duration to explore the problem, and

4. explain why the proposed investigator is the right person to do the research proposed.

Key features in proposal evaluation will be: (1) the seriousness in terms of damage to the environment or public health of the identified potential problem, (2) the value of the possible proposed synthesis, even if the seriousness of the suspected problem turns out to be minimal, and (3) the potential to provide novel solutions to current problems.

Examples of problems which might have profited from such early examination in the past include (this is not a list of preferred or present topics):

• acid rain
• stratospheric ozone depletion
• effects and environmental persistence of PCBs
At the conclusion of these studies, a workshop will be held to determine what issues should be pursued through a focused mechanism either by EPA or other research organizations.  Applicants should budget for their attendance at such a workshop in the Washington, DC, area.

Part 3:  Socio-economic Causes and Consequences of Future Environmental Changes

Social and economic forces will create significant environmental changes over the next 25 to 100 years that are in part predictable, and in part unpredictable or random (stochastic).  For example, a predictable element is that the U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates (median scenario) that population will double in the U.S. in the next century, with a significant share of the growth occurring in the southern and western portions of the country.  Given existing trends, this population growth would be expected to cause significant environmental quality changes, assuming continuation of current trends in housing preference, commuting, and infrastructure development.  However, U.S. society is undergoing a number of other less predictable social, economic, and technological changes that will exert as yet indeterminate pressures on environmental quality. In order to ensure that these changes become a transition toward sustainability, it is important to understand how trends of policy, production, prices, consumption, technology, work, and others can translate into environmental quality changes.  It is particularly important to consider the cumulative and interactive stresses that result from both predictable and unpredictable human activities.

This solicitation will support research that:

1. identifies one or more significant socio-economic trends that will provide a baseline for estimating likely future environmental quality effects;

2. describes the important environmental quality effects of these trends; and

3. estimates the variations in environmental quality outcomes from the baseline, based on both unpredictable (or less predictable) influences (e.g., fuel prices, consumer preferences), and varied assumptions about the trends (e.g., high or low population growth scenarios).

To be responsive to this part of the RFA, all applications should demonstrate that the investigators have sufficient expertise with existing literature, models, and data to undertake the research, and:
1. identify one or more social or economic trends that is likely to have significant environmental impacts for a geographic area appropriate to the trend being studied (i.e., local, regional, or national) over a specific period of time in the future (e.g., 10, 25, or 50 years), Socioeconomic analyses supported by this solicitation may address a variety of subjects, e.g., demographic changes, economic changes, land use changes, etc.;

2. demonstrate how the selected social or economic trend(s) will affect environmental quality.  It is important that the socio-economic variables explored be integrated with available biological, engineering, or other physical models to link behavioral changes to environmental impacts in the baseline.  Proposers should consider the need to take an interdisciplinary approach to this research that recognizes the interactive nature of society and environmental change; and,

3. describe how one or more stochastic influences, (e.g., prices, unanticipated technological advances, work habits, policy tools) may influence the predicted environmental quality effects.  The significance of stochastic influences can be addressed by sensitivity analyses, e.g., by assigning reasonable higher or lower bounds, Monte Carlo probabilistic distributions, or other appropriate methods.

The expected results of supported research will be tools and models that can be utilized and extended by policy analysts at all levels to investigate the likely effects of different policies, trends and unpredictable events on environmental quality.

It is anticipated that projects funded under this part of the solicitation will involve literature investigation and analysis, discussions with colleagues, and perhaps computer modeling. Applicants will be expected to budget for and participate in a workshop on environmental futures with EPA and other scientists, other agency officials, and other grantees in Washington, DC, to report on their research activities and to discuss issues of mutual interest.


Approximately $5 million is expected to be available in FY2001 for new research grants in part 1, $1 million in part 2, and $1 million in part 3.  The project award range for part 1 is $100,000 to $150,000 per year for up to 3 years; for parts 2 and 3, is $75,000 to $125,000 per year for up to 2 years.  Awards are subject to the availability of funds.


Academic and not-for-profit institutions located in the U.S., and state or local governments, are eligible under all existing authorizations.  Profit-making firms are not eligible to receive grants from EPA under this program.  Federal agencies and national laboratories funded by federal agencies (Federally-funded Research and Development Centers, FFRDCs) may not apply.

Federal employees are not eligible to serve in a principal leadership role on a grant.  FFRDC employees may cooperate or collaborate with eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations.  They may participate in planning, conducting, and analyzing the research directed by the principal investigator, but may not direct projects on behalf of the applicant organization or principal investigator.  The principal investigator's institution may provide funds through its grant from EPA to a FFRDC for research personnel, supplies, equipment, and other expenses directly related to the research.  However, salaries for permanent FFRDC employees may not be provided through this mechanism.

Federal employees may not receive salaries or in other ways augment their agency's appropriations through grants made by this program.  However, federal employees may interact with grantees so long as their involvement is not essential to achieving the basic goals of the grant.1  The principal investigator’s institution may also enter into an agreement with a federal agency to purchase or utilize unique supplies or services unavailable in the private sector.  Examples are purchase of satellite data, census data tapes, chemical reference standards, analyses, or use of instrumentation or other facilities not available elsewhere, etc.  A written justification for federal involvement must be included in the application, along with an assurance from the federal agency involved which commits it to supply the specified service.

 1EPA encourages interaction between its own laboratory scientists and grant principal investigators for the sole purpose of exchanging information in research areas of common interest that may add value to their respective research activities.  However, this interaction must be incidental to achieving the goals of the research under a grant.  Interaction that is “incidental” is not reflected in a research proposal and involves no resource commitments.

Potential applicants who are uncertain of their eligibility should contact Jack Puzak  in NCER, phone (202) 564-6825, Email: puzak.jack@epa.gov.

Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application

A set of special instructions on how applicants should apply for an NCER grant is found on the NCER web site, http://www.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/forms/, Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application.  The necessary forms for submitting an application will be found on this web site.

 Sorting Codes

The need for a sorting code to be used in the application and for mailing is described in the Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application.  The sorting codes for applications submitted in response to this solicitation are

 2001-STAR-K1 for part 1, “Exploratory Research on Nanotechnology,”
 2001-STAR-K2 for part 2, “Futures Research in Natural Sciences,” and
 2001-STAR-K3 for part 3, “Futures Research in Socio-Economics.”

The deadlines for receipt of the applications by NCER are no later than 4:00 p.m. ET,  June 18, 2001, for Part K1; and July 11, 2001, for parts K2 and K3.


Further information, if needed, may be obtained from the EPA officials indicated below. Email inquiries are preferred.

Contact for part 1, “Exploratory Research on Nanotechnology:”

 Barbara Karn   202-564-6824

Contact for part 2, “Futures Research in Natural Sciences:”

 Roger Cortesi   202-564-6852

Contact for part 3, “Futures Research in Socio-Economics:”

 Matthew Clark   202-564-6842

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